Happy Wednesday, everyone!
A PSA before I get into today’s post: in case you forgot, today is Ash Wednesday. Even if you’re not a big partaker in tradition, I like to set aside the time between now and Easter to focus on cultivating a certain discipline. I’ll be reading through this devotional as well as setting aside some time each day for reflective prayer. Feel free to join me!
Alright, now on to our fabulous featured guest for this week’s Power of One Wednesday! I am extraordinarily grateful that I’ve found a mentor and friend in Eric Deems. Also a former SGA President (we should start a club!), Eric has provided valuable insight into the post-graduate world and beyond—he’s one of those people that I always ask, “how would you approach this situation if you were me?” Even though he’s just 27, he’s got an aura about him that you can’t help but know is the beginning of something great. An Ohio native, Eric graduated from Belmont in 2011 with a BS in Political Science and BBA in Organizational Strategy and Leadership. After graduation, Eric spent time on Capitol Hill and consulting with corporate entities, political campaigns, and non-profit organizations. He also worked in real estate development where he secured several multi-million dollar projects in different markets across the nation. Currently, Eric serves as a Sales Manager for the prestigious real estate firm CBRE, Inc. at its Nashville office. In his spare time, Eric enjoys volunteering with several organizations and keeping up with Nashville sports teams. I got a chance to sit down with Eric and ask him a little bit about his life story—you’ll want to read this.
Who’s one person who has significantly impacted you and how?
For me, it’s very difficult to narrow down to one person, because I’ve had so many different people who have believed in me and encouraged me to pursue dreams, believe when I didn’t, and even reigning me in when necessary. I think first and foremost, my parents were always a big influence on me. I can remember growing up and my dad losing his job after fifteen years working in a factory. That summer, he worked knocking mortar off of bricks—for ten or fifteen cents a brick—in order for us to survive. My mother was also doing part-time clerical work, whether it was being our church secretary or overseeing my school’s lunch program. So, them believing in me and being willing to do the difficult things really taught me a lot. I’ve always been a big dreamer—growing up in a small town of six thousand people, you’re pretty much left to your dreams, because there’s not much else happening.
Some of my dreams were pretty outlandish and often materialistic, but people like my parents, pastors, my Uncle Matt, and even my piano teacher were always there—so when I was planning what my first Rolls Royce would look like or what kind of jet I wanted, they were always quick not to discourage me from dreaming about those things, but instead pulled me in and encouraged me to always remember who I was. No matter what I was doing or who I was with, they wanted me to remember who my God was, who I was, and where I was going, and to never compromise that. I’ve also always had a tendency to surround myself with change-makers: since I aspired to make an impact, I wanted to be around people who were doing just that.
What did the people you looked up to in that regard teach you about leadership?
What I came to realize early on is that everybody has had some kind of struggle or failure in their lives. What separates the folks that I sought out versus the folks I didn’t seek out was how they handles those difficulties. They used it as the energy to push them forward, instead of the stumbling block to hold them back. When I was at Boys’ State in high school, I ran for Secretary of State and lost. I remember being very discouraged, but I had to draw on those strengths. Although I was down in that moment and felt like I was a failure, I had to remind myself of all the people who believed in me and push myself to show up the next day (and I did!) Eventually, I was put in the governor’s cabinet and was one of two selected to go to D.C. and be in Boys’ Nation. For me, that was the first time I was actually living out what I had seen everybody else do, which was encountering a failure (which was huge to me in that moment) and think to myself: “I don’t have to be at the top to be on top.” It’s all about the state you put yourself in. Because of that, it ended up working out even better than I could have expected.
What’s a lesson that you’ve learned from a success you’ve had?
I’ve learned some pretty practical lessons from success. Growing up in a middle class family and having to take out loans to go to school, one of my first priorities was to eliminate debt so that I could chase my dreams. Getting rid of that debt has given me the freedom to realize just how detrimental being in debt to someone else is. It’s much more of a noose around your neck than you realize! My mentors in business only served to reaffirm this. Being out of debt gives you maximum leverage and freedom. My hope is that anyone in my family moving forward will never have to worry about the burdens that come with those limitations. Live below your means now so that you can really have a great time later.
What’s a big problem facing our generation and what should we do about it?
I think millennials are great (I’m one of them!). Last year, millennials became the largest segment of the workforce, which is bringing a lot of great energy and growth potential. But the biggest issue for our generation, and really anyone around today, is the “affect of quick”. Let’s look at politics. We only want to hear what candidates have to say in 30 seconds. We only want to look at an issue insofar as it can be explained in 140 characters on Twitter. We don’t have those real, substantive conversations because if you go to any restaurant or coffee shop, you can just look and see how many people’s faces are illuminated by a screen. It’s everybody!
I mean, there’s something wonderful about occasionally forgetting my phone when I go out. I went on a vacation to Mexico earlier this year, and the fact that my phone didn’t work was actually a huge blessing. We need to take time away to get recalibrated on what really matters. Technology’s wonderful and doing a lot of good, but our biggest threat is people becoming more superficial and disconnected. I fear that human interaction is suffering—you’re trying to have a conversation with a friend and they’re trying to check how many followers they have on Instagram, or you’re having dinner with someone and the phone is on the table. It’s really unfortunate. I love social media, but taking a hiatus and being aware of its negative consequences is so, so important.
What are three books you’d recommend for our generation to read?
Poke The Box by Seth Godin is a great one—a short, quick read that I go back to time and time again. It’s all about taking initiative—why wait? If you want to go do something, go and get it done. The Defining Decade by Meg Jay is another good ones—so many people in my generation are waiting until their 30’s to take control of their lives, and they’re finding themselves off course. The last one, How Will You Measure Your Life?, is written by a Harvard graduate who started looking back on his graduating class and noticing that many of the people he graduated with, even if they were successful professionally, were divorced, on their third or fourth marriage, or really struggling personally. Even though they had graduated from Harvard, they had lost sight of the value of what really mattered. It really helped me reframe the way I look at success and helps me to remind myself to center in on what really matters.
What is one thing about Nashville that makes it a city you’re proud of?
I work for a great company—we’re the largest globally and in every market you’d want to be in around the world. I have the privilege of working with people in New York, Chicago, LA, Dallas, Toronto, Hong Kong…there’s no shortage. I get to visit a few of these places, and I love exploring them and finding their versions of our Hillsboro Village, East Nashville, or the Gulch. One of the things that I think differentiates Nashville from anywhere else is that here, people are nice. I was visiting another city on a business trip, and I couldn’t help but notice—people don’t see you. Throughout the day, people were just headed to meetings after meetings; they’re so focused on what they’re doing that they just don’t seem to care.
Here, I feel like even though we’re made up of transplants (I seem to meet more people from Ohio than native Nashvillians, nowadays) you could say hi to someone on your way to Lower Broadway for lunch and whether that person’s a tourist or banker, they’ll say hi back. It’s true in the business world too—even though Nashville has grown and become a more serious contender nationally, when people come here, there’s a mindset shift–I really hope we preserve that. There’s something great here—there’s authenticity, genuine happiness, an optimism, combined with a great work ethic. Yes, people in Nashville go to work—but they do it with a smile.
I’m so lucky to have learned so much from someone who’s very recently been in my shoes as a college student, and I hope that you were impacted as much by Eric’s story as I have been. I hope you’ll spend some time this week thinking about what really matters, and finding that little extra bit of courage to go out and do something extraordinary.