”Be Intentional with building real & requited relationships with people, inside and outside of the industry.Michael JohnsonFlorida A&M - Associate Athletic Director
Dear Younger Self....
“Mike: exercise your faith, be humble at all times, and put in the work; especially when others are not willing to – God has a plan.” Alongside all your other daily affirmations and bible scriptures, repeat this as you approach your first 30 days of your first opportunity in the field of Intercollegiate Athletics. Bloom wherever you are planted and know that what God has for you is specifically custom made just for you; therefore, it is impossible for anyone else to stop you from receiving it. If you want to maximize this opportunity and achieve more, you have to do more. No matter what opposition comes, your responsibility is to be a servant and do your job at a high level while growing, developing, and empowering yourself, the student-athletes in which you serve, and others when given the opportunity. Only expect rewards from God, no one else. Keep challenging yourself to trust God’s process instead of focusing on the destinations that you are praying to him to get to. Lastly, channel yourself back into the mindset that you developed while competing as a student-athlete and allow yourself to be coachable by others who are professionals, mentors, and accomplished in the field you vowed to yield your purpose in.
The advice that I would give to a young professional who desires to be in my shoes one day is to be humble, patient, courageous and disciplined. BE INTENTIONAL WITH BUILDING REAL RELATIONSHIPS with people, inside and outside of the industry. Be humble enough to follow the leadership of those in charge, courageous enough to take initiative to lead by example with integrity and empowered enough to serve others at all times no matter what. Keep your “why” and your faith in the forefront of all that you do. I would also encourage all young professionals to do their jobs at a high level, bloom where they are planted, and be disciplined enough to control what you can control while welcoming constructive criticism. Challenge yourself to be a sponge and learn more from others you work with and those you would not normally work with as well. Volunteer to lead projects or initiatives that are not always popular. Sharpen your creative skills to be able to enhance your problem-solving skills for complex situations (that will come). Don’t be afraid to ask anyone questions. It is not possible or expected for you to know everything. Be honest about your deficiencies and efficiencies. In fact, be strategic with getting better while building on what is working.
All this was evident, as I cut my teeth in the industry as an intern at Middle Tennessee State University, where I was given an abundance of operational responsibilities due to our very lean organization that depended heavily on all team members. After my time at MTSU, I transitioned to the University of Miami, where I had a singular responsibility that was oftentimes grunt work that anyone would rarely know. I was tasked to coordinate all athletic events, facilities, and external events. This opportunity alone allowed me to enhance my network, as my first external event was to work directly with President Julio Frenk (President of University of Miami) and his staff to coordinate the Board of Trustees dinner in our brand-new Carol Soffer Indoor Practice Facility. At that moment, I realized that there is no task that should be considered too big or too small. I approached every task with much gratitude and excitement, that was my attitude. I understood that every experience that I was fortunate enough to have would benefit me at some point during my career – and it did not have to happen so quickly.
My experience as a Hurricane prepared me for my next assignment, which came to me unexpectedly from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After two years of learning, growth, and hard-work, I was given my first administrative role in Athletics as an Assistant Athletics Director. Although I was excited, I also had doubts; asking myself things such as: Do you believe you are ready? However, I also promised myself that whether I felt ready or not, I would penetrate the strongest areas of my faith and courage to challenge my idea of what “normal” was and push myself to be comfortable in exploring new opportunities and experiences; even if I considered it uncomfortable, as I had the sole intention to grow and leave McNeese better than I found it. I was determined to redefine the phrase “hard-working.” As a result, I took my talents from South Beach to Southwest Louisiana. The opportunity was everything I planned and worked for and more. The personal growth that I experienced while serving the great people of Lake Charles through my role at McNeese has left an indelible imprint on my life forever. You never know when it’s your time. However, if you stay ready, you will never have to get ready. Opportunities in this industry rarely come ready and available to you upon demand, especially as a minority. However, when opportunities do come, you must be ready.
A year later, I was offered the opportunity to return back to my roots in the HBCU arena to serve as the Associate AD for Administration and Operations. As a former student-athlete and product of an HBCU, I felt that this was a great time for me to give back to my community and help build champions in the classroom, on the playing surface, and in life. I am determined to position my student-athletes to be able to explore and experience some of the same or better opportunities that I did, as I believe it is imperative to create and establish pipelines for student-athletes to hone the skills necessary to bolster their academic and career opportunities. Reaching back as you climb is imperative and building relationships do not only enhance your career, it enhances your life.
Lastly, make sure you keep a hungry appetite for excellence – alongside a cutting-edge work ethic. Make it a habit. As a millennial, there is a required responsibility to respect traditions, while also being granted opportunities from others (who have navigated these waters for years) to be creative in our efforts and assist us in becoming the transformative leaders in our industry that we hope to become. Always be intentional about building bridges and pipelines for others to access the same doors that you walk through. A wise woman once shared with me “it is not always about who you know or who knows you, it is about who you are!” Therefore, learn from your mistakes, focus on the positives, and give yourself time to grow. The race you are running is a marathon, not a sprint. However, always keep enough endurance and drive to sprint during the race where required. Pace yourself and be disciplined, it will serve you well during the marathon of life.