The Donald Thompson Podcast

Hosted ByDonald Thompson

Donald Thompson, serial entrepreneur, mentor, and diversity-in-the-workplace trailblazer, chose Earfluence to amplify his influence for more speaking opportunities, business development initiatives, and networking with established leaders.

How to Crush 2020: Your Valley is Not Your Destiny

Today is part four of our 5-part series, How to Crush 2020.

Did you get the results you wanted in 2019? If you did, how do you get more?  If you didn’t, what happened? How do you make it better?

On this series, we’re sharing things that have worked in amazing way and things that have been fantastic failures.

Part four, How to Your Valley is Not Your Destiny.
Hustle Unlimited features Walk West CEO, mentor, investor, and hustler himself, Donald Thompson.

Music for this episode provided by Jensen Reed from his song, “You Can’t Stop Me”.

Hustle Unlimited is edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on the Earfluence Podcast Network, visit @EarfluenceMedia on any social media platform.

Donald Thompson: So the backdrop for today is we’re going into a new year and after Christmas, there’s actually a lot of down time, and it’s a time for reflection.

It’s a time where people are thinking about the new year. They’re thinking about what happened this past year. Did they get the results that they wanted? And if they did, how did they get more? And if they didn’t like, well, what happened. How can I make it better? And what we want to do is share some of the things I’ve seen over now 25 plus years in business, working with hundreds, if not thousands of different companies and people, things that have worked in amazing way and things that have been fantastic failures.

I mean, total fucking train wrecks, right? And how to keep people out of the train wrecks and a little bit closer to their own personal success.

We also do need to make a disclaimer like everything that I say are the thoughts of Donald A. Thompson Jr. They are not the thoughts of Walk West.

They’re not the thoughts of any of the other companies I’m affiliated with. These are exclusively my thoughts. Occasionally I may drop a few words that we’ll decide to bleep out or not, but I won’t do it cause I like to cuss but sometimes for emphasis, right.

With that , I think we can just jump in and get started.

Jason Gillikin: Hey everyone, and welcome to the Hustle Unlimited Podcast. I’m Jason Gillikin, CEO at Earfluence, and I’ll be your host today as my guest is your usual host, CEO at Walk West, diversity and  inclusion expert consultant Donald Thompson.

Donald Thompson: What’s happening.

Jason Gillikin: All right. Today’s episode is part of our five part series on how to crush 2020 and we’re just going to do some rapid fire questions about what to do if you need to get out of a 2019 funk and move forward with success and success mindset in 2020. You ready?

Donald Thompson: Yeah, man. Let’s do it.

Jason Gillikin: Alright, let’s do it.

Okay. So what do you do if you lost your job and you’re still looking?

Donald Thompson: So one of the things that challenges people is when you lost your job, you need to get something on an interim basis. Contracting, freelancing, should keep your skills sharp and your hopes strong.

Sitting around thinking about your next gig is actually a death kiss to getting one, or at least getting one that you really, really want. Because you’ve got plenty of time to think about what happened versus what will happen. And so highly recommend that when you’re in that, in between state, number one, hyper networking is super important, but also typically people have skills that can be leveraged in a freelance basis, work for nonprofits.

But make sure that you don’t just work at looking at that new job. Make sure you’re doing things to keep your skills sharp and your particular domain while you’re pushing forward. The third thing is you’ve got to let go of the reason you got let go. And that’s an emotional thing because a lot of times we’re replaying what happened and it lends itself to kind of creating a mental roadblock on that bright future that’s ahead of you.

Because a lot of times I remember, one of the times that I got let go from a job and it was emotionally difficult, but I chose to look for that next opportunity that was going to be amazing, better, stronger, and let that be the dominant emotion, versus that pain of that perceived failure.

Which everybody feels.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. Well, it’s hard to imagine that you losing a job when you’re in the position you’re in right now.

Donald Thompson: Has happened and shaped me. Yeah. And one of the things is it created that toughness, if you will. Right. It reminds you that in a job situation versus an entrepreneurial situation, we’re all replaceable. It’s just a function of how or when. Y ou, you need to be a top performer so you can manage the downside of the how and when. But, everybody’s replaceable to a degree. And there’s a good, there was a good reminder, or in my case was earlier in my career as a good teacher of the realities of business life.

Jason Gillikin: All right. So what do you do if you can’t stand your boss?

Donald Thompson: This is probably good advice for people that have worked with me or people now, what do you do if you can’t stand your boss? You’ve got to think about why that is. Is it because the standard’s too high and you’re wanting to coast, so maybe it’s not the boss, it’s you. Is it environment where you’re not getting the recognition and the reward for the hard work you’re doing?

That’s an issue. That’s a real issue. So really you’ve got to put into the buckets of what’s the real versus imagined issues with your boss. A lot of times it is about recognition and credit and mentorship. And so a lot of times people will take jobs with a company, but they’ve not really interviewed their manager or their management as well.

And so I wouldn’t stay in a situation where you don’t have a great relationship with your manager any longer than is humanly possible. And so you need to plan your exit is the business reality, and you need to plan your exit in a way that you can do so at the time of your choosing. And do a great job at work.

Make sure you have powerful learning opportunities for what you’re doing. But I am a big advocate of choosing people that you work with that are totally for you, that are giving you both tough guidance when you need it. But super compliments when you deserve it.

Jason Gillikin: All right. Sort of like that where you’re not getting along with somebody, but this time a different team member and somebody on your team where you’re working on a project with them and consistently working on projects with them.

Like how do you handle a situation where you’re just not getting along or you don’t feel like you’re collaborating right or that person’s riding your coattails?

Donald Thompson: Yeah. So two things. One thing is not getting along and the other things, riding the coattails. One thing is. Let’s handle the not getting along.

I’m a big proponent in personal responsibility, so any relationships that I have that aren’t going right personally or professional, I do look inside of self and say, all right, what am I doing to contribute that? And I have to make a decision of whether or not I’m going to change some of my behaviors to move it forward or not.

Sometimes I’ve been stubborn, sometimes I’ve had the right humility and the graciousness to help a relationship move forward. Typically in a bad relationship, there’s a lack of understanding and expectation in some way. And so a lot of relationships can turn in a positive way with a cup of coffee outside the office.

One on one conversation with that team member. Nobody else, no other gossip, no management, just a one on one conversation about the goals and the challenges and struggles of you guys working together. Because often the source of problem in a relationship doesn’t necessarily see the impact of that challenge that affects them in a negative way also. And if you don’t have that opportunity to ever talk it out, you know, you can never get there. The second thing is that’s what managers and leaders are for and it’s not tattle tailing. It’s not throwing somebody under the bus. Sometimes you need a third perspective to say, Hey, listen, John and I, Julie and I, Susan and I are not really getting the right productivity for the business and I don’t really understand why.

I’m super open if there’s some things I need to change, but would love it if they’d kinda change as well. And sometimes if you get a third party facilitator, it can improve. But I don’t think it’s something that you can just be the water cooler whiner. And that’s the only resolution to your frustration.

Jason Gillikin: Okay. All right.

Let’s say in 2019 your company was acquired. What are some of the things that you need to be thinking about?

Donald Thompson: Yeah, that’s a big change, right? So one, anytime somebody says in there the acquirer. Everything’s good. No major changes are coming, right. You should just be, it is all good.

It’s like they’re not lying cause they want it to be true. Does that make sense? Like I’m not calling people liars. It’s just when change happens, change is going to happen. And so what you want to do is be on the forefront and the positive receiving end of that change and top performers are, are protected the most.

So you need to understand in your organization how you’re viewed, whether you’re viewed at the top one third, the middle one third, or the transactional one third. If you’re in the transactional one third, based on talking with managers, coworkers, and you can kind of tease that out. Like, you know, having a resume on the readies is not an unsmart thing to do.

If you’re in the top one third, you want to be able to have conversations with people in the acquiring company about the vision they see for you. And from those conversations you can determine if the new scenario is going to be something that’s super exciting. A lot of times an acquisition is an opportunity to grow your career, because most companies that acquire another one don’t buy the company just for technology.

They buy the company for people, product and market position. So if you’re one of the talented people that came with the acquisition, they’re going to want you to stay and do an amazing job. They’re just going to want to understand what amazing looks like in that new company. And it’s usually not as scary as most people think if you’re doing well at your job. If for some reason you’re in that bottom third, then kind of all bets are off.

Jason Gillikin: Well, let’s talk about something that’s a little bit more scary then is what happens if you hear that layoffs are coming.

Donald Thompson: So here’s my thing on if layoffs are coming, it’s really no different than any other day except you heard about it.

People have like a false sense of security anyway. The only security you ever have in a job is high performance, that you’re bringing more value to the business than the business is paying you. And so if you have that mindset and you’re always on the hustle, you’re always on the rise, even th e threat of layoffs is not super scary to you because high performers are always going to be asked to be retained and do the work of two to three people.

Layoffs are not geared to cut the strong. It is built to remove redundancy and the weak . So redundancy. If you’re in a large organization and there’s two or three people with the same title, same job, and you don’t really have a way to step out from that, then you should have a little bit of concern. If you’re kind of coasting at work and think nobody’s noticing, you should have some kind of concern. But if you’re moving and shaking, pushing forward, good relationship with your boss, making your numbers and moving, even if the layoff were to hit you, most large organizations today are reasonably gracious with how they want to do those things, and that success can be transitioned to another organization.

Jason Gillikin: All right, so one thing that might’ve sucked is you got turned down for a raise or promotion, and you feel like you’ve already looked internally and you deserve that.

What can you do then to better your career?

Donald Thompson: So one of the things that I think. I owe as a manager and as a leader, if I have to deny someone’s request, is a candid and authentic explanation as to why. You as the employee that didn’t get what you wanted, need to understand why.

And is there an opportunity for that to be corrected in 2020. And are there reasonable and measurable things that you can do to achieve the outcome that you want? Sometimes a raise was denied for reasons that you’re told, but the company didn’t have the budget to do it. They just weren’t going to do it.

You may not like that, but that’s better than thinking that it was something about your performance. So really you’re in search of the truth. Of what the real reason why you weren’t able to move forward to get the things that you wanted and working with HR, with your direct manager to kind of tease that out so then you can make a determination if it’s worth another try over that course of 2020 to try to make that amends and then really kind of taking that feedback and you know, were they right? I mean, one of the toughest things as a competitor is if somebody tells you you’re not good enough. Like I’ll share a story in a transparent way of my football career. I signed a out of Greenville Rose High School in North Carolina to play free safety at ECU. It’s a division one scholarship. I was super excited in 1989 went through my freshman year.

Red shirted came into my sophomore year. I was planning on being number two on the depth chart. That was where I was listed all the way through the spring as we practice and going into the fall and then during fall camp. Next thing I know, I’m number three on the depth chart. You another guy beat you out.

And I didn’t agree with it, right? Like I was, I was like, this is some bullshit. Like I was like, but I knew from growing up in the profession that I needed to understand, was it a reality or something I could do something about? And in talking with the coaches and different things, it wasn’t really something I could do something about like it was a real conversation about my skills and ability and having the conversation that I was destined to be a strong role player. And so I did that for awhile, but that wasn’t my jam.

Like that’s not why I went through winter conditioning. That’s not why I lifted the weights. That’s not why I was sore and tired all the time, was to be a special team superstar. And so that’s when I decided to do something different with my football career, but it still hurts me to this day that I wasn’t good enough.

Now that transition gave me time to pursue other things in business where I was good enough where I could be a star, where I could make a lot of money, where I could go pro. I didn’t go pro and football. I ended up going pro in business. I ended up being successful as an entrepreneur.

But that defining moment of one door shutting, created an opportunity to go through a set of other doors that led me to a life of business excellence or a path of business excellence. I don’t want to say I’ve arrived, but I’ve done a couple things that have worked out well and learning and growing, and that’s exciting to me.

Now I have to look at the whole story to be excited about somebody telling me I wasn’t good enough. Cause that shit still hurts and I’m 48 years old, I’m still mad.  I’m not saying you’re ever going to be good with it, but you gotta be real enough about your situation to pivot to the next situation, to where you might be that rock star.

And it doesn’t mean that you’re not amazing. It just means you might not be amazing for that situation, for that company, for that manager. And that’s okay.

Jason Gillikin: All right, so let’s say you’re not amazing for that particular company and you decided to sharpen your resume and you’re out looking for other jobs. Do you feel like you should tell your manager that you’re looking for other jobs, and if so, how do you do that professionally?

Donald Thompson: That’s a tough question. That depends. If you’re working at a company for someone like me, you can let me know. Some people do, some people don’t.

But if you talk with me about it, typically what’s gonna happen is why do you need to be in a hurry to leave for something that’s regular? Why don’t we partner together and you leave for something that’s amazing? We put together a transition plan. Let’s just jam it out and talk about it. Like I’ve had several situations where people have done that and it’s worked out great for them, worked out great for us.

We’ve been able to have a nice transition plan. They’ve been able to take a little bit of time during the day to interview and not go out into the hallways, sneak on a cell phone, like they’re on some kind of spy mission. And it’s just easier for everybody involved. But that does take a lot of confidence in the work you’re delivering in your current place and in the leadership that you’re working with. The people that have had those conversations with me, or I with them, cause it’s been a two way street, sometimes I’ve gone to an employee and said, Hey, this isn’t working out long term. But I don’t want to do anything allergic that affects you and your family.

So why don’t you take time to start looking? Why don’t we kinda drop any new marquee projects, but you just keep kind of the status quo going and then let’s separate in a couple months at a time that works for you. And sometimes that works and then sometimes people cannot handle it. I still try it every now and then because I’m maybe stubborn or maybe just, I don’t know.

But that’s a really tough situation because when you let somebody know that their time is up, it’s just hard. Yeah. You know rejection’s hard.

Jason Gillikin: Yup. let’s shift to personal. Let’s say you had a tough 2019 personally. Let’s say you’re, maybe you’re going through your relationship issues or whatever it might be.

When do you talk to your employer about that? When you talk to your manager about that, and do you like, you know, like, Hey, I’m distracted here?

Donald Thompson:  It’s such a great conversation. If your work performance is slipping, I highly encourage you to communicate with HR confidentially that something’s going on so that at least they can alert your manager that even if it’s without all of the details, that you’ve got some things that are pulling you in a different direction.

Because if you don’t do that, if you don’t let somebody know you’re working through something significant, then you’re being judged purely on a performance professional basis. And if your work is slipping, that can create other unintended consequences. There’s been times where we’ve had folks that are working through pretty significant issues with their kids.

There’s been times where we’ve been working with folks that are going through really serious kind of drug or alcohol dependency type things over the years of, of working. And because we knew and at least knew enough, we could help partner with them on overcoming that with professional help. We didn’t get into those things because we knew we could alter the job a little bit and at least give them time to heal up and change up and push forward.

And so my hope for people that are listening is that you work for an employer that has this kind of resources or a small enough company that has that kind of care. I’ll give an example. Grant Willard, my mentor friend, he was running a small company that was a part of 100% paid insurance for employees and their families.

Tremendous benefits structure. And there was a time for renewal of our health care program, and there was a young lady at the company, and I won’t go into any names or anything like that, that was really, really sick. And this was 15 or so years ago. So the laws about preexisting conditions and different things were not as employee friendly.

And they could spike your rates based on any number of things. I remember we stayed on the insurance program for an entire another year for one employee.   One employee, There are so many reasons that I respect Grant as my mentor and friend, but being able to work with him close enough and see some of the decisions he had to make as a CEO and do the right thing when nobody would give credit for it, that he couldn’t, he couldn’t brag. He couldn’t tell anybody about that. But what if this employee hadn’t really fully shared everything that they were going through? Different decisions could have been made. And so it’s tough sometimes that balance between personal and professional, but if we’re all honest, professional is personal, and so you need to work for a place that cares about you as an individual, that you can share with somebody in the organization so that you can get the help you need or the space you need, to bring your whole self to work, and do so in a reliable way. That was a great question.

Jason Gillikin: What about advice for people who need to try to stay focused, even though they are going through problems?

Donald Thompson: Yeah, so let me give a personal, you know, one of the toughest times in my life was when I was going through my divorce about six years ago and leading a company, growing a company.

And so if that was burdensome on me, difficult for me, I can only imagine that for any other employee or person that’s going through something significant that’s painful, that’s changing, that you feel failure and how it affects you. Now I’m going to use for me and then I’m going to give the answer your question.

For me, work was, my solace. Work was actually a safe place that I could get away from anything that wasn’t going right personally. And so I actually worked harder and it kind of camouflages motor things. For people and their employer, it comes back to why you need to decide where you work, not just based on the company logo, but based on the management team you’re going to work with.

It’s the only way that you’re going to get people that are going to partner with you through real push points. And so that choice is really important when things are going good so that when you hit personal turbulence, you can have some help doing that. Here’s another thing that I advise though.

Don’t be overly chatty with coworkers or about your personal shit because people you think that you’re trusting at work and now all of a sudden work is your safe place while you’ve got some personal things you’re working on and more people know than need to know. And that creates an interesting dynamic.

And I’ve seen that work a lot of different ways because sometimes you can have friends that if they just know something too juicy, they cannot shut up. They’re incapable of shutting up. And you don’t know who those people are until they know something about you that you really want kept under wraps.

And so you’ve gotta be really careful about that. Because then that place that work that you’re doing well, things are going good at work, but you’re dealing with this personal thing that’s heavy on your heart, that’s distracting you. Now both things are a little bit fouled up because more people know than need to know.

When you’re pushing through something personally, you know what you don’t need? Everybody coming up to you talking about how sorry they are for your loss or this, that and the other. You know what you need? You need to come in and be able to crush it at work because that’s helping your self esteem.

You’re seeing some wins in a place where you’re taking L’s everywhere else. And so it’s really, really important. But that’s not for me to say. I’m just saying I’ve seen employees go through that blow up in the company when the people they thought they were having a drink with were bosom buddies and all of a sudden 20 people know what they’re going through instead of two or three.

And it’s pretty sad. You know, I love the friends at work and we’re family and all that. Like and all that’s good. You just need to be careful which personal, deep, personal stuff.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah. you’re a big time reader. Any books that you can recommend for people that are going through something terrible in 2019 but want to focus on crushing it in 2020?

Donald Thompson: This is going to be an odd choice. There’s a book called Think and Grow Rich, and one would think it only applies to the business components of your life, and you’d be wrong. There’s a powerful component in the book that talks about creating your mastermind group, and it sounds like because the words and it talk about to help you in business.

People that you trust with your business goals, I’ve found –  leaders  – have also seen so many situations in business and are strong individuals in their personal life. That’s why they’ve succeeded in business. And so that same trusted group of leaders have seen and failed so much that they’re the least judgmental people that you know.

I’ve got so many goofy things I’ve done things that have not worked out, personal failings, business failings, that when somebody sits and talks to me about theirs, my first inclination is not to judge them. My first inclination is an understanding that we all hit valleys in our life Think and Grow Rich also talks about the power of the subconscious mind. It talks about it in the attainment of wealth. It can be applied in the attainment of happiness. So it’s an odd recommendation because the title of the book makes it sound like it talks about money, but the book is about goal achievement.

And the book talks about personal self and self-esteem. Is one of the main components of the book and how can you fix yourself in personal or professional without a growing and strong self-image, you can’t do it. And so that would be one of the books that I would recommend that’s kind of a little off topic, but it is the topic because of the way that book is laid out.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah, that’s a great recommendation. I think it’s like 90 years old too.

Donald Thompson: It’s, it’s probably five dollars. There’s a lot of cool stuff that are $54.99 and seminars you can go to, but there’s a lot of books that are like oldies but goodies that you can get on Amazon for $4.99 or whatever.

And they’re super powerful.

Jason Gillikin: So this is great. This will be very helpful to people that are trying to get out of that funk in 2019.

Donald Thompson: Yeah. The last thing I would say is like, your Valley is not your destiny. Your past is not your future. Yeah. And one of the things that I’m pretty good at is forgiving myself for my foul ups as long as I’m trying to improve.

I don’t let people like we all have things in life, or I’ll speak for myself like that we’ve done that. We wish we’d had done different, wished we would have said different, which were to behave different. I’m not better than any other man, any other woman doing that. The difference is that I put those things in a box and progress is my fuel and I’m wanting to get better.

But the thing with valleys is we’ve all got them. People you think are doing amazing, aren’t doing as amazing as you think. People that are doing bad aren’t doing as bad as you think.

And we all have a responsibility to help, through our actions or through our example, people do better in 2020. And so my final thought for those that have worked through and are working through valleys in 2020. Is number one, your past is not your future. And number two, it’s going to take hard work to get out of that valley.

So get started. And number three, your valley when you win is going to be part of your testimony to help other people. So let’s get started. One of my valleys was not being able to pay my bills. And I remember a friend of mine, I was at a company called Consolidated Mortgage andI was not doing great. Not on goal, and I had so much anxiety.

A friend of mine saw me leave the sales floor that we were on, and I was in the bathrooms, knelt over, thrown up, and I didn’t drink alcohol at all at the time. So it wasn’t a hangover, it wasn’t drugs. It was anxiety. And it was fear, and it was doubt, that was gripping me about what my future could be. And I remember my friend came and he patted me on the shoulder and he said, he said, Hey, Don.

He said, look, I don’t know what you’re going through, but this isn’t God’s destiny for you. So finish this and then we need to get back to it. And sometimes a word of encouragement can change your mindset from the dreary or the doubt that you’re experiencing. You just need a reminder. You don’t need a 10 hour pep talk.

You don’t need somebody lay hands on you. Like, I love Jesus too. You don’t need 38 Bible verses. Sometimes you just need a word of encouragement from somebody you know, cares about you, to shock you back into thinking properly. And we all need encouragement. I’ll give you another example cause you never know what people are going through.

Since we’ve been doing some of these episodes and  I had a, young lady from my high school that listened to one of the Hustle Unlimited Podcasts and sent me a note just thanking us for doing these.

And then the day I got that note, and this was a couple of weeks ago, I was having an amazingly fucked up day. And I don’t have bad days, like I have like bad hours and then move on. Like I literally, like I, I don’t have many bad days. And that note from that person that heard the encouragement that they got from one of the episodes that we did that helped her push through to her goals. She gave that back to me on a day I needed it in a moment that I needed it, and we all need to encourage each other, and there’s days, man, when that is just like, it’s just good news. It’s manna, right. And it’s good stuff. So anyway, thank you guys for taking the time. Hopefully we gave out some nuggets to help some people. And that’s the goal for the blessings that we have is to be able to be a benefit to some other folks.

And the more that we’re benefit, other good things will come our way. More people will listen more good stuff too. I’ll be good.

Jason Gillikin: Where can people go to find more information about you? Donald?

Donald Thompson: Uh, LinkedIn and Donald are two great places. Uh, and I’m super excited about interacting with more folks.

And a lot of the email lately is have been different podcast questions. People want to answer different themes and I’m really excited about that, right? Cause we’re building a community that’s small now, but growing of folks that really just want to get together to grow together. Right, and that’s really all we’re trying to do.

Jason Gillikin: Where can people go to find more information about you Donald?

Donald Thompson: LinkedIn and are two great places. And I’m super excited about interacting with more folks. And a lot of the email lately has been different podcast questions.

People want to answer different themes and I’m really excited about that, right? Cause we’re building a community that’s small now, but growing of folks that really just want to get together to grow together. Right, and that’s really all we’re trying to do.

Jason Gillikin: Yeah, of course. Well, thanks for listening everybody and for more information on Walk West, you can go to as well, but definitely go to  and

If you liked this podcast, give us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. This episode was edited and produced by Earfluence. For more on Earfluence, go to Thanks for listening everybody, and we’ll see you next time on Hustle Unlimited.

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