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  • Brett Zalaski

I'm not making 40 under 40...and I'm (finally) OK with it.



In 2007, in my early days with the NBA's TMBO group, I was asked to go get cupcakes and bring them to Sports Business Journal's '40 Under 40' event. Scott O'Neil was getting honored for the roughly 3,748th consecutive time. I was also invited to stay and hang out. I was on Cloud 9 that night. Seeing all these successful and driven people become recognized was quite a spectacle, and I dreamed to someday be the one who someone was getting cupcakes FOR. That day I made a goal to get '40 Under 40'.


It's 2019. I'm 39. It's my last chance, and, spoiler alert, it's not going to happen for me. A career goal is about to die. And I'm 100% 'ok' with it.


Why am I ok with it? I made the goal for the wrong reason. I wanted it as a status symbol. I wanted it to prove to everyone else that I was worthy of being awesome. I made horrible career decisions based off it. I put inordinate pressure on myself to get it...and partly suffered from anxiety and depression for it.


The one thing I never did was make the decision based off of what my heart wanted. My parents are both educators. My wife is an educator. My brother is an educator. Teaching and coaching people is 100% in my heart. So is sales. So teaching people sales is a genuine passion of mine. Doing it led to starting Get After It Sales & most especially Empowerment of a Salesperson, the two best jobs of my career.


What's my point to you, #sportsbiz sales rep? I get a lot of write-ins asking for career advice. So here it is:


Follow your heart. If you grew up a huge of a team and your dream is to work for the team, go work for the f**king team. Don't let someone guide you differently. But if you graduated college and said, 'I want to be led,' go find a great leader to work for. You can work for your favorite team or go work for a great leader and still be successful either way. You can also be a manager at 25...or it can happen at 45. It will not change the value you get out of your career. Don't let anyone tell you what matters to you. You make that decision for yourself...and follow it.


I've seen great sales people come from the most structured inside sales environments. I've also seen really sh**ty sales reps come from those environments, too. I've seen amazing salespeople come from the smallest pro sports teams at almost the same rate they do big name clubs. Some of the very smartest and best leaders I've ever worked for have never made '40 Under 40'. And those people never saw that as a defining mark for their career. It's never the circumstance you put yourself in, it's what you make of that circumstance.


I have new goals for my career, and these goals align with the things that I want...both personally and professionally. I'm also happier than I can remember. I'm making my life mine. And that's why I'm so beyond grateful that you all are an audience to it!