Emil Ekiyor, CEO of Innopower, learned some tough lessons after being fired and before finding his purpose. He came to America from Nigeria in high school, never having played football. He learned the game and earned his way into the NFL. He put his head down and got to work. Every. Single. Day. Working on his mind and body to always be competing against himself and the league’s best with his speed, strength, and endurance.
One day it was just over.
After injury and an unexpected termination, his name was at the bottom of ESPN’s screen and he was packing his bags to head home. If you’ve ever been fired, you know how Emil felt. If you’ve never been fired, it feels like that time you belly flopped off the diving board, smacking your whole front side and knocking the wind out of your lungs. Then trying to get back up to air as soon as possible.
Our conversation reminded me that we over-romanticize hard work. We forget that an amazing career has hard work, luck, serendipity, tears, setbacks, and maybe, sometimes, success. Hard work might gain us visibility to the right powers that be, but it’s not the only thing that takes us to the top.
Listen to the full episode for some powerful, counter-intuitive lessons. It almost felt like locker room talk for biz leaders. Like those secret lessons no one thinks to teach you, not the weird sexist crap that makes the news every once in awhile. We don’t do that around here.
(Around 45 minutes in, I started having some mic troubles so you’ll hear a bit less of me until the end. C’est la vie.)
- In those moments where you don’t feel valued or wanted, you still need to handle yourself professionally. Stay classy, mid-level leader.
- There are Big 5 questions to answer before taking action after being shown the door.
- Grinding harder to prove them wrong still may not work.
- Teaching your craft to others will energize you in new ways.
- Your network is always larger and more helpful than you realize.
- Your career focus can make you myopic about life and professional possibilities.
- You have more transferable skills than you think.
- If you want to inspire others, demand high expectations from them too.
- Hard work doesn’t guarantee success. It gives you a chance to be successful.
- When solving problems, don’t overlook simple solutions.
- You must practice to earn the privilege to play the game.
- You’ll still learn a lot when your good ideas fail.
- The biggest opportunity now is to unleash the talent that already exists but needs cultivated.
- Embrace and own your bad experiences because they will eventually propel you into your future.
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About Emil Ekiyor
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Emil Ekiyor left his family (7 sisters and two brothers) in Lagos to pursue educational opportunities in Daytona Beach, Florida, at the age of 15. Emil participated in basketball, soccer, and football in high school and received a full athletic scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida. At the University of Central Florida, Emil was named a captain of the football team. After an outstanding college career, Emil went on to play six years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, and Las Vegas Raiders (formerly Oakland Raiders).
Upon retiring from the NFL, Emil started several businesses in the United States. He launched several projects in Nigeria as CEO of EnabekSolutions, which works with companies in Sub-Saharan Africa and the United States to expand and take advantage of the rapid growth in Sub-Saharan imports and exports. He also served as the National Executive Director for the GEO Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with local community leaders to start, support, and manage high-quality K-12 charter schools in the country; President of the Indianapolis Chapter of Indiana Black Expo, President of Indy Youth Sports, Indianapolis Prayer Breakfast Leadership Team, and Board of Directors for the Friends of Education, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to improving K-12 education in the state of Minnesota since 1999 and Board of Directors of the NFLPA Former Players Indy Chapter.
Growing up in Nigeria and then coming to the US without family, Emil’s journey offers a unique perspective on the gaps in Black communities in Sub-Saharan Africa and the US. These experiences and the desire to close the wealth and opportunity gaps for African Americans and Africans are the driving force behind the creation of INNOPOWER.
INNOPOWER Indy is a nonprofit community development organization that works with communities and stakeholders to create capacity-building opportunities for underrepresented ecosystems, businesses, and professionals in education, workforce development, and entrepreneurship. Learn more at innopowerindy.com.