To me, Willpower is the strength and drive to follow through with what you believe in. It’s determination, direction and having goals.
I had a fairly uneventful childhood. My Dad was a bank president, Mother was a full time mom. One brother. My mom was a very severe alcoholic for most of my “formative years” (10-15) and I do believe that affected me in many ways. While she was really sick, My brother and I would always be on our best behavior. “Do what your’e supposed to do.” My dad had enough on his plate running the community bank and managing around my mom’s alcoholism, so I very much believe that my work ethic and “follow the rules” and “always do your best” was ingrained in those years because we needed my mom to get better. I also witnessed first hand the strength of WILLPOWER when my mom slept through my brothers 17th birthday ….and NEVER had a drink again. She quite “JUST LIKE THAT.” With WILLPOWER. Our family had tried everything to help her get better, and it boiled down to that birthday.
I started late at full time swimming. Our high school had no swim team so once I got my drivers license I bought a car and drove an hour (each way twice a day) to swim with the top YMCA swim program in the country (an assistant couch at the Y was a part time swim coach at our country club and “discovered me” and convinced my parents I had potential. I was SO driven and quickly became one of the top swimmers in the country by the time I graduated high school and received a full scholarship to the University of Michigan (after being heavily recruited around the country).
Tom also found himself becoming the valedictorian of his high school.
I just worked really hard at school and swimming. I had very very little free time. School made exceptions for me too (being able to arrive late or leave early). I would leave home at 6am for practice, Back at school from 9:30am to 3pm, Practice from 4pm-6pm. Home by 7 pm for homework. I do not ever recall being bitter. I think it was because I CHOSE swimming (I loved it) and I just put my head down at school, never actually having the goal to be valedictorian. As the years went by and the list of straight A students got smaller I became more driven. This was 100% willpower, because no one was pushing me (parents).
To make it more interesting... I was co-editor of my high school year book my JR and SR year, and SR year VP of student council. Seriously, how did I do it! Shear DRIVE.
The idea of Olympic potential had not even crossed my mind yet, I just wanted to keep improving and winning, but at Michigan I continued to excel and spent my first summer at one of the top rated swim clubs in the US (Santa Clara) where I lived with swimmers and their families. I came back after that summer and set records at Michigan and every pool I swam at that year and was Collegiate All American. That summer I was invited to the Olympic Swim Training Center in Colorado Springs which was the biggest honor of my swim career. Sadly that summer (1980) the US Boycotted the Olympics but I still had a good experience at the Olympic trials in Mission Veigo that year with Ronald Regan (US President) in the stands.
The only downside from all the training was it’s “toll” on me socially. In high school I had two very different groups of friends (swimmers off campus / students at school) and in college (swim team vs Fraternity). I do feel that my discipline and drive really kept me focused on goal achievement and success, but perhaps at the risk of “having less fun”.
I feel my swimming and academic success were genetic gifts. I for sure had a talent with swimming and being a late bloomer allowed me to rise quickly. I was never the smartest kid in class, but I worked hard and did extra where I could and I never let up. Where I was smart was knowing I had to work my ass off and be hyper organized. I think by nature I am very competitive. Even at Michigan my Senior year I was invited to join a very exclusive club of “campus leaders” that was something I earned but never aimed for.
I do not feel like I missed any childhood experiences….somehow….. I maintained friendships and made many new ones along the way. I went to proms and dances and experimented with pot and alcohol. I dated and danced. Was voted “most likely to succeed” in HS. So believe I was well regarded. I was just SUPER disciplined and people respected that. Trust me, I was never the super “FUN GUY”… I’m sure I was always leaving early to go somewhere else.
My future wife was on the Michigan Swim team. After we got married in 1985, my son was born in 1987. That same year is when I finally came to grips with my sexuality and came out to her as gay when my son was three months old. Our lives turned upside down. It was a horrible year (same year, my mom diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, I switched jobs, and did three tri-atholons). The big story here though is the WILLPOWER to keep a relationship with my son despite all odds and opposition. She is happily remarried and had 4 more children.
What I am MOST PROUD OF in my life is the relationship I have with my son. There were a lot of road blocks, but he has grown into an outstanding young man and the world is a better place because he’s part of it.
I just wanted my son to have a great childhood. He was surrounded by his new siblings and our time together was limited at times. I wanted to create memories with him; traditions. Like I had with my dad. That was successful as we still Honore them today.
Let’s jump forward 15 years…
I never thought I would leave Chicago, especially since my son was in Milwaukee. I had always been intimidated by NYC but had a partner that wanted to move there. I was working in the hotel business and got a transfer into this new organization with Marriott Hotel corporation. I talked to my son about it, he was 15. He was excited about the move and visiting me in NYC. That was 2002. Right after 9/11.
While the partner never ended up coming with me to NYC, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I made amazing new friends, it opened up my entire world to new possibilities and experiences, my jobs allowed me to travel the world (corporate director for Marriott, then Group Director Mandarin Oriental) and really grew up as a man in a big world. I finally felt free of the old ,“do what you’re supported to do, TOM” and the memories of the pain I caused so many people when my wife and I split. It was a new beginning and I took advantage of that socially and professionally.
My entire career was in corporate hotel jobs: Fairmont, Hilton, Marriott and Mandarin Oriental. The hotel business was my passion. How they ran. What they looked like. How they treated people, what made them all unique and different. I traveled all over the world to experience as much as I could and shared with our customers. I was always sales and customer based.
In 2015, I felt like I was at the height of my career leading sales with Mandarin Oriental hotel group, one of the TOP luxury hotel groups in the world, It was time to go while I was “at the top” of my life professionally.
At this same time in my life, my parents had died young (my mom at 54, my dad at 70). They had a fully planned retirement lined up and they never got to take advantage of their hard work and planning. With my parents pre-mature passing, in the back of my mind I had planned to “retire” at 55. I also remember watching the movie “ALICE “ with Julian Moore (she won the Oscar….about early onset of Alzheimer's…which my dad had). This showed my that life is short and not to waste away precious moments and adventures.
After my parents passing my plan was to retire and move to Naples, Florida in the home my mother bought 35 years prior. People told me I was too young to retire and now was the time to do what you wanted to do. I listened and thought about it and narrowed it down to may two passions: Fitness and Hotel Business. I looked into buying a gym in Naples but it did not make sense. I also LOVE the hotel biz and I stumbled on an opportunity to be a freelance event manager. So upon quitting my job and selling my NYC apartment (That I LOVED) I left on my first freelance job LITERALLY my last day at Mandarin Oriental and began traveling the world as an event manager.
My last three years in NYC were tough for me personally, I had a series of shoulder operations that truly debilitated me. I had one shoulder operated on twice to fix an error on the first one (had what was called a SLAP tear) and with rehab and chronic pain my life was consumed with trying to heal. I tried EVERYTHING . Nothing was working. My muscles and body had atrophied. I was depressed and became a social recluse. I withdrew from NY and my friends.
Surprisingly, as soon as I left New York I started the “new career” and I was able to better focus on healing and fitness. It drove me to get stronger and healthier. I had always been into fitness, but this was a renewed passion reclaiming my body and my “soul” that had been broken. WILLPOWER!
I was working out EVERY DAY (and I still do). 1/2 HOUR PT, 1/2 HOUR Muscle/strength building. I gained about 20 pounds, surpassing any fitness levels I had been at before. My confidence grew. I stood taller. I loved my work and seeing the freelancing successfully explode. I was HAPPY for the first time in years.
Where can we find you today?
I casually grew a beard. It was something I had always wanted to do, but Marriott and Mandarin Oriental would not allow facial hair. As I grew the facial hair, I noticed I was getting more/different attention. The beard made me a bit more interesting and that led a good friend of mine who is a stylist to introduce me to a Modeling Agency in Miami. They signed me on the spot and since then I have taken on 6 additional agencies around the US and have been modeling pretty steadily since then. At first, my freelance event management jobs took precedence at first due to contracted work.
Now I find myself doing mostly commercial work such as high end resorts and yachts but have done commercials for Ashely Furniture, Orange Theory, MY Pillow, Campbells Soup. I tend to be the ‘fit older guy” and coupled up a lot with some amazing women. Generally the “older couple” or sometimes Grandpa
I guess one downside to modeling is the short term nature of booking. (you literally have to be available 24/7) and it lacks a bit in professionalism (ie: vague payment terms, rights, loyalty, training) but in general it’s all so new to me and out of my comfort zone that I am loving every minute of it. I never “yearned” to be a model, and loving learning new things and meeting new people. There IS a skill set to being a top model, so I am still learning every day.
Pre-Covid, I was trying to balance the freelance work and the modeling. Since Covid, events around the globe have been canceled (I was scheduled to be in Dubrovnik and Lisbon and Hawaii this past spring). So I am just waiting to see what direction to take next. In the meantime, I aim to travel more often and hope to spend my time with my son. I just bought a new home in Michigan near my son.
It wasn’t until recently that I made the connection between young Tom and current Tom. That drive and work ethic and discipline stayed with me through out my life…..in many ways that I have not even brought up here (other job “risks” and moves and decisions). The “WILLPOWER” to be true to myself even while destroying (temporarily) my marriage and my wife’s dreams. The WILLPOWER to leave my first career (as a banker….to make my dad happy) and take a low paying hotel job that let to an amazing career in the hotel business. At the end of the day I have stayed true to myself all these years and I feel so fortunate to be 60 and happy and excited about the future.
The biggest lesson I learned really was in my mid 50s, after suffering for years with the chronic shoulder pain and believing my best years were behind me. I refused to give into being “OLD” and just wanted to continue the adventure. Follow your passions. No matter what age. Be proud of who you are, where you came from and be excited about the future.