March 18th of 2016 marked a pivotal moment in my life. I was in my final semester at Columbia University. At this point, I had a few job offers for the upcoming fall; however, to the dismay of my family and friends, I turned down every offer. I had one goal after graduating, play in the NFL. I knew for this to happen I would need to focus on nothing else. I was against all odds: undersized, without exposure, and with a mediocre collegiate career. In the end, these obstacles didn’t matter to me because I believed in myself, and knew I was exceptionally athletic. I felt an immense pressure to succeed. I hated failure and feared it more than anything. I felt like I was faced with discouragement from everyone: friends, family, and even coaches. I heard all the rumors and gossip: “why is he even trying,” “he has no chance,” and “what a waste.” Despite all this negativity, I stayed with it and kept a low profile, knowing that everything would be worth it in the end. I would only get this chance once…
March 18th was the day I received a call from the New York Jets. I remember the rush of emotion so vividly. I thought to myself, “This is my chance.” I actually may do this. I figure this must have been how it was meant to work out. I stuck with my intuition, and pursued my passion. This moment was everything coming together.
Fast forwarding, it was April 7th, the day of my workout with the Jets. I knew I didn’t perform well, my body wasn’t responding well to the workouts. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but looking back I can say it was general ignorance around preparation along with a host of other factors. In the end, I was left sitting in my dorm room a week from graduation and dreading that I blew it. This fear was materialized after not receiving a call from the Jets or any other NFL team after the draft. I kept waiting and hoping to receive a call for a tryout, but it never came. After graduating, I found myself in a rough patch. I was jobless, had no plan, and had focused on football for the last 4 to 5 months. I didn’t even know where to start. My parents – having warned me of that very scenario – were proven right along with every other person who doubted me. My ego was crushed and I was severely depressed…
That summer marked one of the darkest periods for me. I was bouncing between jobs, barely affording the $700 rent for a boiling hot converted kitchen I called a bedroom. I fought every day to tell myself I wasn’t a failure, but in reality, I had failed. I had committed the previous 12 years of my life to football, and took a risk to play in the NFL.
I knew there would be opportunity costs, I just didn’t know it would be this difficult… Despite internalizing all of these issues, I woke up every morning determined to change my situation. I reached out to hundreds of alumni and friends and went to 50+ interviews. I was sure that pitching myself as a two-sport athlete at an ivy league institution would surely get me an opportunity, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had never faced as much rejection as I did during that period.
It was late May when my parents told me that I would need to come home if I didn’t find a job in the next few days. At this point, I became desperate. So that night, I decided to put on a suit and tie, grab my resume, and just go down to “Wall Street.” I figured if I could just network at a local bar then maybe I could meet someone that would take my resume.
That evening, I got dressed, grabbed my portfolio along with ten resumes, and hopped on the train to Wall Street. When I finally got downtown I ended up walking a while before finding a bar that looked pretty busy. There were a few exotic cars parked outside and numerous people smoking and chattering. Walking inside, I immediately noticed everyone was wearing suits and figured this location was an ideal after-work bar. I scanned the room and identified a few guys who I thought would be approachable, but didn’t want to approach them immediately, so I went to the bar to order a drink. At that point, I was simply planning how I would introduce myself. Time passed, and I started getting nervous. For some reason, I couldn’t get myself to talk to anyone. Was it fear or was it nervousness? Looking back now, I think it was simply just fear of more rejection. After finishing my drink, I decided to leave…defeated. As I was walking towards the door, I thought to myself, “what if I just slide my resume under the door of some random office, can’t hurt.” As I walked out the front door of the bar, I noticed a black and white convertible. I wondered, what if I just left resume in the driver’s seat. Nervously, I looked around to see how many people were paying attention because I didn’t want to be the random black man messing with someone’s car. After realizing no one was paying attention, I pulled out my resume, took out a pen, and wrote “Need Job, I am an extremely hard worker,” right on the top next to the title including my name and telephone number. I started to lay it quickly inside the car. As soon as it touched the driver’s seat, the car alarm sounded. My heart was racing, I immediately jerked my arm back, and started briskly walking towards the nearest corner hoping that no one noticed. Luckily, I made it around the corner before anyone realized, or at least, before anyone decided to yell out. As soon as I felt out of range, I began to slow my pace. I remembered thinking that it was all pointless, and decided to go back home. After walking halfway back to the train, my phone rang…
I picked up the phone and a guy immediately asked, “is this Trevor Bell?” I said, “yes it is.” He replied, “come back to the car right now, seems like you are looking for a job. I will interview you right now.” He hung up the phone, and I remember thinking to myself, this is it, this was my opportunity. I would finally get that job and not have to go back home in shame.
Turning the corner back to bar, I looked back towards the car and froze. There was about 10 guys around the car all wearing suits and smiling, some were smoking, and others were holding drinks. I approached nervously to find one guy looking right at me, “you must be Trevor Bell,” he said. I told him I was and then he asked if I was ready. I replied, “Yes,” mustering up as much confidence as I could, not wanting to look weak or emotional. He asked me to tell him about myself, as he did this I noticed the guys around (obviously friends/coworkers) pulling out their phones and recording with eager smiles. I responded by going through my typical pitch, telling him about where I was from and my past experiences. I was nervous and began stuttering. About halfway through, he stopped me. He said it was horrible. (I noticed the guys starting to put their phones away, obviously disappointed). He then said, “you know what you look like a good kid. Let me tell you what, meet me here (pointing to a building across the street) at 7:30am and we will get you set up.” I looked at him confused and quickly agreed, confirming that I would be there. We quickly exchanged contact information, and I began walking back to the train in shock. On my way back I realized I had just agreed to meet this guy and had absolutely no idea what he did or what he wanted me to do. I figure at this point I would just wait and see.
The next day, I showed up to the location at 7:20am. I stood outside for about 20 minutes until the guy finally greeted me. We walked inside together, taking the elevator upstairs. The rest seemed like something out of a movie. The office reminded me of The Wolf of Wall Street. It was a large open space with 20+ desks laid out in rows. Everyone was wearing headsets. Walking me towards the front of the large space, he pointed towards an empty desk. After I sat down, he proceeded to give me a manual, which outlined the operations of the company. I started to read and slowly realized the company was practically a loan shark. They called hundreds of companies, specifically small business owners and tried to convince them to take out loans at absurd interest rates. I started to realize this wasn’t for me, as both my parents were small business owners, and doing this would be against my own principals. In the end, I thanked the guy for the opportunity and told him my reasoning. He explained that if I ever changed my mind he would be here. Looking back at this opportunity, I realized so much. No matter how low your situation may be, compromising your principles is never the answer. After having multiple experiences like this in my search for opportunities, I promised to never compromise on my beliefs.
Fast forwarding a few days later, I ended up getting a last minute interview by way of referral from a good friend. This opportunity was just enough to convince my parents to allow me to stay a few more weeks. In the end, this lead to my first genuine opportunity. I ended up getting the job and ultimately finding a better living situation. Later that year, I received another offer to work in wealth management.
By the end of 2016, I had two jobs and was working approximately 75hrs/wk. I did that for 4 months. This work experience allowed me to purchase a car and move to a relatively nice place outside of New York City.
Today, I find myself getting more opportunities and although I am extremely far from realizing any significant success, I am excited about the opportunities that lay before me.
I often think about my struggles from last summer, and they still move me… even now as I share this story with you. It was hard. I remember thinking I deserved more. I thought, how can someone consistently work so hard and be left with nothing? How did interviewers not see any promise? In reality, I would have worked endlessly to prove my worth, I just needed an opportunity.
In the end, I learned that hard work is never enough. You should focus on building relationships, having a good attitude, and being proactive. You should ask the right questions and be open to all opportunities. You never know how something can be indirectly related. Always respond to adversity as a potential opportunity.
Today, I always remember that sacrifice and hardships are never a waste. They can always be used to create value.
This is my Story.