To my wife Nicki, you are my rock, my best friend. Words can never express my love for you.
To Jordan and Jackson, you are my motivation and why I’m choosing this road. Your dad loves you with all of his heart.
To Mom and Dad, thank you!
I am a very blessed man, and my prayer is that you will be blessed by this story. What people see isn’t always what’s true. Many people appear to be successful and have it all, yet they are dying inside. Society says that we must portray a certain image, and unfortunately most of us try to portray whatever that image is “supposed” to be. You’ve heard the sayings over and over again: “Perception is Reality”, “Fake it until you make it”. Things of this nature have been pounded into our heads for so long that we don’t even question whether they are true or not. For those that choose to listen, I’m here to tell you they are lies. To those that choose not to listen, I pray that you figure it out before you wake up one day and you don’t even know who you are.
That was me, but by the grace of God I have found truth. We are told that if we have a certain education, get a certain job, buy a house in the “right” neighborhood, and drive the right car to be happy. I bought that! In 1993 I graduated with that education from a prestigious university, Vanderbilt University. Prior to going to Vandy, I specifically remember an English teacher, who will remain nameless, telling me how great my life would be because of this opportunity. A few years later, I got even more education, I became a Certified Financial Planner because I was told that having initials, CFP®, after my name would show people how competent I was. At this point I had everything that so many had told me would make me happy. My income was great, I lived in a nice house, my cars were nice, I have a wife and two kids, I had a membership at the country club, and I had even lost weight. Everything sounds perfect and it looked perfect, except I was dying inside. The sad part is I didn’t even know it at the time. Very little about me was real, but it did match up with societal expectations. Despite all of the perception, the reality was that I was scared, I was in debt up to my eyeballs, but yet I had to maintain this perception in order to be “successful”.
In the summer of 2009, this all came to a head. The financial crisis of 2008 brought me to my knees. People were depending on me, and the perception was that they could, the reality was I had no control of what had happened but because of that perception people were scared of losing “everything”, and they were looking to me for guidance. The reality was I had no idea what to tell them yet I couldn’t tell them that. Had I ever lied to them? No! Did they have an unrealistic sense of security? Yes!
Katy Ursta, One Fit Fighter, puts it best, “turn your mess into your message.” In 2009, everything changed. Was it instantly? No! In fact that year was one of the toughest years of my entire life. While I was going through it, I had no idea that one day I would look back at that time and see it as a blessing. Frankly, it was hell, and the only person that really knew the hell that I was going through inside was Pastor David Welsh, whom I will be eternally grateful. Many a night I sat alone in my driveway, holding a baseball bat, praying and yelling at God, making excuses, and feeling sorry for myself until one day, and I don’t remember why, I finally looked at myself in the mirror, and realized where the blame belonged. Me! So, here is the story.
On June 11, 1992 I met the love of my life and to this day I’m married to best friend and despite my many faults, she has chosen to love me anyway. What began as innocent flirting at a club, The Home, in Hays, KS would change my life forever. We met the summer before my senior year at Vanderbilt. Just a summer fling. I was going back to Vanderbilt to finish out my senior year of baseball and graduate, then move on with my life. I graduated in May of 2003, and in September of that same year, Nicki moved to SC. Some summer fling, right? I forgot to mention that she agreed to marry me in November of 2002. She gave up everything for me and moved to a foreign place without knowing anyone outside of meeting some of my family.
After graduating, I did what every good college graduate was supposed to do. I found a job! I was making a little money, bought a car. No, I borrowed money so I could drive my dream car, a Toyota 4-Runner. After about a year at the job, I knew what I was doing was not for me. And, like many after graduating from college, I began to gain weight. One fateful night while visiting Nicki’s family in Kansas over Christmas 1994, I was introduced to “The Opportunity of a Lifetime”, and everything was about to change.
Nicki and I were to be married on June 10, 1995, and because that opportunity was so “great”, I thought it was a perfect idea to quit my job in May and go full force into this opportunity. We needed an office to share this opportunity with others and we needed product to sell. Of course we had no money for either, so we followed the “great” advice of those who had gone before us, “use other people’s money”. In other words borrow money. We enlisted the help of my parents who were willing to let us borrow money against their paid for house, and we looked to our good friends at Mastercard and Visa to for the rest. For the next year we “faked it until we made it”. There was one problem, we were good at faking it, but we never made it. Over the next year, we only made a profit one month, but looking back that one month could only have been HIS doing. We were well over $100k in debt, and the rent for the office was coming due. That rent was $2200 a month, supposedly share by others in the office, except I was the only one on the lease, and the rest weren’t paying. Heck, they couldn’t pay either, but man they were good at faking it in hopes of making it. Nicki and I had about $250 in our checking account and were out of borrowed funds. That’s the month we made a profit. We paid the rent, and we were fortunate enough to find someone else that was willing to take the lease off of our hands.
When it was all said and done, we were $100k+ in debt, no jobs, and my parent’s house was the collateral on a large portion of that debt. Needless to say, I became a little depressed. There would be days when I could barely make myself get out of bed because I knew if I did, there was that perception thing again. I began to gain even more weight, and somehow, the grace of God, we never once missed a payment on the debt. Unfortunately, Nicki was carrying the load financially.
After a short stint of living in Wichita, KS in 1996, we moved back to SC. Nicki was able to get rehired at Carolina First and I found a job loading food machines for Cromer Food Services in Anderson, SC. The job was miserable, but between the two of us, we could at least pay the minimum payments on the debt, but because we could only pay the minimums, our debt load continued to grow. And, again I was still believing perception is reality, so no one except my parents knew what we were dealing with.
Then in June of 1997, we finally got a break when Gates/Arrow Distributing hired me for a sales position. Our income began to go up a little. A friend of my dad’s let us rent his pool house for only $200 a month. The debt wasn’t declining but for the first time, it wasn’t growing. Sadly, we hid the fact that we were living in a shack from everyone at Gates/Arrow except for my good friend Will Tripp. I love that dude! Perception versus reality right! Gates/Arrow will always have a special place in my heart because we could at least breathe.
After working at Gates for about a year and a half, a new opportunity emerged. While visiting Wichita again over Christmas of 1998, that opportunity was presented. My wife’s step-father wanted to expand his financial planning firm and he needed someone to take care of his clients if something ever happened to him. At the time, we were still $100k in debt, and looking back I now realize God has a sense of humor too. I’m about to accept a job where I tell others what to do with money. Today, I just believe it was a part of His plan all along, and we will get to that later.
In August of 1999, Nicki and I made the move to Wichita, KS and by October I was licensed to sell investment products. The cycle of “faking it until you make it” was about to start all over again. My timing was also “great” for getting into financial planning as well. After an 18 year run where the stock market had pretty much done nothing but go up, a bubble was about to burst, the tech bubble. From 2000-02 people investing in 401(k)s and IRAs and anything else to do with stocks would be pummeled. Fortunately for me, I had just gotten started and had very few clients. As an aside, my weight continued to grow through 2001. That was also the year Jordan was born.
The year of 2003 was when I really began to see an increase in income. I was getting really good at pretending I was successful. We bought a house, no, we borrowed money to get a house in 2000, then upgraded in 2004, and now our debt load was at $200k. Never fear though because from 2003-2008 my income would increase dramatically. With the increase in success, there also the ability to really “fake it until I made it”. We appeared to be extremely successful. Despite the great increase in income, our debt load continued to grow. Some at the advice of people who have really bought into perception. They were successful, so I listened. We had the perception of being extremely successful. In 2006, Jackson was born, and I had initials that I could put on my business card, CFP®.
I had told myself the lie for so long about perception verses reality, I began to believe my perception was my reality. Don’t get me wrong, there were times in my heart, I knew the truth, but it was too much fun to let that stop me.
Here we were, making a good living, had two wonderful boys, made the top producers list multiple times, had gone to Mexico, and Puerto Rico. According to society, we had it all or at least the appearance of having it all. I had even lost most of the weight that you saw earlier.
Then came 2008. I can remember the fall of 2008 clearly. If you turned on your television or radio you saw or heard President Bush, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, big bank guys, and news pundits telling us how our financial system just might collapse. The stock markets were going wild, and people in general were scared to death. By the time we had gotten to March of 2009 almost no one was left untouched. People who were about to retire had seen their retirement accounts cut in half in less than a year. My clients were no different, and they were looking to me for answers. I tried to console them, but there was nothing that I could do about it, and that’s when I found myself sitting in my driveway, with a baseball bat, praying and screaming at God. My world had suddenly been turned upside down. But, I began to pray for truth and I wanted to know what God wanted with me.
At this same time my hips were starting to break down. I had lost the weight, known high of 260 pounds, but I began to fear that at some point I would no longer be able to do what had allowed me to lose weight. Through running, I was able to get my weight down to about 185, give or take a few pounds, and I was able to maintain it. But what if I couldn’t run? Will I be fat again? So I ran anyway, but the pain kept getting worse. So in desperation, I gave into an infomercial and bought P90X.
For brevity’s sake, let’s fast-forward to 2014. Over those years, 2009-14 many changes have taken place. Drastic changes have been made to my business because of hours of research and the blessing of my friend Lloyd Hermes. Was 2008 a curse? No, it was a blessing. For more details on that, feel free to ask.
I believe once we wake up to trust God, we can see His hand was working despite our inability to know it while in the middle of the chaos. Things that prepare us for a greater plan when we seek it. One such thing was for 10 years my father-in-law and I hosted a radio show in Wichita. The show was recorded, not live. Several years after stopping that show, I wind up on a local political show with Joseph Ashby, host of the Joseph Ashby Show on 1480 KQAM in Wichita and on a sports show with my good friend Chris Allison on 1410 KGSO. Chris has moved on to Charlotte, NC where he is now a host on ESPN Radio. These shows were live.
In February of 2014, The Mickey Ellison Show was born on Voice America Variety. Again, I never sought to have a radio show, but I agreed to do it because it sounded like fun. Problem was I had no idea what I wanted to talk about until my brother Todd posted and article written by John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project. A few weeks later John came on the show. The direction had changed and I didn’t even recognize it until I saw a picture of my friend Michael Gowan on Facebook. Because of reconnecting with Michael and later Tiffany Sweeley, guests on the show, The Mickey Ellison Show now had a mission, but there had to be more. Why had God brought these two people back into my life at this point? I hadn’t talked to Tiffany in over 20 years nor Michael in at least 15.
The show has allowed me to meet people like Katy and Mike Ursta, Deidra Penrose, Kaileigh Hennessy, John O’Sullivan, Bruce Brown, Rob Miller, and even Tommy John. Yes, that Tommy John. As exciting as that has been, Michael, Tiffany, and I have continued to seek His Will in bringing us back together at this time.
By the way, Michael has been a blessing in the fitness area for me too. My fears of gaining the weight back are gone because of P90X, Insanity, T25, PiYO, Shakeology, and Michael! Today at 43, I’m in better shape than when I played baseball in college.
So why do I tell you all of this? Because as Katy Ursta said, “turn your mess into your message”, and she has done that by calling cancer a blessing.
My being overweight, was that a curse? No it was a blessing. If I can do it, so can you!
Drowning in debt, was that a curse? No it was a blessing. Do we still have some? Yes, but it’s disappearing.
Failing at a business a curse? No, it was a blessing.
Depressed, blessing or curse? Blessing
Financial Crisis of 2008, blessing or curse? Blessing
Hips hurting = Blessing
All of these failures while going through them felt like curses, but today I count them as blessings. Having gone through these, I can now help others, and we; Michael Gowan, Tiffany Sweeley, and I together want you to join us on this journey called Complete Fitness. Finance, Fitness, and Faith! Two are important but temporary and one is permanent!
We all have a story to tell, and the story is continually be written. What is your story going to be? You and you alone have the power to make that choice. Will you choose to wallow in self-pity or will you choose to be Completely Fit?