Episode 2: Rising Above Your Circumstances
with Mohamed Massaquoi

When faced with incredible loss, former NFL wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi did not become a victim of his circumstances but rather chose to take ownership of his life. His powerful story inspires us all to believe that with preparation and perseverance, we can face challenges and come out better on the other side.

About our guest

Learn more about The VESSOL
Connect with Mohamed on LinkedIn
Follow Mohamed on Instagram

Mohamed Massaquoi is the founder of The VESSOL and a strategic advisor on organizational change. In the spring of 2017, Mohamed’s life changed following a near death ATV accident that resulted in the amputation of his left hand. Prior to that accident, Mohamed preformed under high pressure change daily as a professional athlete in the NFL. Mohamed was a 2009 second-round pick for the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft and played professionally for 5 seasons.

Mohamed is a graduate of the Harvard Business School after completing the Program for Leadership Development, which functions as their alternative executive MBA. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Georgia. While at the University of Georgia, Mohamed was named 2008 team captain, selected as a first-team All-Southeastern Conference and Academic All-SEC member. He is a member of the 2018 UGA 40 under 40 class. Mohamed currently serves on the University of Georgia alumni board. Mohamed worked at Morgan Stanley prior to founding The VESSOL.

An accomplished speaker and thought leader, Mohamed regularly presents on change, opportunities in adversity, and preparing for desired outcomes.

Episode transcript

Keith: All right, everybody, welcome to the first interview that we're doing on the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast. My name is Keith Eigel from the Leaders Lyceum. With me, as will be always, is Dr. Sara Musgrove. Hi, Sara.

Sara: Hey, I'm so excited about this first episode we have for people. This interview is unbelievable.

Keith: Me too. We are going to be interviewing Mohamed Massaquoi who, for any of the University of Georgia Bulldogs fans, is the fourth best wide receiver in the school's history, which is amazing given some of the people that have come out of UGA. He was a second round draft pick with the Cleveland Browns. I think one of the defining things about Mohamed is that he suffered a tragic accident in 2017 that ended his career. He had an ATV accident and lost most of his left hand. And that's remarkable, the story of recovery is remarkable, but what is more remarkable is what Mohamed did with that challenge and he has leveraged that into some advanced education from Harvard. He has put together his thoughts and approach to how organizations can ready themselves for change. He started a company called The VESSOL. More notes will be on that in the podcast. But, Sara, I'm just so excited for people to get to hear Mohamed's take on growth and challenge and what do you do about it.

Sara: Yeah, I mean, there's so many so many gems in your conversation with him. I couldn't even keep up on taking notes. But I think the thing that strikes me is he is the example of how we teach people that we should grow, right? He is somebody who takes every opportunity and says, how can I use this to make myself better? How can I push through these challenges and not just kind of sit and be a victim of it? And in this way, he's not normal in terms of the way that we as humans grow. He's 33 years old, but he is so far ahead of his years in terms of his maturity. And it just oozes out of him in your conversation. But he's the example that we can look at and say, what are the things that he is doing, that people like him who just naturally are bent towards development, what are they doing and how can we take those best practices and apply them to our own growth? And so Mohamed gives so many great gems. We'll talk about him at the end of the interview.

So without any more discussion, I want to just get straight to the interview so people can hear Mohamed's story and how he has learned to let the challenges in life grow him into a greater version of himself.
Keith: All right, Mohamed Massaquoi, what a treat it is to have you on the Growing as Grown-Ups podcast.

Mohamed: It’s a pleasure to join you, my friend.

Keith: Mohamed and I met through a mutual friend, another University of Georgia grad, not too long ago. And I tell you folks, I'm just excited for what Mohamed is up to in his life, and his story, and what he's doing. It's meaningful to me and Mohamed, I just wanted you on one of these early ones, because what we're talking about and what we talk about with all of the leaders that we kind of are involved in their lives of growing as grown-ups is how the harder stuff that we face in life winds up shaping us into the people that we are.

Before we get going, you know, Mohamed was a professional athlete, worked in a world that most of us can only dream of. But Mohamed, I'm just curious, you sat under so many leaders as an athlete. You’ve got family around you. All of these influences. When you think back on what leader influenced you the most, who would you say?

Mohamed: I'll say my high school head coach, Tommy Knotts, and I'll put it in context. My high school won 109 games in a row, seven straight championships, and you can look at that isolated situation but he's been able to repeat that at three different schools. The school that he's at right now, I think they're on their second or third championship. And so just the ability to not only be in the trenches with you, but to speak life into you for things that you don't even know are within you. And so I was telling your story. He would work out what he was the strongest guy on the team, as a coach, and he would ride his bike from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Myrtle Beach every summer. And so when you're watching a guy like that model out excellence and set expectations at the highest level and we defined our goals very narrowly, it was we are trying to win a championship and we're trying to be undefeated and we're trying to do it at this level. And so every action was filtered through that right there. And still to this day, he'll send me a message and say, hey, are you doing this because he wants to make sure that we're not trailing off even though we're not playing for him anymore.

Keith: So he keeps up with you 15, 16 years later and is wondering about your fitness.

Mohamed: Oh, like he comes to weddings. We send them baby pictures. He’s just a guy that he doesn't stop. He doesn't stop. It’s whatever you're doing in life, you're supposed to do it at the highest level, whether it's sport, whether it's school, whether it's whatever and whatever you have the ability to control, you just don't you don't know what is on the other side. So you have to constantly prepare yourself for the unknown to be able to thrive in them.

Keith: Yeah. One of the things that we talk about when we talk about, you know, measures of leader effectiveness and what are some of the correlates to that. Right. What are some of the things that are related to people being really effective? There is one of the things that constantly comes up is sort of a groundedness and who you are, right. That you that you've got a great sense of purpose, why you do the things you do. Not much of it is accidental, right? Did that characterize him or was it just his flat out drive for the finish line?

Mohamed: No, we had a situation where we would wear our team uniforms before games, and we had a situation where the state of North Carolina wanted to change our procedures before the state championship game. And he literally told them, these are the ways that my guys performed best. And so I'm not going to take them out of their comfort zone to appease you. And so maybe you can work something out with the other teams, but this is how my guys are going to show up. And so the ability to always have the individuals that you're influencing to know that he has our back. And then to be able to say we've prepared in such a way that anything that comes our way, we'll be able to execute on. So now it's just a matter of doing it. And so there was never a situation where we felt unprepared. There was never a situation where we felt overwhelmed. There was never a situation where we didn't feel united as a team. And so when you have those different elements all feeding into the system continuously, you have no choice but to function at a high level. To even make it even more crazy, the high school team that I played on, another guy, Hakeem Nicks, played wide receiver. We were both first and second round draft picks in the same draft from the same high school. And we're both inner city kids and nobody, we hadn't seen anybody really do it. But just the ability to speak life into us and give us different options is something he's continuously doing for everybody that he comes in contact with.

Keith: What a gift that is, what a legacy he’s going to leave.

Mohamed: Oh, 1,000%

Keith: And already leaving a legacy.

As we've talked about and when we met previously before the whole COVID thing, right, when we were face to face. So much of the work that we do, and the reason we're doing this podcast, is to try and create a way for people to have the courage to lean in to what's not easy in their worlds, right. And sometimes that can be a difficult boss. Sometimes that can be a conflict with a colleague. For many people, I'm sure covid and social unrest and, you know, economic difficulties right now. There's a lot of stuff coming in on people today. And yet some of these things wind up shaping us in ways and have the potential to shape us in ways that make us cooler versions of ourselves before it's all over. And, you know, I asked you if you wouldn't mind thinking through some of this before we even had the interview. But as you look back over the course of your life, right as not over the last six months, but over the last years or decades, would you be willing to share with the audience sort of a challenge that you've been through, how it shaped you, how you've come out on the other side? And I'll just if it's OK, I'll just follow up with some questions on this to push on some areas.

Mohamed: Yes. So the audience may not know, but in 2017, I had a very traumatic life changing accident where I actually lost my left hand and became an amputee after an ATV accident. And you could just imagine when you lose something that you've come into the world with, it just rocks you to your core. And it's not like a break where you can rehab it and get it back. It's gone forever. And a lot of leaders, a lot of businesses have situations where some portion of them will be gone forever. Some people may not make it through. Some people may lose capability. Some industries have been disrupted. And so you can look at that and say, OK, let me go recreate this hand. You can either do it artificially, which will never function as well as the original, or you can figure out what the next element or what the next chapter will be. So for me, a couple of things happened. When I was in the hospital. I kept hearing ‘code blue’, and every time you hear code blue it means somebody dies. I heard that probably five times. And so you realize that I'm going to walk out of here like some people aren't going to be fortunate to walk out of here so I can sulk and say, oh my God, woe is me. Or I can devote the rest of my life to making sure the next chapter is even more dynamic than the first.

Keith: Was that awareness starting to even hit you in the hospital?

Mohamed: It was because you look within yourself, you look within yourself and say, oh my God, you know, it is bad. The best advice that I had was you have to take ownership of the situation. In a lot of times we want to dismiss the situation or think that it's going to go away. But situations like covid, it’s here. My hand is gone. People are under financial stress. You own the full weight of that. And then from there, you can deal with the trauma. You can deal with all the ups and downs and uncertainties so that when you move forward, you're moving forward with a clear, conscious mind towards whatever the next thing is.

Keith: Yeah, in the throes of the accident, the days and weeks, I know that it was a significant period of recovery. There had to be confusion, there had to be what does all this mean, you know. What was the hardest thing? The physical is one thing, but what was the hardest thing you were having to deal with in terms of making sense of your life, who you were, all of these kinds of things? What was what was toughest during that time for you?

Mohamed: Well, it happens in stages. First you go through shock. You don't you don't know how to process it. I had 12 surgeries, so I'm in and out of surgery, you can't really stop and digest what's taken place. And then you have the physical pain because you're no longer on the medicine. And then you have anxiety, you have depression, you have different elements of just mental trauma. And then the physical pain never goes away, still I have certain pains, phantom pains and phantom shocks that I’m dealing with. But then you hit a point to where you start to think, I can't stay here forever. My grandma, great grandmother, lived until she was 95. My grandma right now is 75 years old, so my accident happened at 30. I could potentially have another 65 years of living. And so a third of my life was lived, I have two thirds of my life left. What am I going to do with that? And so for me, I went to go get the right mental help because I think wellness is correlated to capacity. If you're not in the right mental space or the right physical space, there's no way that your body can execute on the things that you want to do in any professional capacity. And then I had to really return back to the essence of who I was, which was I actually studied psychology in undergrad. And at the time I was in finance, which was a very comfortable position, and I probably would have stayed there for a period longer than I should have. But because I got thrown out of my element, it forced me to return back to the thing that I was uniquely qualified to do and my passion lied. And if I'm honest, I was just nervous to pursue it at that time when I retired from the NFL.

Keith: Yeah, what was the biggest worry, fear or resistance to taking that step? I mean, cause again, I talk a lot about the lens that we see the world through. You and I came to this conversation today with an understanding of ourselves, others in the world around us, right. And even going into the accident, you had a way of understanding who Mohamed was, and I don't know if you can speak to that. I don't know if you've ever reflected on that. But can you speak to the way you saw yourself pre-accident and and how you saw yourself new after the accident?

Mohamed: I think my situation is unique because you get a chance, I get a chance as an athlete to be an athlete, and so the other components you don't necessarily have to showcase those more because you can hide behind the talent of just performance. But then when you actually have to stop and say, where do I have to go further to develop myself in ways that is just unknown to me. Those are the things that I shied away from, because if you go into a corporate role, you kind of have a playbook that you follow. But if you do the entrepreneurial route and you're solving a different set of problems, you're figuring it out in your troubleshooting in ways that there's no rule book, there's no manual for it. You're reliant on other great professionals and you're relying on developing this experience. And I think that was the thing that made me nervous. But when you have this near-death experience or this really hardship, you realize, one, that you can withstand it and, two, that nothing, nothing is guaranteed anyway. Change is going to happen whether you want it to or not. And so you might as well start journeying down the direction that you should be versus wasting time in another capacity.

Keith: Yeah. And I have to tell you, your story to me is so inspirational because I look at the challenges that I've faced and there's a part of me that wants to go hey, Mohamed could lean into that the way he leaned in to that, I can deal with this difficulty in a relationship, I can deal with this disappointment in a professional setting. And yet when we have the option to sweep stuff under the rug, we have the option to stop growing, right. When we can ignore the thing that's challenging us, we can essentially hold growth at bay. And yet you found yourself in a situation where, like every worst fear you may have had the year prior, it had all been realized. And so now you're kind of left with who am I going to be? What am I going to do? What's the impact that I want to have? And I love this perspective of, you know, potentially 60 or more years ahead of you just based on some kind of family lineage sort of stuff, it's a good marker to put out there. Can you put words to what you learned new about you, not the world, not business, but what did you learn new about you as you reflect back now on that time? Like what's the thing in Mohamed that is different now than it was prior to that?

Mohamed: I think I know who I am, you know. I heard a guy say one time, most people walk through life as an unpaid actor, you know, which is very true. People are molding and shaping to their environments and they never really spend the time to be who they actually want to be. And a lot of that is going back to your family lineage. If I take you even further back, I’m the son of immigrants. They escaped the civil war in West Africa. And so just the sacrifices that were made even prior to me being born in this country, you realize that you come from a family that's resilient. You've come from a family that's overcome adversity. And even when I think about my grandmother, my great grandparents, they were entrepreneurs. My grandma, who lives in Liberia now, she still has a shop and she still is very active in doing certain things. So it's who you are. And so in embracing who you are and who you were designed to be, it gives you even more confidence to know that you're on the right track and you're doing the right thing. You want to continue to move your family, your legacy forward you know. I think everybody wants to add value. Everybody wants to have impact. And you can't do that playing it small. You can't do it just fitting in. You can't do it going with the status quo. You have to make bets based off of what you believe in, especially if it's coming from a pure hearted place and a place that wants to enhance somebody else's experience in some capacity.

Keith: Yeah. Oh, my gosh, I mean, it's just so good, you know, that the developmental progression that we go through as adults is that we are initially in our, for most of us, it's in our 20s for the most part. People who aren't growing as fast, who aren't leaning in to what's difficult and figuring out who they're going to be, stay in this space a little bit longer, but there's a lot of outside-in influence, right? You talk about the impact that your high school coach had on you. You've had other coaches, collegiate, professional after that, you've had all these people pouring into you saying we want you to be a certain way, perform a certain way. You made a comment earlier in this interview that a lot of this stuff was kind of pre-decided for me, right. The way we're going to perform the things that we were going to do. And if we wind up staying in that place where we allow all of the outside factors to influence our understanding of ourselves, we become as people of influence, as leaders, less and less effective as time passes. Because what we should be becoming is grounded in who we are. You know, we use the word self-authored. We ought to be authoring who we are, what we're going to stand for, what's important to us, the values. And I think one of the things, and y’all we'll talk about this later in the podcast and it'll be in the show notes. But Mohamed has written a series of I'd call them essays on change, on crisis, on covid, on racial tension, on a whole number of things. And Mohamed, you absolutely have wisdom beyond your years. I mean, I don't want to make you blush or anything, but you know why, because we don't expect people to be grounded at the level that I think the challenge required of you, the accident required of you, you know. I mean, I guess you could have held it at bay, you could have decided to cover it up or mask it with drugs or something. I mean, we've seen people that have gone down that road. But you started to reflect on who am I going to be? And that is a move not only toward developmental maturity, it's a move toward effectiveness.

Mohamed: I think people want to be there though, and I think it's a glitch. It's something that hinders them from moving towards whatever that is. And maybe it's their upbringing. Maybe it's something else that needs some type of medical attention. Maybe they've been groomed by somebody else where they thought that was the way that we're supposed to be. But the more that you return to who you are, you have joy, you have comfort, you have confidence. I had a guy one time asked me whether I qualified to do a project. And I was kind of taken aback by it. And I was like, who's qualified? Like, how do you define who's qualified? Was Steve Jobs qualified? You know, was Tesla qualified? Is Elon Musk qualified? Like, who is actually qualified to do the things that they're supposed to do? You qualify yourself through your experiences through your intent. And if you continue to enhance your capabilities, you'll be overqualified going into situations. And so I think everyone should continue to figure out ways that they can develop themselves. And if you have a bad default, know that you can solve for that versus leaning into it because your pride and your ego forces you to stay somewhere that you know you shouldn't be.

Keith: Yeah, so good. It's so good. So, you know, one of the things that we say is that there's always an opportunity to keep growing for the rest of our lives. And for you to have these models of both your grandmother and your great grandmother and to see people who, presumably, you know, the fact that your grandmother still has a shop and is active, did you say 74? Is that what you said her age was?

Mohamed: 75? Yes, she's very active. She rides to the market on the back of a motorcycle, which I think she's crazy for.

Keith: So right now we're in a new space, right? It was probably January or February when we were together at my office. March 12th, the world shut down. The world shutting down led to a whole new set of norms about how we need to be together. It's had an economic impact in the middle of this. There have been some just horrific, you know, racial, social kinds of things that have created, I think, challenge for many people. I think it has taken the blinders off of a lot of people who look maybe a little bit more like me, that have been able to put a lot of this in a box for a period of time. On top of that, Mohamed, you have started a business called The VESSOL and will get there in a little bit. But there is a lot of potential for challenge in your world right now, right? And if a challenge is the fuel for growth, what's the biggest challenge you're facing right now at this point in your life?

Mohamed: Yes, that’s a good question. I can't pinpoint a challenge. I would say it's more so just giving myself grace that this period is what it is. I think people are trying to just will their way through or just do heroic things. And I think sometimes you have to slow down and understand what you're actually trying to accomplish through this. And so that when you come through it, you can come out of it better. It's almost like when you hear somebody overcoming an adverse situation, you don't expect them to overcome it. But there's a period between whatever the traumatic thing happened to the outcome. And people forget about that at times, especially right now, where people are trying to do all of these different things versus letting this period be a time of almost like a slingshot to spring them forward into a new chapter versus doubling down on the chapter that they're in. And so me, I've actually pulled back and said, ok, for phase to phase three, where do I need to be? What do I need to do to make sure that when I get there, I'm uniquely positioned to do things that other people can't and drive value in ways that other people can't. And so that's been my focus to almost pull myself out of the weeds at times and figure out where the opportunities in these adverse situations are coming from.

Keith: Yeah, you know, one of the things that we use as sort of a model for growth is that we ask people to think about their biggest frustration or the thing that, if it were different, would make them more effective during this time. If it’s possible for me to recast what you're saying a little bit, it’s that, hey, I wish that I was able to be more proactive. I wish that I was able to take these steps, right. But there's a reality to the circumstances that's inhibiting that. So it would be easy to blame the circumstances, right. And yet what you're saying it's the reflective posture is really amazing to me that you're sort of thinking, ok, well, how do I sort of stay calm? And your ability to deal with adversity is way above the norm, I think. But a lot of times what those frustrations wind up pointing to, is they wind up pointing to something that really matters to us that's not being achieved or realized because of the thing. Like sometimes we feel like I wish I was better at managing my time, or I wish I was more organized, or I wish this covid environment wasn't doing this to us right now. You could point to things both inside and outside, but all of those things wind up pointing to I've got a difference I want to make, right. Because I've got a contribution I want to make. Because I want to realize more of my potential. And once we start to realize the value that we're targeting, that is not fully realized yet, right, which is an interesting time in the development of your business to be thinking about. Like I've got all of these things that I want to do. I got this difference I want to make. There are these outside factors that are playing a role in this right now. And what's so cool is the way you're kind of leaning into, well, what can I do? And for a lot of people, they don't actually take that step because what's behind that is a worry, fear and resistance. So let me get you to react to this story, unless it just totally doesn't fit, but it's like you could think, you know what, I need to stay calm right now. I need to think about how to grow myself and refine myself during this time period where I don't have total control of the circumstances. But what I worry, fear or resist in doing that is that I might get passed by, I might lose my edge, I may suffer financially, others may look at me like I'm not taking the steps. But it's almost like you've taken all of that and said, no, this is a time that I've got to just sort of push that worry, fear and resistance aside and look at this new kind of way of being. Is the way I'm casting that even fair, given your story and the way you're thinking about it?

Mohamed: So I look at this as like a get out of jail free card to explore the opportunities that will naturally present themselves and develop the capabilities that you need to really thrive in those areas. Because if you run hard, you may not be prepared for a situation so you mess it up or you approach it the wrong way. But then you may take your eye off of something that you're more gifted at. And so I have a friend, he says BITWA - best in the world at. Where can I be the best in the world at? And if I'm the best in the world at something, I don't have to worry about the financial side of it. I don't have to worry about being passed up because I'm going to be the preferred option. But in order to get there, you have to have certain capabilities that other people can't replicate. You have to have certain approaches that other people can't replicate. So some of my time has been developing those capabilities that I know are unique to me and my skill set that I can really lean into. And then the other side of that is the opportunities that I am working on, over-delivering on those, over-doing things that will continue to gain experience and set myself apart. And so it's this healthy balance of really leaning into the things that you can thrive in now and then, with the disruption occurring, figuring out what are the things that I need to be preparing myself for so that when something else comes, I can withstand it. And to paint that like even more real, the reason I had 12 surgeries wasn't because the doctor just wanted to have surgery. It was because the physical shape that my body was in when I walked in the hospital gave the doctor confidence that we could do everything in the world to save as much of my hand as possible. But without being in that type of shape, it would have been one surgery and done. And so if you put that into where we are now, with the capabilities that I need to develop right now, so that whenever the next thing, and there will be a next thing, there is always a next thing, I can withstand that in a way that doesn't disrupt me. And so that that's where I've been spending a lot of my time and thriving in the areas that I know I should thrive at. But also taking a step back and saying, I need to develop this right now because let's say covid lasts for another three years. Let's say covid lasts for whatever, I need to be able to withstand all of that and not, you know, try to figure it out then. This is a time to figure that out now.

Keith: Yeah, the thing that I want to happen at this point, because, you know, we've worked with thousands, literally thousands of next generation leaders. They're in their 30s for the most part, some of them bleeding into their mid 40s as usually the upper end. We do work with executive teams as well, but that work is different. And there are so many people who find themselves in the midst of challenges, right. They find themselves in challenges that are big and obvious and you wouldn't wish them on anybody. Some challenges are just, you know, worried too much about what people are thinking of you, or is my boss happy, or I've got a difficult boss, and they get paralyzed to challenge, kind of, their status quo that holds them in place. You know, I'm just going to keep my head down. I'm just going to try and make everybody happy. And don't know if part of that is just being an elite athlete, because that is a different mentality from the word get go because it's beyond the physical skills. It is stewarding those skills that makes you an elite athlete. There are probably a number of people that have the capacity that don't steward those skills well. So maybe there's something about you. But as you think about how many people feel stuck, right. It's almost like the circumstances have them, or or their own inadequacies have them, in some way. What would your encouragement to those folks be?

Mohamed: It’s intent. The intent is to create value. I remember when I played for Cleveland, you can look and say everything here is very dysfunctional. We had an ownership change. We had multiple head coaches. We had people coming in and out. And so you could use the excuse that this place is in an environment that you should thrive in, or you could flip that on its head and say, I was brought here to create value. I was brought here to be the change. And so it's really your perspective on the situation. So if you come in and you say it's bad, like covid is bad, like no one can deny that it is truly bad, you start to get sucked in into giving yourself excuses. But if you say, ok, I understand it's bad, but my job is to create value, then you start to realize that I can't worry too much about the bad boss. I can't worry too much about the element. I have to shift my focus into problem solving. I have to shift my focus in improving my capability so that when I do attack a situation, I'm going to tackle it in the right way and not mess it up more. And so that idea of where you sit, if you get sucked into the vacuum, you almost stay in the vacuum. But if you pull out and you say, ok, I understand everything around me is terrible, but I have the God given ability. I'm going to continue to work my way through. I will continue to learn how to add value to this. I'm going to bring the right people in. I will pull myself out of it. I’m going to evaluate it. I'm going to have my self-awareness at an all time high so I know what areas that we get. And so when I attack this problem, I'm attacking it with the intent of solving it, not going into it as just, it is what it is. I don't know, you know, how this is going to turn out. No, you're there to create value.

Keith: I love it. If you are likely to stand in your own way, right. If there's any part of you that would keep you from achieving what you want to achieve, is it even possible for you to give word to that? Like what would be the area that you would be most likely to keep yourself from realizing the change that you're trying to be and that you want to see?

Mohamed: I don't know. There are certain things at this point which are non-negotiables. It’s not even is not optional. From going back to school to make sure that from an academic standpoint I was where I needed to be, to reading, to getting new experiences, to develop in the right relationship, to strengthen the relationships that already exist. So there's certain things that I have written down that are non-negotiable. And so I have a clear reference point of where I should be spending my time and what I should be doing. And it's not like formulaic or anything where on Monday I'm doing this, but it's just this compass that continues to keep me north. And the people around me function in the same capacity that I do. So if I do get off kilter, they're going to pull me back. Even when my accident was taking place, I would have friends that were literally like, all right, time to get up, time to go workout, get up, you know, go. And so you can't do it by yourself. I think that people make this mistake to think that they have to be heroic in everything and you can't be the best in the world at everything. So you need other dynamic people around you that are going to help you on your journey, that are going to keep you accountable. And you have to do the same to them because, you know, sometimes they may need help and they may struggle. And when you have this system of everyone taking actions that makes the other person more successful and puts them in positions to thrive in the areas that they want to thrive, the system just continues to feed on itself. And so there's people around me like that that they hold me accountable. They function at a high level. And I almost feel like I would have to self select out if I didn't want to be involved in that type of environment because they're not slowing down any time soon. And so I wouldn't fit into that type of culture. And so that's something that you have to figure out. Do you want to be in a culture like that? Because if so, you have to keep surrounding yourself with people like that. And if you don't, then remove yourself because there's going to be tension and frustration because those people don't really co-exist well together.

Keith: Mm hmm. It's just like this is a podcast on best practices for growth. I have to tell you  folks, this is a standard deviation or two beyond the norm in terms of just leaning in. Not worrying about the fears of what might happen, but keeping the bigger you goal, the bigger you that you want to be, the influence that you want to have, the difference you want to make, keeping that in front of you and saying all these other factors are not going to stand in my way. And then to combine that with the importance of people who will push, people who will hold you accountable, people who also need encouragement and the growth that even comes from giving them encouragement, right. Not only for them, but for you being that person. It's like all of this stuff is just so best practices stuff in terms of how we grow ourselves. And so many people wind up thinking, well, I'm alone, I'm the only one struggling with this, right? And when you get into relationship with other people, folks, he's shaking his head right now. We're all in this journey together and surrounding ourselves with great people who also want to grow, it's game changing.

Mohamed: We're human like the same people that I'm talking about, like I can call them right now and say I'm having a bad day and cry, you know, and there's the guy might be six-three two hundred seventy-five pounds and I could cry on his shoulder, you know, and I don't view myself as less of the man. I view myself as human, you know. And likewise he may be struggling with something or somebody else may be struggling with something and that builds stronger bonds and builds stronger relationships. And so when you do have a challenge, you do have an opportunity, those people are more inclined to want to help you because they know the real you. But if I don't know the real you, I don't know how to insert. I don't know what things to fill in the gap, but I don't know how to think two or three steps ahead because I only know this artificial shell which leads nowhere, honestly. If you know the real person, you know how to pull them, you know how to challenge them, you know how to push them, you know how to be honest, you know how to be transparent with them. And that's how you continue to grow. You don't grow if you just present the costume, you grow when you present the real skeletons and everything inside of it.

Keith: Oh, my gosh. I mean, that is so well said.

Well, we need to begin to wrap up our time together. But, you know, just right now in your world today, what are you most excited about?

Mohamed: Organizational change. I've been fortunate to work with a number of different companies and just look at how their people function through change. People don't know that, or I don't think they realize how much business is that is predicated on people and their actions. It’s not just the financials, it’s not the actual tangible thing that you make, it’s people making decisions with other people in mind. And so in being able to look at team culture and being able to look at mindset and being able to look at capabilities inside of an organization. And how do you combine those things to create a desired outcome. And sometimes what companies think their desired outcomes dramatically changes into something that is even more special to them. And it's fun seeing that spark go off because you have all this cognitive diversity working in harmony across different silos and they go and create this beautiful thing in. The most beautiful thing about it is you transfer ownership. It's not like you're coming in and giving them an answer. You're empowering them to come up with their own answers, their own discoveries, in their own self growth, to continue to move things forward, which is just it's almost like playing sports all over again.

Keith: Oh, my gosh. Well, Mohamed, way to make a difference. Right. Way to make a difference. I mean, the world needs this. So what a gift to me to just hear your story. This is more than we've even talked in other situations. And just to get your take on so much of this is a beautiful thing for me. So how can people get in touch with you, follow you, whatever? I'm not a huge social media person, but as are their digits or ads or things that they ought to know about.

Mohamed: We'll get you caught up to speed on that offline. But my website is and my social media handles are @IronMassaquoi. I've kind of taken on the moniker now since I've become an amputee. And then on LinkedIn, it's just my name and I think I'm the only one unless my dad's created a profile. So you'll be able to contact me, You'll either get in contact with him or me. He'll forward it to me.

Keith: Oh, my goodness, what a pleasure. Thank you for spending time with us. Thank you for sharing your story with the audience. Thank you for the encouragement and just the just the model. It's been again, it's been a treat.

Mohamed: It's a pleasure, man. And just thank you for being a friend along my journey, so any time you want to do this, I’m game.

Keith: I love it. We will talk soon. Folks, thanks for tuning in.

Mohamed: All right, talk soon.


Sara: Oh, my gosh, what a fun conversation. I mean, Keith, is he not just the coolest guy?

Keith: Yeah, you said it before we got into the interview, but if I could just pick up that thread, folks, that's what not-normal looks like. Right. And do you know why? The reason I know that is because this is what normal looks like, me, and I may be above average, I may be in the fifty-first percentile. But, you know, I think that's one of the things is we need to recognize that we are average, we may be above average, but we're in this sort of the 60 or 70 percent of people that are sort of within normal. Right. And Mohamed is outside of normal. And yet, Sara, you made this comment it’s like he's the exemplar. It’s what we can engage in to sort of move in a direction that is going to drive us forward, right, to help us confront the things that hold us in place, because it's almost like he's blind to the things that hold him in place. He's just pushing through them no matter what.

Sara: Right. And it's this elite athlete mindset. Right. But we are not physically or developmentally elite athletes. But this idea of training, of saying I needed to practice and show up every day and work at it as best as I can at the highest of levels, so that when something comes my way that I didn't plan for, I've practiced. I know how to handle it. And so in terms of development, it's when you have to face a difficult conversation, you've practiced, you've taken small steps and having conversations that weren't easy with people, where it was not as high stakes. When you have your world thrown upside down because of COVID changing the way the business world, you've practiced at learning how to adapt. It's all these different things that the athletic training has taught him that's extended beyond football that he's just learned. I've got to take every opportunity. Lean in. How do I keep preparing for the unexpected? How do I keep pushing through these obstacles? Knowing that he is capable of doing more no matter how far he's already come.

Keith: Yeah, and if I could just talk for a minute about the rest of us. Because the rest of us know what the obstacles are. Number one, in some way, we are part of the obstacle. We are way more adept at identifying, or if we haven't identified it, at least having a sense of what could go wrong if we tried something in the direction of where we wanted to go and it didn't work out and, oh my gosh, I might fail, or they might not like me, or it may ostracize me or, you know, I mean, there's a million different things to have worry, fear and resistance about, but it works to hold us in place. And I think what we get to see through Mohamed’s interview is this idea that, my gosh, the thing that he talked about, there was one line that he made that I just fell in love with. He said he was talking about the difference he wanted to make. It was at the very end of the interview, he said, that's the compass that keeps me north. It's the compass that keeps me north. So when times get tough, when I'm bumping up against stuff, I'm just taking steps in the direction of north for me. And I think for those of us listening to the interview with a little bit of thought and a little bit of reflection, we can kind of accurately name who we want to be, the difference that we want to make, what realizing our potential might look like and folks, that's our north, right? That's the bigger ME target. And when we can identify what keeps me from taking steps in the direction of that, it is usually some commitment to our own status quo, or it is usually some fear or worry or it's going to take too much time. That's what we mean by worry, fear, resistance that holds us in place. And yet for me, it was just totally inspirational to think, you know what, that's not the way we're going to work this. We are going to just be taking steps and we're going to move in a direction. I don't know what stood out to you, but that that was one of the huge things for me.

Sara: Yeah. I think to follow along with that, he talked about how he knew his True North, right. It was really clear that he had decided who he was. He said that was one of the biggest takeaways coming out of the hospital is like he knew who he was. But another best practice that came out of what he said was the importance of having these developmental relationships, and having this group of guys around him who would speak challenge and encouragement into his life, that when things got hard, somebody was going to be there and say, nope, get up, you can do this. We can figure this out and hold him accountable to that north that he had already declared was what he wanted his life to be about. And so I think that's going to be something we hear from a lot of people is the importance of having people around you on the journey who are moving in the same direction, who have that goal to continue to develop and grow. And surrounding yourself with people on that journey as well will help you keep making progress.

Keith: Right. That whole developmental relationships piece that he gave us right at the end of the interview, such a powerful thing for us to remind ourselves of that we can't go this alone. But once you understand that it is the challenge that fuels the growth, I mean, Mohamed's life would have taken a very different track. I think, from a maturity perspective, from a wisdom beyond his years perspective, if he was now in his 10th or 11th year in the NFL continuing to catch passes, not to diminish that in any way, it's just, what we know is the challenge is the primary driver for growth, right, and my gosh, he just did such a meaningful, beautiful job of expressing that.

I want to let folks know that Mohamed and I continued the conversation beyond the interview. It's a little 15-minute segment. He's our first guest, so we're still learning how to do all this stuff, but we are going to figure out a way as Mohamed gave us permission. Because there is some amazing stuff that came up outside of that space. Just go to and we'll direct you there in some way if it's not somehow on a podcast thread.
But, Sara, we don't want to keep them forever. Any closing thoughts from you kind of on the interview, anything huge that jumped out that cannot not go unsaid?

Sara: Yeah, I do have one more thing. And he said it in a different way. But anyone that's been around us in the last probably two years has heard us talk about the weather. We use this analogy or metaphor, I'm not a language expert, so I can't tell you which one it is, but how we can't be people who let the weather determine our well-being. That we can't blame and focus all of our energy on what's happening around us because we can't control the rains, the winds, the hurricanes, the heat, any of that stuff. But we can figure out who we want to be in the midst of the weather. And he talked about it in terms of his story of when he went to Cleveland. And he said, like, anyone can come in here and say, this is so dysfunctional, how could you expect me to thrive in this environment? Right. And that would be the normal reaction. And I don't know what was happening in Cleveland at the time.

Keith: I know. How many versions of that have we heard?

Sara: COVID! The world has shut down. How can you expect me to be growing in this time?  And yet he said, instead of that attitude, I went in there and said, I understand that everything happens for a reason. Everything is bad, but I'm here to add value. So let me help. What can I do to help the situation? And it's like, that shift in perspective, shows such a groundedness and a connection with who he wants to be and what he wants to be about, that he can say everything around me is terrible, but I'm still going to push through and be the person I want to be. And it's like there are days that this normal girl says everything is terrible and I want to quit. Right. But that's just not an option for him. And he's like, I'm not going to blame it on the situation, I’ve just got to keep going. We're going to make things better. Everything I can do to make it better.

Keith: Do you know, Sara, I had a hunch when we decided who our first guest was going to be that this could be good because Mohamed and I have had several conversations in the past. We hadn't touched on this level of stuff and I had no idea how good it was going to be, but, you know, it just reminds me if there's a theme to this interview, it's taking responsibility for your own growth. Right. Thank you for bringing up the weather because the weather is not part of Mohamed’s thing that he's factoring in, right. He makes a comment. Yeah, it's just time after time after time, I figured out who I'm going to be. People want to get to who they are, right? It's just every highlight I have is on that, taking responsibility for what you can take responsibility for, even in the midst of horrific weather.

Sara: Yes, so I think the takeaway for our listeners in this is to take the time to think about who you want to be. What is that legacy that you want to leave? What's the value that you want to add? And look at your world and instead of saying everything around me is terrible or this one thing is terrible, what can I do to make this better? How can I be the person that I want to be and take a step towards making this world better? And once you get that True North defined and once you can answer the question of who I'm going to be in the midst of my circumstances, you are going to be on your journey towards becoming more mature, more grounded, more of the person you want to be. And as he acknowledged, when you grow in that way, there's more joy, more security, more confidence, all the things that we want in this life.

Keith: Yeah, Sara, tell them real quick, we've got some resources that can actually help you identify your True North, and can help you identify what how you may be holding yourself in place, what the big worry, fear and resistances are that you may be susceptible to. Give them some direction and then we'll let them go.

Sara: Yes. If you want to go to our website,, we're going to have a lot of resources. We're going to have the video of Mohamed's interview if you want to see him. And he has one of the best smiles so I totally think you should check it out. And you get to see his awesome Ironman hand. But then we also on that website are going to have a resource for you that we use with all of our clients, all of our coaching engagements, called the Growth Gap Tool. And it is a tool that helps you identify both that True North bigger me and the way that you are getting in your own way of becoming the person you want to be. And we are going to have a resource to help walk you through how to fill that document out. If you want to go straight there, you can go to for the Growth Gap Tool or there will be a link to it just on our main website if you end up there. So we would love for you to check that out. We would love to be a part of your journey as you take your next steps forward and continue to become the best version of you that you can be.