Why I Went to Work for Mel Gibson (And Judd Nelson)

Sometime in 2016, I decided to go to work for Mel Gibson.

Mel didn’t know I had decided to work for him. But that didn’t stop me.

Here’s the story of what happened…

  The picture that hung over my desk for a year and a half.

The picture that hung over my desk for a year and a half.

Okay, I didn’t literally go to work for Mel Gibson. He’s just a metaphor for getting my shit together. Actually, it's less about Mel and more about his portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart.

I needed something to focus my energy, keep my eye on the prize, so to speak. I decided Mel was going to help me focus on what mattered most: Freedom.

Understanding My Limits

I started RGW because I was tired of feeling like a pinball, having little control over my days, my paychecks, or my time.

I tell the following story often (probably because it haunts me still), but I clearly remember the day I got my first teaching job back in 2005.

I was excited to start a career, rather than another job. All my hard work had led to this moment.

The morning I signed my teaching contract, I was sitting at a small table, in the world’s smallest “conference room” with three other people who were pushing paperwork at me. It was poorly lit and really hot (or maybe it was just me). Before signing the final piece of paperwork, they slid a salary schedule across the table.

If you're unaware, a salary schedule is a matrix, laid out on one full page, that shows your starting as well as where you’ll end up at the end of your career. Essentially, the next 30 years were right in front of me.

I was in the upper left—a bachelor's degree and no experience. If I earned a Ph.D. and stayed in the same district for 30 years, I’d move to the bottom right corner of the matrix…$70,000!

Seventy thousand dollars.

I had to work for 30 years to earn just $35,000 more than where I started. Plus, I had to pay for two more degrees. Out of my own pocket. That’s insane. 

It wasn’t a stretch to conflate that salary matrix with my self-worth. Whether I was conscious of it or not, it was clear that $70k was all I would ever make. Then I'd retire. 

A few years later, after a salary freeze, none of it really seemed worth it. Showing up, punching the clock, working for someone else’s benefit, all so they could tell me my salary movement toward that seventy grand was on hold for forces beyond my control.

Uh uh. No thanks. 

Taking Control

I knew working for myself would be hard. I knew I had a lot to learn. I knew, eventually, I’d be working a lot—more than I ever worked in my education career.

But at the end of the day, it’s all mine, so it doesn’t matter that much to me. Everything I do every day supports my family and lays one more brick in the foundation I’m building for us.

The problem quickly became that there was too much to do. Too many hats to wear. And that freedom of time and money I was so hell-bent on achieving began to disappear.

It was my fault. I didn’t set clear boundaries.

Then I remembered that I’m in control. But I know myself well enough to know if it’s not a constant reminder, I’ll lose track. I needed it to be in my face.

Immediately, I heard Mel’s voice in my head. Freeeeeeeedooooooommm!

So I did what any normal person does. I did a Google image search, found a picture of Mel as William, printed it out, and hung it above my desk.

Every morning, for a year and a half, when I sat down in front of my computer, I looked up, Mel looked down, our eyes would meet, and his voice would ring out reminding me of why I was here.

This year, Mel got an update. He’s been replaced by Judd Nelson from the Breakfast Club.

 "Rising Up!"

"Rising Up!"

See, each year, my wife and I take a day to plan our year. Out of this comes a theme, a touchstone that keeps our business and our personal lives focused for the next 12 months (she’s also self-employed). All decisions we make are put through the lens of our theme.

I won’t go into all the details of why I chose Judd Nelson (not yet, anyway), but its purpose is similar to Mel's. Judd hangs above my desk, fist pumped triumphantly into the air, reminding me of why I’m here.  

And each morning, after looking at him, I look back down, focus on the work to be done, and get to it.