Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 106 - AK Ikwuakor - LIVE LIFE UNSCRIPTED

When I started speaking, I used to be afraid of public speaking. I even remember when I was starting, I would write my speeches word for word. And then I would purposely add in the ums and ahs to make it sound like I was speaking off the cuff.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 106 - AK Ikwuakor - LIVE LIFE UNSCRIPTED

AK: [00:00:00] When I started speaking, I used to be afraid of public speaking. I even remember when I was starting, I would write my speeches word for word. And then I would purposely add in the ums and ahs to make it sound like I was speaking off the cuff. And I was so afraid, and the reason I was afraid is because I was afraid of making a mistake. I was afraid of what people were going to think, and I was afraid of any moment that I was not going to get that perfection. And it came off to be the first time I tried something, I was like I wanted to overcome some fears. And I said my next speech I’m going to do, I’m going to do it off the cuff for 45 minutes and not have a script. And to be honest, it was the best speech I’ve ever done because I was 100% present.

[Intro Music]

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JESSE: [00:01:08] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a lot of things. But that is not the only thing that he is. So, don’t be stuck on just these things. But among the things that he is or has done, he’s an entrepreneur, consultant, he’s a storyteller. He formerly was one of the top 10 world ranked athletes at the University of Oregon. He’s the founder of Coach AK Enterprises. He’s a startup coach for Google startups. He’s a host of Mornings with Coach AK Podcast, which is a nice, very short format podcast, unlike this one, which is much longer so it’s very, very easy to digest. He is also a father. Welcome to the show, AK Ikwuakor.

AK: [00:01:49] Jesse, what’s up, man? How are you doing?

JESSE: [00:01:52] I’m doing pretty well. I butchered your last name. I was getting through it, I’m like we went through it and I was like I’m not going to hit this one. [crosstalk]

AK: [00:01:59] I think you got it. It was there. You got the first name right though. You got the AK.

JESSE: [00:02:02] Yeah, I got the AK and I was like — I’m like 60% of the way there on the way.

AK: [00:02:06] AK Ikwuakor. Sorry about that.

JESSE: [00:02:09] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It’s something like that. Yeah. And that is the exact reason why he goes by Coach AK so he doesn’t have to listen to you butcher his name over and over again because it’s no fun for anybody involved.

AK: [00:02:25] That’s not true. When I was growing up, it was funny because when the teachers were doing the roll call, they’d be like okay. You know, Jamie, you hear or Alex, you hear? And then it would be this pause.

JESSE: [00:02:41] You’re like that’s me. I’m here.

AK: [00:02:48] And Jesse, the sweat coming out, I don’t want to mess this up.

JESSE: [00:02:53] I’ve had, I can’t remember who it was. But I definitely, I think about that when I know I come to difficult names and I’m like, I don’t know how teachers deal with it. I think I remember a few teachers just doing pretty much exactly that, pausing and be like, you know how I’m — tell me how it’s pronounced and they’re like, okay, yeah. Here it is. And that’s just how it goes.

AK: [00:03:18] Well, the funny thing is, the crazy thing is, is that I’m a triplet.

JESSE: [00:03:21] Right. I wanted to ask you about that.

AK: [00:03:24] I have a twin brother and a twin sister. So, imagine when we were all sharing the same class when we were younger and they would get to the names it would be like, oh, oh, oh, three different hands. So, it’s crazy because we’re all athletes and I am six foot three, almost four, 240 pounds and I’m the youngest of six on the smallest in my family.

JESSE: [00:03:51] So, the thing I wanted to ask you somewhat jokingly is because you’re a triplet, if you had to do it all over again, would you do it again if you had the choice?

AK: [00:04:02] The funny thing is I don’t know any different. So, it’s hard — For me, it was I always had someone to play with, I always had somebody to fight with because you know [inaudible 00:04:11] But now we — It was really we’re a big support system. I don’t know what not feeling like a twin or triplet feels like. But I do know what it feels like to have people that you’re always able to talk to when we went to school. I was picked out a lot but through that having your support circles always around you. And now, today, all of us and our whole family we’re on one WhatsApp group and we just talk life and usually talk trash.

JESSE: [00:04:44] But I guess it can go both ways, but I feel like if you can talk trash and nobody’s actually like heard about it, then you know you probably got a pretty good relationship because nobody’s taking it themselves too seriously.

AK: [00:04:58] Yep. yep, yep. 100%. For me, it was my family were all — it was five boys and a girl. So, we had, there was four boys or three boys and then my mom said I’m just going to try one more time. And she got the girl, it was just wrapped into boys, but my household is really, I won’t say masculine, kind of tough. And I remember just a couple weeks ago, I asked my family, did we ever when we’re growing up say the words, hey, that hurt my feelings.

And I was offended we didn’t. I mean, my family, we played Monopoly every single day, we were super competitive, and I would say we’re all in the — it’s kind of we’re all in the communication space in some way. So, my twin sister’s in sales. I’m a speaker and a facilitator and coach. My brother is an actor in Hollywood. My other brother’s a lawyer. So, it seemed like when we were younger we were always practicing on our communication skills. And obviously, it was annoying to my mother. But now it’s actually working out pretty well, professionally.

JESSE: [00:06:00] I have to ask about the monopoly. Did you play every day because the game never ended? Or did you actually get through and you’re starting new games.

AK: [00:06:06] New games. We, if anybody says monopoly is about luck, then they have no idea how to play the game. It is 100%, or not 100. There’s a lot of strategy that’s involved in it. And it was my dad, one of the most calmest individuals out there, that would be the only time you would see him like flipping up the board and gets super competitive. Outside of that. He’s like, you know, do what you got to do when you have five boys that are rambunctious, having that calm nerve is always really, really, really important.

JESSE: [00:06:37] You know, for my other business, I actually design original board games and card games. And I like to pick on monopoly, though, to be fair, it actually does the point of the game where you become a monopoly. But from a game standpoint, the “problem” with a game is that there is typically a point where somebody gets so far ahead that you can’t catch up to them, which is kind of the point of having a monopoly.

But it’s not fun at that point because you’re just sitting there getting crushed, and you don’t know what to do. Which, again, is the point of a monopoly and kind of the point of the game. But that’s kind of the biggest critique that comes with the game is like that — So, like, one thing I try to do and build into my games, there’s always some way for somebody to come back and win at the end. Like, there’s always that glimmer of hope. It’s not like, let’s go through the next 20 turns, and you’re just going to take all my money, and there’s nothing I can do about it. You know, that’s the biggest critique. So, it’s surprising that most people get annoyed with that mechanic and give up on it so it’s, I think, interesting that you guys stuck with it so diligently.

AK: [00:07:56] And still do when we play. And they do have a card game of Monopoly. It’s called Monopoly Deal. And it’s crazy when you think about it. I mean, it’s one of the things that’s a zero sum game. The person that gets second place in monopoly got dominated. There isn’t like it’s close, I almost won. It’s like, no, I, like you said those last five times, you’re on the board, they’re thinking well, what’s the point? Just keep on rolling. So, and you’re probably wondering like why my family used to play this game. So, yeah.

JESSE: [00:8:27] I don’t know. I mean, I try to find something in everything. And sometimes I’m just looking into things too deeply, which may be the case here. But I think there’s — want to talk about like mindset, I think there’s something to that where you can say like, well, I got absolutely crushed yesterday, but like today, like you’re going down today, and coming back to it instead of like I was like an emotionally fragile kid. And I’m like, well, I don’t want to play with you anymore because I didn’t win. So, I’m moving on to my own thing and doing something else. So, maybe that’s it. Like I said, maybe I’m just reading into it too much.

AK: [00:09:06] Well, no, no. I mean, you speak about something big when it comes to mindset in a humongous way. And as an athlete, as a speaker, doing the business, we talk a lot about the importance of mindset. And I know some people are like oh, this thing can’t be taught, it’s like whatever. But they don’t actually understand that the thoughts that come through your mind control the way and the perspective in which you see the world, and also the action steps that you take each and every single day.

And oftentimes, it can also be associated with the ego. But when you’re able to make decisions, and you’re able to have a clear mindset, it then removes kind of, I would say that friction. And oftentimes in life, were going through this friction, and our goal is most of the time is just to remove that friction, and how much easier it is just to get into the flow.

JESSE: [00:10:02] So, I’d kind of like to ask you like, I have the perspective that there are often I’ll say, unrecognized scripts running through our heads. These voices and thoughts and things that we’ve absorbed over time, be it from family, commercials, teachers, whatever, that don’t serve us. Maybe it’s negative self-talk, maybe it’s somebody else who didn’t believe that they could do anything. So, they’ve imposed that on you and say, well, no, that’s not right for you. How do you get to a place where, first you recognize those and then like, that they’re even there because they’re sometimes so like, deeply embedded in how you view the world, and then how do you deal with those?

AK: [00:10:50] Such a good question because the thing is, it’s almost — we can’t get rid of our thoughts. They’re always there. The question is, how do we use it? How do we navigate with it? How do we use that information to make certain decisions? I’ve done this in a myriad of different ways. And I’m not saying that I’ve mastered it in any way, because at the moment you think you’ve mastered it, what happens? You get that test. So, don’t — I’ll never say anything like that. But I know a lot of this when I think about — I do some work on positive psychology and emotional intelligence. And when we think about emotional intelligence, we might think about motivation. We may think about self-control, we may think about all of these mindset type things.

But one of the most important is self-regulation. Now, self-regulation is, well, how do you get to do the things you know you want to do or shouldn’t do, but still do it? Now, you can have the greatest motivation or the greatest minds in the world. But if it doesn’t lead into putting one foot in front of the other, then nothing is really going to change. So, there’s a lot of different cues that I use, or strategies that I use, or different pattern interrupts that allow me to, or anybody to really get out of their own kind of that person one and person two that’s always competing back and forth.

Now, and before I go on, I’m actually going to do a quick little story because I think it’s really important to understand why motivation is so important, especially about mindset. Now, I want you to imagine, we talk about running, I was an Oregon track and field athlete, you’re also a runner as well, is, let’s say we’re both going to be doing a mile run, right? We’re going to do a mile. And both of us, we’ve trained really well, we have a similar coach. But one person on that line believes that they’re going to win.

They’ve trained, they feel like a million bucks. That second person thinks, you know what, I didn’t train enough. I didn’t do good enough, right. They both trained, they’re both physically fit, things are fine. But when that gun goes off, right, they get off, everybody’s feeling amazing, as we usually do when we start any business endeavor, when we say anything. It’s like, hey, I’m feeling good. But what do you think happens the moment of any type of discomfort? [inaudible 00:13:16] my legs are just getting a little bit tired. Or I just noticed someone kind of passing.

No, same to individuals starting off relatively well. But that first person that thought they’re going to win, they’re like, oh, yeah, I trained for this, I got this. I’m feeling good. I feel amazing, right? Even if that guy’s passing, they’re like I don’t care, he’s going to die at some point, he’s going to get fatigued. But that person too, that’s doing that same race got up at the same time is thinking, see, you know what? I knew I didn’t train good enough. Oh, see, I knew everybody else did X, Y, and Z. And then what ends up happening? That person just keeps getting more tired, their arm start crossing their body, they’re not working as efficiently as they need to. And it’s all because of the beliefs that they had for themselves that then lead into action. Right?

So, for me with an action, what I usually do is one thing I do, why I say that story is you have to put one foot in front of the other. If I’m thinking well, I need to start working out. Well, I get out of bed, it’s like well, should I do it? Or should I not? The faster you can actually do a pattern interrupt and do an action, the faster it will be for you to actually move forward in that activity. So, for example, if I stand up and I said okay, should I do this, I immediately just dropped to the floor. And meaning, if I have to get up, I at least have to do one pushup. Right? And what ends up happening, that pattern interrupt, we’re going to fall down and then we do a push up and then you realize, oh, yeah, you can start doing one [inaudible 00:14:36] doing 100. But once you get that momentum going then makes it easier to maintain.

JESSE: [00:14:44] It’s kind of like when I get ready for having guests on, like yourself, I have a common question for everybody through a whole season or a year. And I don’t always know the topics I want to start with, and sometimes it’s daunting. You’re staring at this blank page and you’re like, what am I going to talk to AK about? I don’t know. But I know for sure. I’m going to ask him this question at the end. So, I start with those and just the ending stuff. I’m like, I know it’s going to be… like, all right, good. Now, I got something on the page, and everything becomes a little bit easier. I’m not like, so anticipatory or like anxious about, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about. It’s like, well, I got something going. So, I’ll just add from there. So, I think I mean, there are other times that kind of similar pattern interrupt happens. But most recently, as I was preparing to speak with you, that’s just what comes to mind and how useful it is just to do anything to get the ball rolling.

AK: [00:15:49] You brought something huge up. I mean, I did an episode this morning, a podcast called Mornings with Coach AK, and it was on perfection. And I said here are the three reasons — ways, here are the three ways if you want to be perfect. Step one was, don’t be perfect, step two is being perfect is overrated, and step three is refer back to number one. Right? The reason I say that is because when I started speaking, I used to be afraid of public speaking. I even remember when I was starting, I would write my speeches word for word. And then I would purposely add in the ums and ahs to make it sound like I was speaking off the cuff.

And I was so afraid, and the reason I was afraid is because I was afraid of making a mistake. I was afraid of what people were going to think, and I was afraid of any moment that I was not going to get that perfection. And it came off to be the first time I tried something, I was like I wanted to overcome some fears. And I said my next speech I’m going to do, I’m going to do it off the cuff for 45 minutes and not have a script. And to be honest, it was the best speech I’ve ever done because I was 100% present.

See, the thing is, we’re going to have missteps and we’re going to have things that we’re not going to reach perfection. I think the most important part is, what do we do when perfection doesn’t happen? For example, if I’m stepping on stage, and like, okay, I’m on — let’s say, I’m in Boston, I say like welcome everyone in Los Angeles, California, and everybody starts looking around like, uh, he’s in Boston. Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, I’m actually on the better coast, the more beautiful side of the country, right. And then you learn how to then recover. And this is so important within sports.

Within sports, we have no control of what the other opponent is doing. It’s all about reacting. And if we have this strict game plan of what we’re going to do, yes, it’s important. But we have to be able to also know how to pivot, and react. Because that is really what life is about is how you react to the things around you. And what you’re able to really master, that you’re going to realize how much easier it can [inaudible 00:17:56] one, how much control you have, because you also realize what you’re not in control over.

And oftentimes, we’re focusing on the circle of, you know, Stephen Covey talks about outside of the circle of control, where we become reactive, where we become [inaudible 00:18:12] fear. And when we go into that area of control or that circle of influence just gives us so much ability to move forward.

JESSE: [00:18:21] It reminds me of a couple things. I’ve drawn a blank on this guest’s name. When I was speaking to her, she was talking about coaching young athletes about the illusion of control, and how you simply cannot act in your sport, with a focus on the outcome. There’s nothing you can do about the outcome. All you can do is act in the best way possible in the present moment. And the outcome will be what it’ll be. Like, the result will happen.

All you can do is act within your own sphere of influence. And I think we often have this illusion of control about lots of things. Thinking maybe I’m out in traffic and getting upset that this person cut me off. It’s like, well, you’re not driving their car, you can’t make them not cut you off. What you can do is slow down or be more cautious so that you don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to crash. But you can’t control the other drivers around you. The same way you can’t control the weather. You can’t — [crosstalk]

AK: [00:19:40] You can’t control COVID, right, you can’t control COVID, what’s happened in the last 18 months.

JESSE: [00:19:44] So, it’s like all you have — you got this body, you got a brain, and you can use it to manipulate things but like that’s basically your sphere of influence. And it’s, I feel like we focus so much on thinking we have greater exertion on the world than we actually do. And that trips us up because — maybe it’s just me, but feel like you want to control a larger sphere than you actually have influence over.

AK: [0020:16] Yeah. Yeah, I mean — I don’t know how to say this. But a few –like a month back I, we were talking about a trip and control. And especially on this conversation of mindset, I did a three day psychedelic retreat of ayahuasca. And the revelations that obviously, people go through as — you know, embracing that journey is, it makes you even question what we actually see, what we actually experience. And it makes you really feel, obviously, on a much higher level, when you think about all the social constructs in which we live in, the expectations and understanding that our whole worldview is based on our own world view, or even questioning the things that may even be around you. Right? Meaning, me and you, we’re both entrepreneurs.

And as entrepreneurs it came to be there was a problem that was in the world. And it’s always been there. While somebody may have said, hey, let me buy this, you saw something different in that same circumstance. Everybody was provided the same information but the solution that you saw in that was completely different in terms of the creator. So, Tim Ferriss talks about this, [inaudible 00:21:43] about? He’s like I’m not — it’s going to be hard for me to be on any type of America’s Got Talent type situation, but because he’s been such an entrepreneur, he knows when to see entrepreneurial opportunities. So, for example when the stock market crashed this last year, during the pandemic, everybody was selling.

Well, some people might have also said oh, it’s never going to be this low, ever. Right. I decided at the same time to start a company in that same area. Right, in that area. So, that’s what I’m saying like, in terms of what we even see, in terms of what we even experience, even the perspective, when you go at a much higher level, higher level, it just makes you question everything, even existence as a whole.

JESSE: [00:22:32] I’m not sure where to go from there.

AK: [00:22:34] That went deep. That went — [crosstalk]

JESSE: [00:22:37] That’s not unusual for conversations with me, but I mean, part of it is just there’s so much to unpack, you’re like, which rabbit hole do we want to get down? I mean, there’s a lot of ways — So, that maybe we can try to relate it back to self-identity, you’re talking about changing mindsets, and I think this is something you come for a while not just post-ayahuasca retreat about being unbranded which I would argue is a brand in and of itself. But I identify because — please correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re basically saying like, I’m not just one thing. I’m a complex individual that does a lot of things. And I’m capable of many things.

And I identify with that, because it’s like, yeah, I’m an entrepreneur and runner and triathlete, and I play the violin, and I write music, and I do art. There’s all kinds of things that I can do. And just pinning me down to one thing feels confining. But it is easy and as we talked about, before we get going, like I have the intro for everybody and for you too. But there’s obviously more to the story. It’s just like, this is like the five second soundbite of AK’s life. I don’t know how old you are. I’m going to assume older than me. I’m in my early 30s so at least — [crosstalk]

AK: The gray hairs, the gray hairs. I have to dye them —

JESSE: [00:24:14] I’ve got gray hair too so that doesn’t really — Well, for now then I won’t have any hair. So at least 30 plus years of experience down to five seconds, it’s just — we do it because it’s easy to process but it belies, like all the experiences and changes and things that you’ve gone through. So, I guess I’m interested. We know when did you, I guess make the unbranded brand or what did that solidify into a thing versus I’m guessing it’s probably been an underlying current you’ve had for quite a while, but as an actual thing, you kinda out into the universe, presented like what did that come about?

AK: [00:25:05] I guess has always been around. For me, I’m obviously a triplet so I’ve always had to, in some way, share an identity, but realizing that we have different interests, different stories, different experiences. Yes, some very similar, but also some very different. You know, I know this — I remember, a series of events, one was making the Olympics and then being notified that I didn’t make the Olympics and having to watch the Olympics from home. You know, that experience made me realize, okay, I’ve been trained my whole life for something, but I have some friends that made the Olympics who woke up the next morning, okay, now what? I mean, there’s still like that continues afterwards, that after effect, and then realizing that my identity was so trapped in it.

This happens to all of us. I mean, I believe that this is the number one problem in the world today are these boxes that we put it on ourselves. And I mean, you can recognize [inaudible 00:26:06] happening during the past several months in this country, either you’re Democrat or Republican. And basically, whatever that is, you must fit alongside all of those individual lines. And because you’re not able to actually see each other, then you can’t connect, you can’t find your similarities. You’re standing on opposite sides of the aisle, maybe yelling the same thing. But because we don’t see each other for the multiple layers, that we are a cause of strife, what’s happening around the world. But the specific moment that really happened for me was 2016, I had to do this — I had this organization called Empower to Play — sports diplomacy with the US government.

And our mission was to help rebuild relationships between Haiti and the United States with the Department of [inaudible 00:26:50]. This was a company that I founded, and this is me, this is who I am. [inaudible 00:26:56] all these kind of different things. But at the same time, it was also 2016 Olympics that I was considering. I had to make a decision over one or the other. I ended up choosing the Sports Diplomacy Initiative with the US government, but I think this is my day, my whole world is going to change [inaudible 00:27:13] had a three-year-old daughter. And as I was going through this trip, everything was kind of working out three months beforehand, right? We got some sponsors… going to come on board. I’m going to become seven days beforehand to get back on the ground…

And all of a sudden, all the things that we were hoping for weren’t exactly the case in terms of our planning. In our planning, everybody spoke English. On the ground seven days before, seemed like everybody spoke French. I don’t know… French. We had some sponsors that came on board, and we delivered three months beforehand. But when it’s time for them to deliver, they left us high and dry. And then the night before the event, the US Ambassador… supposed to be coming and there’s 300 kids and sponsors and all that kind of stuff. And we got a phone call. And they said that we have to come up with a large sum of money by tomorrow, or this would be the safety of our team getting out of the country. And at that moment, it was my rock bottom moment, I felt like I lost the Olympics. I felt that I lost this organization and I’m like, I did this for everyone, my family.

And at that moment, I got a FaceTime call from my daughter. And she was super excited, not obviously understanding what was going on. Daddy, daddy guess what, guess what? I’m like what, what, what? And she said I drew you a picture. And the picture was of me and her holding hands. At that moment, she had no care in the world about the Sports Diplomacy Initiative, she didn’t care about the Olympics. All she cared for was daddy and that’s what it was. She cared about daddy.

In that moment, I realized I’m more than just an entrepreneur, I’m more than… but I’m also a father. And I believe that all of us are living in these single boxes, even though we’re completely multidimensional. And because of that, we feel like we cannot break free of that. And so a lot of unbranded is my goal is to really free people to live that frictionless life that isn’t based on the social conscience because once you do you realize you actually get more done when you’re more authentic in your own skin.

JESSE: [00:29:29] So, one thing I’ve been thinking about lately, and then you kind of touched on this on the episode you did with Ken Lubin on the Executive Athletes Podcast. And I, for people listening if you want to listen to me, I was also on the show much, much later than you were. I think you’re like Episode 68-69. I was like, most recently 182 something-ish. So, I think you guys talked something about like, like all the titles you Have on LinkedIn and describe who you are. In some ways, I feel like that’s it’s almost like — an I basically don’t participant on LinkedIn, maybe in part because of this because as I mentioned I have a company where I design board games, I have this company where we make skincare products, and we’re working on nutrition, and we serve athletes.

And then I’ll say, my private life, but more like my self-serving life, I’m working on being a composer and I’d like to write music for films and video games. Like, how am I supposed to put that on LinkedIn? They’d just be like, Jesse doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s like, no, I just — [crosstalk]

AK: He’s unfocused. He’s like —

JESSE: Right? It’s like, no, I just do different things that are fulfilling to me. And they ’re not always related. So, should I just continue to ignore LinkedIn? How do I navigate that? Is there any way — should I talk to you about licensing the unbranded brand? Like, what am I supposed to do here?

AK: [00:31:06] Yeah, I mean, that’s been the story of my life. But the key was at the moment that I said, who cares? And that’s the crazy thing. Like, what do you mean, you’re saying the secret is just to be like, whatever. And that’s what kind of comes with ego and the mindset, it’s 100% believe — if there is a second if that thought comes to your mind, and there’s like these gaps of seconds, the longer gaps you have, there’s nobody speaking is your own thoughts filling that in, right? And usually, most definitely, it’s the negative side of things. So, for me when I just said this is me and all of who I am, especially when [inaudible 00:31:45] it, ah, it’s refreshing, because it allows people to let go, right.

And you realize that random thing that — I do this — actually, this — called the unbranded exercise where I help people go through introspective conversations or dialogue with themselves to better understand themselves at a greater length is, I have people list out everything that makes them who they are, then go backwards and like knock it off until they get to one. But sometimes people don’t realize, like, okay, I’m AK Coach, AK Enterprises. But let’s say we never, ever met. And I said, I’m a business coach and I help entrepreneurs. And you asked a question, something along the line, well, what brought you to where you live in Boston? Well, before that, I was in Boston, I was in LA, and then I was in University of Oregon, where I ran track and field. What do you think would happen when that track and field or running comes up?

JESSE: [00:32:39] Right. I mean, that’s the thing I identify with. I mean, yeah, if we met, It’d be like, oh, yeah, I met this guy who ran at Oregon and that would be the thing to focus on.

AK: [00:32:48] Yeah. And so we don’t realize that every little parts of us are actually our connection points. And in this life, and what we lived, the number one factor is, I would say community, right. You are working. Business is about community. It’s exchanging of goods and services and values. Sports is about community, right? You’re just only doing it by yourself. I was a track and field athlete, but still, there was this community aspect of competition.

So, when we’re able to identify and find those connection points, that is the number one tip, I would say in sales, in terms of business, and in terms of life. Because usually, we usually see ourselves on opposite sides. But if you’re actually able to find that connection, I know it sounds kind of fo-foey, but it actually reduces the resistance. Right? It reduces the resistance and actually about enables one to trust one another.

And to be honest, that is actually the number one way, I teach a course, Google and influence. The number one way is actually your character, network and reputation are the three number one ways to influence somebody. That’s more than your title, that’s more than your prestige, that’s more than the way that we speak. It’s actually those are the number three. So, if you do not focus on the relationship building or the relational development, it’s going to be hard for you to do anything in life. And that even means not just negotiating a big deal, but talking to my partner about what I’m going to have for dinner tonight.

JESSE: [00:34:11] Yeah, it reminds me of and I wish I could remember who this quote is attributed to, so just note it is not my original thought. But thinking about advice between entrepreneurs… entrepreneurs like on how to sell things is the idea is people don’t buy things because they understood the product, they buy things because they feel understood. Like he said, they make that connection. And it’s like, yeah, I understand you and your situation and your problem and this thing I have can probably solve your problem. And for AK and I, as you listen, we’re both entrepreneurs, so we sell stuff or services or our time or whatever it is. But we are all as AK and I were talking about before we were officially recording, basically selling ourselves to a greater or lesser degree anytime we’re interacting with people.

Not even just in a business environment. If I just like, even if I come up to AK on the street, I don’t know him. I just like, he looks like a cool guy, I want to go talk to him. Well, I’ve got to get his attention and make sure that he actually wants to talk to me. If he’s like, who the heck is this guy, like this weirdo talking to me. But if I’m like, if I see him and I say, hey, man, did you run track? Like, you look like you run track? Then he might feel like, oh, like he gets it. He knows. And then we have a conversation about track. And I’ve basically sold myself to have a conversation to AK about track and having this conversation because I understood some aspect of him. And that’s like, although he and I can talk about business, it does all kind of come back to what we all do on an individual level, even if sometimes it’s cloaked in the like business jargon.

AK: [00:36:10] Yeah, the buzzwords. I mean, that’s kind of one of the biggest challenges. You know, I work for Google for startups and I’m one of the sales trainers there and consult there to help early-stage entrepreneurs really scale their business. And the number one thing we often talk about are the buzzwords that we use. Right? So, if I say I’m feeling good today. Or how are you? And you say fine, like, what does that actually mean? Like, we say this all the time, like oh, well, that didn’t seem to go the way that I want to go. Well, you weren’t communicating. Like, were you happy, were you sad? And if you were sad, why were you sad?

And it’s these buzzwords that we use every single day not realizing that we’re actually not communicating at all. And that actually kind of goes to a little bit though, the unbranded piece or the labels we put around ourselves just because I say I’m a business coach, does that say anything more about where I grew up or that I’m a father or all these different things? Like, no. But they don’t know… Now I know AK because… one sentence on LinkedIn. It’s like, no, you don’t.

JESSE: [00:37:22] One thing I like to ask people like you, because I think it happens to all of us at one time or another. But it definitely happens to athletes. And you did talk about this a little bit on your episode with Ken on the Executive Athletes Podcast is the transition out of sports, and you transitioned out and transitioned back and then had to transition out again. But I mean, with college athletes, I know it’s difficult and Olympians, pro athletes, whenever the end comes with college athletes, it’s easy, because it’s like, when you graduate, that’s the end, like you know it’s coming. And for pros or amateurs, it can be more ambiguous.

And regardless of whether you do the athletic side, we all kind of hit these transition points in life, here and there. And we don’t always see them coming. But they are more difficult for some of us than others. So, I just kind of like to hear about how you dealt with the transition out and back into and out of, kind of high level athletics, if you have any thoughts and tips on dealing with big life transitions like that.

AK: [00:38:44] I mean, we’re always — in life, we’re always going through those transformations, those transitions, were in this continuous state of transition. That is what learning is. Today I didn’t know this, but now I know something new. I’ve transitioned, right. The old me is no longer… thinking better thought this… might have been oh, there’s dust on my table. I’m going to probably pick that up, right? Now, the next time I actually look underneath the desk and see it.

But how does this all connect, obviously to sports, and not my living room? My transition was tough and people don’t realize that when you’re — as an athlete, in some ways, the higher you go, the more you’ve been babied through the system, right. So, because I was a really strong athlete, I did homework, I need to. I got to pick my classes first, I got unlimited supply of gear, I traveled around the world, I would go places, hey, autographs. But the problem is we don’t usually have the Brett Favre type career where we get to just slowly decide, oh, I’m going to come back. And it is all of a sudden, you just never realized that was your last race. You might just realize it was your last race a little bit too far down the future.

So, the transition was tough because that’s all I knew. That’s all people know me as. It was AK, that’s that. But I remember when I was first looking to get a job after I was done and I would go to interviews and they’d be like, okay, so congratulations, you’re all-American athlete, you traveled around the world. We’re super excited to have you here. And they’d go, okay, so just tell me a little about what you do. I’m like, what you mean, you’re not just going to hire me? No, no, no, we get it, we get what you’ve done [inaudible 00:40:22] and all that stuff. He’s like, well, what have you done?

And the funny thing is that job that I got going from pretty high up and then ended up moving furniture, right? I was a furniture mover afterwards. And like no shade to any furniture movers. But to them, you’re like hey, you’re big, you’re strong — lifting, that’s what we’re able to communicate. And so that transition was tough, because I never really focused on rebuilding some of those skills. So, that became a moment of self-reflection and determination and action. And I decided to pick up the same books that I learned in college and pick them up and read and learn them. I also really was into personal and professional development of growing, because I realized there were certain things about me that was not going to navigate in this new transition.

Now, the reason why the transition was tough was, I was an athlete and I’m no longer an athlete. It was very binary. And it was extremely binary. And I always tried to run away from it, but in some ways people was like, hey, your [inaudible 00:41:26] they’d always talk about sports. No, that’s not me. That is not me. …life is done. But I ran away from it but I was also running away from myself. How it actually came to be when the [inaudible 00:41:39] came together it was, I’m an athlete instead of or or but, it is an and. I am an athlete and a this, I am a father and an athlete even though I don’t do a lot of working out now. But it was that thing of no longer running away from it and understanding what was the things that I learned from athletics. I learned about delayed gratification. I learned that you may hurt more the next day, and even sometimes the second day afterwards, to become better.

It was understanding the importance of teamwork and realize you can’t know and have everything. It’s about community and the teamwork to get you to where you need to be. It was understanding about who are you in the moment when that gun goes off. We often think about who we are when we’re picking up the boots, it’s like, no, you realize who you are when you’re out in the field. So, the reason why I have so many different things on, I guess my background or resume is because I only learn by doing. So, I really focus on action and doing because it then allows me not only to learn new things, but now connect the dots a lot better, right. I can see the similarities and the themes when you do more things, which I believe in some ways, I’m kind of against the whole 10,000 hour rule in some ways. We’re always doing something, we’re always doing something that’s getting us better, even within athletics rest was actually getting you better to perform. Sometimes it was what you’re not doing that’s actually getting you better.

JESSE: [00:43:08] You know, I don’t want to say I struggle with the 10,000 hour rule, but there’s a different perspective, right, where it’s like, say, let’s pick a profession. Let’s go old school and let’s say like blacksmith, just we’ll go like more elemental. And so today we have like, executive coach — like what, blacksmith, you’re making armor. That’s what you do. So, you’re a blacksmith, you make armor, you spent 10,000 hours at it, you’re just a kick ass armorer, and that’s what you know how to do. But what if you had spent 1,000 hours making armor and you spent 1,000 hours mining ore, and you’d spent 1,000 hours in archery.

And then now you can actually see just in those three examples, so maybe you’re making armor now and you understand the process to refine your ore better to make better material than just the blacksmith can. And because you understand the flight path of an arrow and how an arrow pierces, now you can reinforce your armor in different ways. It’s like because you have experience in these different ways, and this one was actually relatively tight knit, I didn’t go like you learned how to knit or something.

AK: [00:44:31] I mean, you could — The funny thing is — [crosstalk]

JESSE: Right, you can connect something. I just didn’t know if I could do it on the fly.

AK: [00:44:36] I’ll think about it, like just think about it. If you want to be a — [crosstalk] If you want to be a piano player. If you’re a piano player, is it about those 10,000 hours? But what about every single time typing on the computer and I’m working on hand eye coordination, and I’m working on how can you be able to type but also look at the screen at the same time and the finger dexterity to be able to reach those different notes. Now, if somebody were to say, well, is me playing the piano, or me typing also helping me do that? Most definitely. Right? I can call myself a coach, I can call myself a facilitator, I can call myself a trainer.

But there was a common denominator of speaking and communicating, right? There’s a process of also understanding, okay, I need to change my approach based on who my audience is, right? If I’m training a whole bunch of kids, it’s very different than me training a whole bunch of professional athletes. I might need to squat down a little bit lower, I might need to talk a little bit softer, I may need to be more animated, right? These are all of those different things that we’re now realizing aren’t actually connected, but change the way we do things based on that other person.

JESSE: [00:45:45] AK, this is a little bit of a hard transition, but I realized I wanted to ask you this. And we’ve got way down the rabbit hole. So, I got to back up a little bit. But I wanted to know — because it takes a lot of energy and effort on your part to do the things you do. But what I’m always curious about is why? Why help people? Because it takes a lot of effort, it takes time and patience, to dig through the psyche of somebody to try to get to the heart of what it is, that blockage? What’s the motivation to move you in that direction? You know, because on the face of it as you’ve mentioned, you were not just this thing. You are many things, but some people could just write you off and say, well, he was a track athlete, and I don’t know how he can help me, but you still have that determination. So, it came from somewhere in that multidimensional personality that we all have, that you have fuels that somehow So, why go this direction? Why try to help people in this fashion?

AK: [00:46:56] I mean, that’s just one of the things I do, we talked about that earlier. I always find it crazy because the question — I do get this question. And it’s almost like, I’m more surprised that’s even a question. And it’s weird because I have to defend why I help people. We help people all the time. And that is what life is. Every single time, if you’re a parent, you’re helping the child. You know, I think my special gift is helping people let go and that’s what I want to do for helping. And the reason why is because people help me. I was not the best kid by any means. And I grew up in a loving household, right? Parents, PhDs, but the neighborhood I was in in Colorado [inaudible 00:47:41] bad place. I was in the wrong group, 100%. Similar, like right now, my — friend’s one’s dead, one’s in prison, and another — two is prison and one’s dead. And so there was that path. What ended up diverting me was actually a coach, my track and field coach that said, hey, maybe you should try this out. And that’s what really got me into playing sports.

But now because of that moment, when all these little particles are flying around, and some moment that me and him crossed paths, there’s a reason for that. Because of that moment, then that into whatever I do is because of that intervention that he did for me. And we’re doing this all the time. I think we help people or we — I help people. It’s like why have somebody struggling when I can just tell you this, just make sure you press this button, and it will be so much easier for you. And that’s what I feel like I do. I don’t actually feel like I work. I feel like I just talk and hang with people. And I guess some people I impacted. But to be honest, I’m actually just as impacted in every single conversation I have, whether it’s the CEO of a company or the president of a country, or the homeless person that’s trying to find his next meal on the corner. We’re all being helped. We’re all learning.

JESSE: [00:49:06] Now I’ve lost my train of thought… Yeah, it’s — Lost it again. [inaudible 00:49:20] today.

AK: It’s all good, man.

JESSE: No. And that’s the nice thing about — [crosstalk]

AK: Say what’s on your heart. Say what’s on your heart.

JESSE: [inaudible 00:00:49:29] We’re all — Here we go. It’s back on track. So, I think the reason I asked is that sometimes, I don’t know if it’s a matter of wanting to procrastinate or it’s an anxiety or what it is, but there’s like this lack of motion. You know, we were talking about earlier how you just get something, something started and it gets the ball rolling. And I feel like there are times, certainly in my life, I see other people where it seems like they’re stuck dead in their tracks. And I think and again, as always, correct me if I’m wrong, because you’re so practiced in moving forward. It doesn’t make it completely effortless, maybe, but probably easier than somebody who hasn’t had as much practice taking that action. So, I asked the why question. Because I wonder if hearing the why being so simple that that person can maybe stop overthinking. And thinking, oh, there has to be this grand reason that I’m doing this thing. And it’s like, maybe it’s as simple as, that’s the thing you want to do so you do it. You know?

AK: [00:51:04] I mean, sometimes, having the most willpower is realizing that you don’t have the best willpower. I’ll be honest, my success, when I was a college athlete… motivate I would come to the track, I would be willing to throw up, I’d be willing to pass out, I was able to do that. Until the rude awakening came years afterwards, when I’m like, why am I no longer motivated? Like, why can’t I do like, I don’t know what it is. Oh, I realized what happened. The reason I had such determination was because I had a coach that if I didn’t show up on time, I’d be in trouble. I also had teammates that I had that had to push me forward. So, for me, I literally started a company during the pandemic, as an accountability company, right? Daily accountability, where we focused on making sure that everybody’s completing their three high-impact tasks for the day, because I realized I couldn’t do it myself.

It actually increases, like we’re talking about goals, but it actually increases the likelihood of you accomplishing a goal, simply just by writing it down. You’ll be more productive if one, you at least acknowledge, okay, I got up, I’m going to work out tomorrow. Okay. Two, or you can say, I’m going to put it in my calendar tomorrow, today to go tomorrow, right, put in a session. Three, I’m going to put it on my calendar and set an alarm. Four, it could be like I’m going to call my friend to make sure that we go together. Five, I’m going to make sure that he comes to my house and picks me up, right. All of those are the examples that we can go just a little bit further to increase the accountability. For me, I was such a dramatic, not productive that I had a startup company and hire executives to actually help me move forward because I said, what’s wrong with me? I was going through [inaudible 00:52:53] transition. But to give even some actionable step.

One actionable step that I usually have, for individuals, is upside of getting somebody to actually make sure you get it done is we often focus on the end goal. I want to work out. Okay. Every single morning, I have to work out… specific goal. And let’s say you’re not as productive. Well, then you have to identify what is that moment when you will be — kind of goes over that mountain then becomes a downhill process. That’s usually for me, for me personally, was if I know that I walk outside of the door, if I just walk outside of the door, I would get the workout done. Right? I don’t have to focus on getting the workout done. I just had to make enough power to get myself out the door.

And so most of us are trying to be more action… Stop focusing on the end goal, right? Sometimes you have no control over that. What do you have control over? I know that all I got to do is get enough power just to walk outside the door. And my workout was happening. What would happen if every single time I walked out that door, I go oh what was I complaining about? What was so hard? And this is what we do every single day. You know, I do this with the [inaudible 00:54:09] we have the podcasts that we’re doing here today… show. What would happen if I just didn’t show up? [inaudible 00:54:17] didn’t show up?

JESSE: [00:54:19] I mean, I would get on with my day and on to the next thing. And I mean, I would have my assistant or I would follow up with you and see if we had a — we miss scheduled but otherwise, I would be like well, on to the next thing or maybe onto my weekend, depending on where I am in the day.

AK: [00:54:34] Well, yeah. But let’s say okay, we’re going to give it another chance and then you did it and I just didn’t show up and I never have a reason. Like, what happened to our dynamic relationship?

JESSE: [00:54:43] Well, I mean, generally speaking, I would probably write you off and be like, well, I mean, AK just… and he’s dead to me now.

AK: [00:54:53] Well, think about that, right, that was just from two times of me doing a no call, no show. The question is how often do we no call, no show ourselves? How often do we say we’re going to do something… what’s the reason? I don’t know, I’m on Facebook. That’s not even a good reason. Well, think about that. If we only — if you saw what happened from me just missing two times with you and the detriment that could… imagine for our own self, if we’re doing that every single day, why we’re not getting the results that we’re looking for. Right? If we have that same type of intentionality that [inaudible 00:55:30] as we have with a third party, you will see dramatic changes within your day, within your week, within your month, within your life.

JESSE: [00:55:41] AK, we’re running out of time. So, I got to ask you the question, I’m asking everybody this year. We’ve already a little bit touched on it, but to solidify it into a strict answer for the question, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?

AK: [00:55:58] I don’t know. I think one of them is identifying failure. Some of my biggest — Actually, I’ll say my biggest failure this year in some ways, I had a big speaking engagement that I was kind of booked out, and it was with a pretty big client. And I had always had the opportunity to kind of just like, let go by the wayside. And I got a call one day and said all those speaking engagements that you were having that was going to be this much revenue coming in, it’s not happening. Something happened with leadership. Now, at that moment, I looked at that, and I’m like, what am I going to do? Like, I have nothing. And it was at that moment I going no, no, no, AK, work on positive psychology. Like, okay, don’t get… Because if you start to have one negative thought, even for a bit, what ends up happening? You’re going to spiral. So, I had — positive psychology, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? Okay. I gotta get into action mode. So, immediately, instead of saying, I’m going to get down and do a push up, like I said, for the workout, this was get a piece of paper out and list out 20 things, or opportunities or people that you need to reach out to that you need to, right.

I immediately went into the action phase because I had to not let that silent air get filled in with negativity. And then what happens when I was all down, I had my partner say, hey, make sure that I get this done tonight, and I’m not going to go to bed until I do it. So, at that moment, and then — that piece of paper and I contacted every single one of them. And then the next morning, I ended up getting two-three different leads. But since that’s happened, I now have actually generated two different more sources of income. And now if that happened, again, I have so many different other revenue streams that [inaudible 00:57:35] say was that a bad moment? No, it was a learning and a growth moment for me to realize blockages to those blind spots and the way that I was navigating through the world and this needed to give me a wake up call to try and do something different.

JESSE: [00:57:52] That’s a great answer. AK, if people want to find you, see what you’re doing, get help from you, if they happen to be business owners like I am, where can they find you? Where can they connect?

AK: [00:58:05] Yeah. I mean, if it’s business-wise, I’m the founder of Coach AK Enterprises. What we do is we are basically entrepreneurs, COOs, Chief Operating Officers, we’re a business development agency where we literally do everything from… get your own executive assistant, you’re getting your own strategic partner, we’ll do the social media, the website, the marketing, the research, even all the designs. We’re a business full-service, business development agency. But if anybody wanted to get a hold of me, I would say you can go to my website at I’m sure the spelling will be somewhere.

JESSE: [00:58:37] Yeah, it’ll be on the screen in the description.

AK: [00:58:41] Or they can just connect with me like Instagram or LinkedIn. Good thing is I am the only AK Ikwuakor in the world. So, if you happen to just spell it right you’ll at least get close or you’ll find me pretty easily. So, I’m lucky in that one. Besides, if you just type in Ikwuakor, you’re going to get my twin brother. And that might just be its own little stuff, but — [crosstalk]

JESSE: [00:59:01] …connected somehow.

AK: [00:59:02] …connected somehow. It will work either way.

JESSE: [00:59:06] All right, man. Thanks for hanging out with me.

AK: [00:59:08] …Jesse. Man, I appreciate it. It’s been fun.

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