Stephen Nalley is an American business magnate, entrepreneur, veteran, author, mentor, motivational speaker with a 25-year documented track record of success. He is the Founder, President & CEO of Black Briar Advisors, an elite full-service asset management and hotel consulting firm that distinguishes itself by representing hotel owners/investors’ interest exclusively.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I was born and raised in Palatka, Florida, which is a small rural town that has a population of around 7,000 people. I graduated from Palatka High School in 1987, along with 41 other students. My parents were hard-working and my Mother worked two jobs to ensure that we had everything that we needed. I can not think of a specific experience because every day of my childhood was a lesson. My parents were very supportive but also adhered to old-school principles. As I child, I was taught every day about the importance of Character, Honor, Loyalty, Disciple, and Love. If you grew up in my house you understood the word work by the time that you could walk. You also understood the word sacrifice. My parents always instilled in us that if we were willing to put in the work and make sacrifices that anything and everything was possible. I was raised to believe that the only two things that we controlled in this life were our mindset and our output. On the cover of my book “Relentless Pursuit”, there is a quote by me that states: “The only real talent that I possess is the fact that I cannot be outworked”.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
When I was in high school, I was a below-average student. Popularity was very important to me and I was preoccupied with things that have no relevance to me today. I regret that I was not focused on the things that mattered most. I was always hard working and had discipline, but I applied those traits to things that did not produce the outcomes that would help me in the future. If I had to do it all over again, I would have focused more on my academics and made better choices. I would not learn this until later, but outcomes matter. It does not matter how hard we work or how much effort we put into something. If it is something that does not move us forward in life then it is nothing more than wasted time.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
There are a few. I hate it when I hear people say double down on your strengths. I also disagree with the concept of trying your best. I have to be careful here because this is easily misunderstood. Being successful is a lifestyle and it is all about mindset. All successful people are mentally strong. It is the one thing that they all have in common. The objective in life and business is to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. I believe that we should build on our strengths, but triple down on our weaknesses. I have a win or learn mentality. When I fall short, I am obsessed with not repeating the same mistakes. There was a time in my life when I could not read and comprehend information as well as others. That is not the case today. I could give you hundreds of other examples. Also, this concept of just doing your best is confusing to me because how you define the word best? I like the approach of “Failure is NOT an option”. I do not do anything without the mindset of reaching my maximum potential. The truth is that most people fall short or quit when they become uncomfortable. Is this their best? Why settle for best when best can be better? If the goal really means something to you then the objective should be to overcome all adversity and achieve it no matter what. The word best in a lot of cases does not take into account people’s self-imposed limitations, which is the number one reason that most people are not able to reach their goals.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
When I graduated from High School, I enrolled at St John’s River Community College as a student and walk-on athlete for the baseball team. After the first semester, I had failed all of my classes and was place on academic probation, and not eligible to play baseball. This had a huge impact on my life and was the turning point for me. The college was located in my home town and I was embarrassed and humiliated. This was the first time in my life that I had ever failed. Up until that point, I was able to be average without much effort. I found myself looking at the option of getting a job at the local mill or going to work for a convenience store. This scared the heck of me. I realized at that moment that my personal expectations far exceeded that. I not only wanted to be somebody, but I wanted to be great. There was about a month that I feared that I had essentially thrown away my entire life. This would be the last thing that I ever failed. It was the greatest wake-up call that someone could ever get.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I have strong foundations and principles that I live by every day that guide me in my endeavors. This is the major concept in my book “Relentless Pursuit”. Success is not something we achieve. It is a lifestyle. Success starts with knowing what you want and having a compelling reason you want it. We get there by having the discipline to sacrifice what we want right now to accomplish the goals that we have set for ourselves. We must prepare ourselves every day for the opportunities that will present themselves tomorrow. We do this by continuously learning and evolving by tripling down on our weaknesses. Most importantly we must be and remain mentally strong. We do this by having a positive and flexible mindset. We have to be adaptable to change and face adversity when it comes.
What is your morning routine?
This will come as a shock to most people, but not the people who know me well. I am more productive at night. I actually work the opposite of most people. Many of my friends get up at 5:00 am and the reason that they do so is that no one is calling them at that time. I typically go to be bed around 4:00 am and get up at 8:00 am. I break my day down into 4 periods. Morning is from 8:00 am till Noon, which I typically spend with my staff working on issues that are relevant to my business. The afternoon is from Noon until 6:00 pm which I generally spend on the phone or in meetings with clients and/or doing business development. From 6:00 pm until 10:00 pm is personal and family time. I also go to the gym during this period typically with my daughters. From 10:00 pm until 4:00 am is my productive period. This is when my phone is not ringing and everyone else is asleep. This is when I do all of the mental heavy liftings. I started this over 20 years ago. At the time, I was running multiple companies and taking online classes at night. I needed to find a way to accomplish all of my goals in a manner that would allow me to maximize my time with my family. This schedule was the solution and it has been working ever since. I like to joke with my friends and tell them that when they are going to bed is when I go to lunch.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
No doubt that it’s been the concept of attacking my weaknesses. It has been a nightly routine for over 20 years. I spend at least one hour a night working on my weaknesses. If I have a bad business development call that day, I can be found that night going back to the basics of sales. If I fall short as a Father, I can be found that night reading and educating myself on better concepts and methods of parenting. I am obsessed with improvement. My goal every day is to wake up a better man than I was the day before. I am not seeking perfection, but making the same mistakes over and over again due to the fact that we refuse to improve is a self-imposed limitation. As I said earlier, the best is not good enough when the best can be better. Maximizing your full potential is all about pushing past your limitations and your weaknesses are your biggest limitation.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I focus on priorities. To steal a line from the late John F Kennedy, “There is nothing more certain and unchanging than uncertainty and change”. I am an Entrepreneur, Veteran, Author, Mentor, Advisor, Husband, Father, Brother, Son, and Friend. There is never a day that goes by that several things don’t happen that require my immediate attention that was not on my task list for that day. Time is the most important resource that we have. I am not a huge fan of scripting my day because that is impossible. However, I know what I need to get done. I could not tell you what is going on in the news right now or what is happening on my Facebook page. I do not participate in any adult leagues or belong to any social organizations. I have not played golf in over 10 years and I am getting ready to have to cut back on that (LOL). 100% of my focus and energy is on being productive and growing. My friends, family, and co-workers know not to call me during the day unless it is an emergency. Most of the time they will text me and I will call them back at some point. I have always found that the biggest killer of productivity and efficiency is distractions. Early in my career, I would get bogged down by everything that was going on around me. Over 20 years ago, I was introduced to Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People” and it completely changed my mindset on productivity. The one takeaway was scheduling your priorities first and then dealing with everything else after that.
Tell us about Relentless Pursuit, what message do you want your readers to take from it.
The book Relentless Pursuit actually came from my journals that I have kept for over 30 years. People were constantly asking me how I accomplish so much. It started with a list of 10 things that you need to do to be successful. Over time, I began expanding the list into concepts and writing them out to give to people when they would ask me. In 2019, I just decided to write the book.
The book is the foundations and principles that I have lived by for the past 30 years that have enabled a below-average high school student to accomplish extraordinary things like building several companies that generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and simultaneously at age 49 earning a Law Degree from Washington University School of Law with a 4.0 GPA. The concepts in the book are very powerful but basic to understand and follow. I always tell people that I dare them to read the book, understand the book and apply the foundations and principles that are discussed and go try to fail at something. I bet them that it would be impossible.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
There are several books that come to mind. The first is Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. Many people view this book as a military strategy, but I have found life lessons in it and ways to apply Sun Tzu’s principles to business and life. The strategies discussed in the Art of War can be applied to any conflict, not just the battlefield. The book has been re-written many times with different interpretations and I own and have read them all. The second would be Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”. This was my first real glimpse into how to prioritize and organize myself as a professional. One of the 7 habits is called sharpening the saw. Covey describes this as continuous learning. This is where my concept of Tripling down on my weaknesses began. The third would be Herb Cohen’s “You Can Negotiate Anything”. Herb Cohen is one of the best negotiators of all time. That being said, the concepts in this book can be adapted to communicating with anyone about anything. I actually recommend this book to people to learn how to deal with difficult people and resolve disputes.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
It’s not a quote, but rather a statement by the infamous Martial Artist, Bruce Lee. In an interview in 1967, he described his mental approach to his newly founded style that he called “Jeet Kune Do”. He said: “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” I have lived my life by this premise. What Lee is talking about is facing adversity. He is saying that our mindset must be adaptable to the environment that we are in or the challenge that we are facing. Water had no form and it can become whatever you pour it into. In the same interview, he was asked what was the highest technique in Martial Arts that he hoped to obtain and his answer was “To have NO technique”. He wanted to be so mentally flexible that he could adapt to anything.