Ever wanted to switch up your career midway but felt it was too daunting? Meet Wes Ray, a former professional wrestler who dared to dream differently and made it big in corporate healthcare compliance. It's a testament to his courage that he took on this dramatic career change and came out triumphant. His enlightening insights on resilience and the importance of pursuing your passions are sure to inspire you.
This episode is packed with useful advice, especially for those contemplating a significant career shift. Hear from Wes on how to harness your strengths, identify exaggerations in skills while interviewing, and the crucial role of evidence in determining job suitability. Wes's inspiring journey from the wrestling ring to the IT sector, backed by his sports-induced resilience, emphasizes the necessity of passion in your career. He also underlines the value of a robust support system, turning failures into learning opportunities, and the critical role of resilience and determination in achieving success. Ready to take the leap? Get inspired by Wes's story.
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Many mid-career professionals get scared about making a career pivot or taking the leap to find a new job because they don't think they can do it. They gather information and they know they need to be resilient, and if you've been one of those people who are trying to make such a change, you may feel as if you've been beaten up quite a few times with all of the knows you've received from applying for jobs and interviewing. Today, my guest will share his story. From being a professional wrestler and pivoting his career that took him to the classroom and the boardroom. You'll learn why being resilient isn't just about being beaten up and getting back up again. It's about putting yourself first and going after what you want, and we'll show you how to do that. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is episode 186 of the Mid-Career GPS podcast. I'm your host, John Neral. I help mid-career professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, by using my proven four-step formula. If you're enjoying the podcast, I would be so grateful if you would kindly tell three friends about it and share why you like it and what you learn. My podcast continues to grow because of people like you and I thank you for your support. And, if you're new to the podcast, thank you for being here and I want to offer you something for free that I know will help you along your mid-career journey. You can visit my website at johnneral. com to download my free guide. It's called Five Mistakes Mid-Career Professionals Make and Need to Stop Doing. Again, you can check the website or check my LinkedIn, but navigating your mid-career and avoiding these potential career pitfalls is pivotal to your success. I hope you'll check that guide out Now. I was introduced to Wes Ray a few months ago by a mutual connection and I was immediately fascinated by his career trajectory. Wes started his career as a professional wrestler in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, while wrestling for various promotions throughout the Southeast. While in the corporate sector, wes has held executive level positions such as Vice President, corporate Compliance Officer, chief Information Officer and Chief Compliance Officer in the telecommunications, financial and healthcare industries. Talk about a career pivot. Wes was a senior lecturer at Kennesaw State University, teaching at the undergraduate and executive MBA programs, and held administrative roles while serving as a career coach. He holds a Bachelor of Business Administration, a Masters of Business Administration and Juris Doctor. Listen to Wes's incredible story. If you ever thought you couldn't make a career transition or wondered how to do it, this is an inspirational and motivating conversation. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Wes Ray.Wes Rhea:
Hey, hi everybody. I'm Wes Ray, author of the book Off the Top Rope from Professional Wrestling the Corporate World to the Classroom, so looking forward to being here today with you all.John Neral:
Wes. I have been looking forward to our conversation because if there is anybody who defines what a career transformation is, my friend, it is you. So when we connected, obviously you have a fascinating story. You're going to share that with us. But here's where I want to start off today. You've been a professional wrestler. You hold a BA in marketing, an MBA and a JD. Now it's safe to say that you do not fit the stereotypical mold of what most people may think a professional wrestler is, or they become. So what made you pursue those degrees after your wrestling career?Wes Rhea:
Thank you so much, john, and that is. That's quite an interesting journey there. That's the first you mentioned for sure. You know, john, I guess I was a little bit fortunate when I did enter into the board of professional wrestling. I had just graduated from college, so I was fortunate enough that I listened to my parents and got through and received a business degree. And then I wanted to kind of chase this dream. So after, you know, I did that a lot bigger than I am now, a little different looking as well. But you know, when you're in your 20s you don't kind of think about that longevity and you think you're going to do this forever. And then all of a sudden you're the aches and pains and the body starts catching up to you. So I realized that this was not going to be a long term, you know, career for me. So when the time was right, I, you know, started kind of easing out of that, went to work at a customer service company a working for customer service at a telecommunications company and realized, you know, I needed to focus on my career. So I started putting my MBA in my sites and that's kind of I knew I wanted to get into management, you know, just didn't know exactly what at the time but wanted to get into management. So that started focusing that. I've had a little bit of a gap and I don't know if I'd always recommend this to everybody, but it seems to be a close to about a 10 year mark for me. So it was about 10 years after I'd graduated from my undergrad I went ahead and pursued my MBA and then started getting into the career that I wanted to get into, which was healthcare compliance. At that time HIPAA had just started. I was working for an early growth healthcare company and started working very closely with the legal department, working for legal counsel, and then, after some conversations with a great mentor, said JD is going to help you a lot. And I was like I don't know if I want to be a practicing attorney and you know, doing all that kind of stuff. And he's like now just get the degree and you can do this with healthcare compliance. So again, it was close to about 10 years again after I'd obtained my master's, my MBA, and then went and did my JD Again a little different path. I'd probably would love to backtrack a little bit and done it a little sooner, but you know, I think the point is you're never too late to learn. You can always continue to learn. I saw that as a way to help me in growing my career.John Neral:
It's such a great point and, as you're walking us through your career history, one of the things Wes that we talk about a lot on the podcast is that whenever you're networking or you're interviewing, the goal is to be memorable. You want to find a way to stand out above the other applicants or your competition. I'm curious how much do you think your professional wrestling career either opened a door or got you an interview because you were different than other people?Wes Rhea:
Now, great question, john, and I truly believe that kind of that. First, I want to I kind of really call that first job and what would be the corporate sector, which was customer service. And, as anybody knows, if you've ever done customer service work, that's not something you probably want to make a 34 year career out of. People aren't calling you and saying, hey, wes, you're doing a great job. Today, you know, I just want to call and tell you that, right, there's always something either wrong with their bill or something's not working. And you know we're customers as well. I understand I get it, but you know it was interesting. The individual that ended up hiring me. You know it's amazing, some of the fame, people that you don't realize are wrestling fans, and this was again in the early nineties or nineties at this point. So you know that did open a door for me. They're like, oh hey, this, you know, and I was able to. You know, john, I think one thing I learned was, you know I've been in front of thousands of people. You know I'm comfortable, I was comfortable being in front of people. You know, working with other people. You know in wrestling you have to work with other people. You know you have to, you know, navigate the crowds and things of that nature and negotiation. So I tried to look at some of those things I had learned there and interpersonal skills and was able to apply that into customer service, which that's very big and part of customer service, because when that person calls usually they're very upset and I've dealt with very upset fans.John Neral:
I'm sure, yeah, you know.Wes Rhea:
So it's, it's, it's. It really helped me a lot, and I think that's where it kind of got me thinking about look at these skills you have. I think sometimes people discount some of these skills and I think that really helped me open the door for getting me in customer service, which is really what I wanted to do. I just really wanted to get in the, you know, get in the door, and it was a great opportunity and great opportunity for me to learn. But having those experiences and that end of you know, you know, and the person that hired me was like, oh, that's really cool, you did this and they thought that was neat and before you know, they're talking about you know, hey, I know, do you know this person or that person?John Neral:
Sure, Right. Well, that and that's it Right. So all of a sudden, there's a, there's a kind of bond or relationship that's there because there's some familiarity that exists when you talk about transferring skills and thinking about your own journey. Why do you think people often discredit certain skills that they could transfer, but they're not sure how to do that?Wes Rhea:
You know that's a real you know and, john, I'm sure you've run into folks like this in your career what you're doing and helping people and I've ran into that a lot as well, even recently, and I think sometimes people get really hung up on. So, for instance, the job description. Right, of course you want to look at the job description. I think what I try to help people focus on is sometimes I'll be working with some folks who have had a chance to do some speaking recently, some networking events and helping people out, and I'll say, hey, here's an opportunity I think you should look at. And it seems like the first thing they'll go to is the pieces they can't do. If that makes sense, and I'm going hey, that's only maybe 10, 20%. You've got the 70 or 80 over here. So let's focus on your strengths and what you can do. And then let's think about some of the things you've done in the past and maybe it's not been in this industry, but you can say, of course there's been sales. Okay, I haven't done health care sales, but I've done sales in this area which I think I really feel can relate and help me pick this piece up that maybe is that piece of the puzzle that maybe they feel like they're lacking and I think sometimes that's what I've been seeing is just try not to get too focused on that 10, 20% that you don't have. Look at that 70 to 80 that you do have. I think that seems to be the piece that I see a lot with folks who are, as you mentioned, either developing their career, mid-career, transitioning or trying to go somewhere in a different path. Look at what you've done and how can you apply that to that new role and, even though you may not been in that industry, let's turn it. Make it more of a positive right. I've done this and I really feel like this can translate nicely into what you're doing. I'm successful here. I have no reason to believe I'm not going to be successful in this space.John Neral:
You drive the point home so well about. It is about how you tell your story and how you can overcome an objection in an interview or even in the application process as to where somebody may not think your background aligns well with the job description, but you believe that it can. We know from a lot of research that our brain typically defaults to the negative 75% of the time. Right, so it makes a lot of sense when we're looking at that job posting and going I can't do that, I can't do that, and all of a sudden you've talked yourself out of the job Exactly. So what advice do you have for people who are in that spot where they're talking themselves out of applying for the job or maybe the better question here, Wes, is they're talking themselves into applying for the job. How do you help them come across as being more confident and competent, as opposed to feeling like they have to convince them they're the best person for the job?Wes Rhea:
That's great. I think, john, that what I really try to do is you know, I did this course with myself, is, you know, because I kind of, as you mentioned, fell in that same you know, that same mindset at one point too is, like you know, you start looking at the negative and I think let's look at the skills you have. And what are you, you know, what are you really good at, what are those strengths that you have? And let's focus on those and take it from the point of hey, you know, when I talk about them, those skills, with the interviewer or that hiring manager, they're going to see that and they're going to see that I'm not having to, like you said, convince myself, I'm not trying to kind of convince myself that I can, you know, jump off the diving board here, right, I'm scared to death. Right, let's, let's, let's look at those skills. You have these skills and let's talk about how you can apply them to this new role or this new career advancement. I think one of the biggest jumps are at least it was for me hardest jumps. You know, like you, you get like to be a manager and you want to be a director or VP. You're like, oh my gosh, I can't be a director. I'm, you know this is, I'm just so glad I'm a manager, right. But if you start stopping, you think, well, look at what I've done as a manager. I've managed people seven, eight, nine, 10 people. Well, I can make that jump, you know. Look looking at other folks and what they're doing. So I think it's just trying to really be confident in your skills that you currently have and and don't feel like, like you said, you're having to convince somebody on something like you know what's the whole saying? You know, fake it till you make it that you're not doing that right. I mean you're, you have these skills. You just now need to convey them that you can do it in this particular industry or in this new role that you might be, you know, trying to go towards. You know. I think that's what I really try to, that's what I hope I'm conveying in my book and what I've tried to do myself and when I do, just to talk to some folks about that. Just really look at, let's be confident in your skills because you have them. You know you have those skills. Let's focus on those strengths.John Neral:
Throughout your career Wes, have you ever interviewed people for positions?Wes Rhea:
I have, I have Okay.John Neral:
Yeah. So looking at it from the interviewer side, right, when does your BS meter go off with somebody?Wes Rhea:
No, that's a good one. You know, john, when I let's see, I'm trying to say I can kind of help and make sense to everybody. So from my perspective, I grew up probably can imagine playing sports my whole life. I played every sport imaginable, whatever the season was, and that was, I think, really helped me a lot in my career, giving me discipline, and I think the big thing that I learned there was working with people and working and looking and really trying to look at strengths. You know, when you're building a team of a sports team, you you know just a real quick example of you know, if anybody that's a fan of the 90s, you know the Chicago Bulls with the great Michael Jordan, I mean if you had five Michael Jordan's on the team they might not have been the team they were, because you wouldn't have enough basketballs to go around everybody, because there's, you know, they all want it Right. And so I think, looking at how can you build a team. So when I'm interviewing folks, you know of course would look at their resume and you know, really try to look at their interpersonal skills. I really that really meant a lot to me because I knew they were going to be working with different groups and different people and, as a manager, the last thing I want to be doing is going to go behind somebody and cleaning up somebody's mess because they're, you know, not working well or getting along well. So to me that was always very important. Was there interpersonal skills? I felt like I could pick up on that pretty quickly. I think some of the skills sometimes you, you know, people, might allow, you know, maybe exaggerate a little bit on some of their skills and you can start asking some more pointed questions to determine. Okay, there may be, you know, maybe they're exaggerating this particular skill a little bit long and there's that, as you said, the BS meter starts going off a little bit right. But you know, I really try to look at those interpersonal skills a lot. That always helped me and again, I, you know I sometimes I would take somebody that may, on paper, didn't look good as someone else, but I knew that they were sincere and they weren't, as you mentioned, kind of being that sales person, so to speak, and that interpersonal skill was going to be something that was going to come in real handy and they were. I feel like I can pick up passion when people have a passion for something, and some people are just, you know, again trying to convince you. As you said, you know about this, and so I would try to look for those things and look for you know, what have you done? Give me some examples. You know some concrete examples. If you say you've done these, you know, should be able to give me some good examples, and that's usually if they started being too generic with that. Then you can kind of feel like, okay, well, maybe you can give me some examples. I feel like, okay, well, maybe they're, maybe they didn't quite have that level, you know.John Neral:
And concrete examples are those things that when a person who's interviewing, when they can ground things in evidence, right, the BS meter goes away, because now they're talking very specifically, like to your point, about very concrete and tangible things, because we know interviews are stressful, especially when, if somebody really wants the job or they want to get out of a toxic work situation, or they've been laid off and they haven't had a job for a while, it can be so easy to show up from that place of well, just give me a chance. Yes, that doesn't always resonate well when you and I have been on the other side of the table and interviewing talent and going, all right, let's, let's take some time, let's dig a little deeper in here, like I, like you, but we got to really make sure you're the right, the right fit in that Exactly.Wes Rhea:
And so.John Neral:
Wes. It brings up another point here that I absolutely wanted to talk to you about, because, as we've gotten to know each other a little bit and and I've been following you If there's a word that comes up for me to describe your career path, it's resilient, and it is something which, for a lot of mid career professionals, they they know they should do, but, admittedly, we all struggle with it. We all struggle with being like all right, I got another no, and I gotta be resilient because that's what I'm supposed to do. So, for you, what does it mean to be resilient, and what do you do when you're close but you're not getting the results you want?Wes Rhea:
Now that's and I really appreciate that too, john about that I really think that you know that has helped me probably the most in my career. You know I, you know I, really, I really believe, as I mentioned maybe a few minutes ago, I really believe playing sports as a growing up, my whole life and at the college level and in the professional wrestling, really helped me so much in being resilient. Because you have to, in those sports you have to learn. I've, you know, played baseball at the collegiate level and you go 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and if you continue to wallow in that, then guess what? You're gonna turn around and probably go 0 for 5 the next game, right? So you have to kind of put it in your rear view mirror and have a little bit of a short-term memory on that. So you know, and even when I got into professional wrestling, if I hadn't had that resiliency I probably would have stopped at the first. No, because you know I didn't. It wasn't like the first time I reached out to somebody they were like oh yeah, great, come on, we want you. You know it takes time, and so I think having that, I think it really goes back to your passion and how bad do you really, you know, if maybe you're lacking a better word how bad do you really want it? You know, I mean with jobs too. I mean, once I started growing my career I set my focus on a C level position, a chief information officer, and I applied for several and had some good interviews but didn't get it right. But I didn't stop. I said it's the right time's gonna happen, and it did, and unfortunately I didn't end up working out the way I wanted it. But I think you know having that resiliency to continue because I know it's tough you feel like you've nailed the interview, you feel like I've got this job. You know you're the other person on the other side saying you know it starts to talk. I hate when interviewers start saying, well, when you're managing the team and you're doing this, and then they don't hire you or give you an offer letter, right, but I think it's really about just not giving up and trying to have a good network of friends, your faith, whatever the case may be, and you know to keep you positive and keep you motivated. That opportunity's gonna come. And you keep putting in the work and keep going. You know sometimes it's a numbers game. You have to continue to keep applying right and then that right opportunity's gonna pop. But I think you have to have that resiliency and that perseverance to keep moving because if you stop at the first, no, you know you're done. I mean, we've all heard stories of many what we would consider successful people who've failed many, many, many, many times. Right, and I think it's just how do you take that failure and learn from it? And it was. There's something, and I know it's tough, john, I know you're being the business you're in. A lot of times it's hard to get feedback from interviewers, right, you know it could be legally, they may are concerned or whatever the case may be, but you'd love to be able to say what was it. I felt like I had it. You know it was. There's something that you know and that's hard. That's hard to get that feedback and I understand it from a legal perspective. I get that, but I know it's tough and I think it's just keeping that perseverance. Have folks like yourself, coaches that can help you, people that can maybe tighten up your resume a little bit, but it's really perseverance and, as you mentioned, resiliency. You've got to keep pushing. That's usually a lot of people that succeed. It's usually not always and I'm not the smartest person in the room, you know. I think sometimes that resiliency and persistence will keep you moving.John Neral:
Yeah, you said so many great things there, and when we think about persevering or we think about resilience, we know what it means, but until we actually have to do it Right and that's what you were sharing with us there, which was you have to go through it in order to know who you are as a resilient individual. Because, to your point, especially in the marketplace we're dealing with right now, companies are much more selective. Yeah, they're taking longer to make hiring decisions, and so this is one of those questions that I can't ask everybody in the way that I'm gonna ask you, because your background is so unique as a, as somebody who professionally wrestled, who dealt with crowds and fans and TV. I mean, obviously, when you were wrestling, you didn't have social media right, but certainly we know that the stars today are leveraging social media in a lot of ways. You've had to learn this skill of self-promotion right. For the mid-career professional who is listening to this going, I I don't know how to talk about myself. I don't want to come across as bragging. I don't want to come across as being better than everybody else. What advice can you give them to help them self-promote more genuinely and authentically?Wes Rhea:
Okay, no great. Yeah, you're right. I mean, I was, I guess, either fortunate or unfortunate to be not in the day of social media back then. But you know, you're right, you, you have to self-promote yourself because at the end of the day, you know Not, you don't have too many People in your I'm gonna say you have people in your corner but not a lot of people who are out there. You know, doing the promotion for you, right You're, you're gonna have to do that. I mean, you know, years and years and years ago, you always felt like, hey, I do a great job and that's gonna be enough to get me up the ladder where I'm trying to go. So I think that you're definitely gonna have to self-promote yourself. And I think, john, you know what I would recommend is you I mean Utilizing folks like you and others who can help give you that elevator pitch right, that you know a couple minutes of about yourself, right, in those two or three paragraphs that you know about yourself that you can rehearse and have down, and Utilizing the tools, the linked ends of the world, getting out there and, you know, putting some posts out there on areas that you may have areas of expertise on, to help show that you know that you are promoting this. So I think really working with someone like yourself a career coach, a resume writer I know when I first had a professional resume writer helped me. That helped me a lot, because I again Tennessee not to Put as much as I probably should they were really pulling things out of me to set up You're doing more than you're than you think. So I think working with those kind of folks investing in yourself and and you know, just know that it's it knows hopefully realize that you're you're not bragging, but you you got to put yourself out there to get yourself noticed right and try to continue to do that and just really work with those professionals that can help you in that area that you're seeing.John Neral:
No, that's really good advice and thank you for that, because it is. It is one of the things that I know, both from my own journey and how to get better at it from, also, the people I get to work with every day. It is one of the most difficult things, right? They're so used to talking about in the collective, in the plural. We did this, the team Achieved this result. It's so hard to get them to go for first person it's exactly and talk about it. And well, here's what I did. Exactly just that, that whole mindset shift. Wes, I've I've so enjoyed our conversation and, as always, the times just seems to fly by, but we need to start wrapping up, yeah, so for the people who are listening that are navigating their career, what advice would you give to them today to help them build their mid-career GPS?Wes Rhea:
Yeah, no, it's been a pleasure, john. I've always enjoyed, always enjoyed speaking with you and I just can't thank you enough for having me today. So thank you again so much for this. I think the biggest advice I would give to everyone, john, is you know something that I put in my book I kind of like acronyms and it's work. I know it's really creative, but you know like where, where do you want to be or where do you want to go, and then opportunities Look at the opportunities and then, as you mentioned earlier, resilience are for resilience and you know, of course, the perseverance goes along with that. And then knowledge. I don't, I don't think you can ever it's never too late to learn, whether it's. If you don't want to, you know, go back and get a degree at certifications. There's always things you can learn through webinars, there's all sorts of tools. So I think it's really looking at those things and taking an inventory of your skills and believe in yourself. You know, believe in yourself, as you mentioned, have that confidence in those strengths that you have and how you can apply them and use those. And perseverance and go forward. If you want it, bad enough, you can get there, and it may not happen the first time or the second time, but you've got to kind of go through those ups and downs but the right one will come, the right timing will come, and it will, you know, because last thing you want to do is Wrong timing on someplace and then you're back in square one again. As I say. So I think it's just keeping that resilient mindset and have positive people around you, working with you and using your networks.John Neral:
It is spot-on and it's such great advice. I thank you for sharing that. So, wes, if people want to connect with you, they want to learn more about you. Get your book, follow you. I'm gonna turn the microphone over to you. My friend, share with us all the details and the great things, or how people can connect with you.Wes Rhea:
Thank you so much, john. Again, I appreciate it's always a pleasure speaking with you and all the great things you're doing. I think, if you'd like to connect, I'd love to hear from some folks. I have a website it's called off the top rope book calm and you can connect with me through that. My books available on Amazon and Barnes, noble and Most any retailers I think we're books are sold. I've always wanted to say that, but that's it. I believe it's a. It's out there, about anywhere you want to want to find it, but you know would love. You know, love to hear from some folks. I'm also on Instagram at Westray author as well, and Twitter at prof Ray, pro F R H E a on Twitter. So trying to get more involved in the social media as well, but love to hear from some folks and connect with me any way you know, any way you can, and anything I can do to help. I'm always happy to do that. But so thanks. Thanks again, john, I really appreciate it so much.John Neral:
Yeah, you are most welcome, Wes, and thank you again for coming on the pod to just talk with us today and share your amazing story and Really kind of driving this message about how we can transfer our skills to get the life and career we want. I will put all of those links in the show notes for everybody. Wes Ray, thank you for being a fantastic guest on the mid-career GPS podcast.Wes Rhea:
Thanks again, john, appreciate it. Have a great day, my friend, all right you too.John Neral:
So, my friends, if there's one takeaway that I have from my conversation with Wes today is that we need to be better at how we tell our story and Transferring our skills when we're navigating our career to something else. We all have experiences. You are here in this moment based on the totality of all your experiences. If you are going to make a career pivot, what are the skills that you have gained up until this point that are of value and needed to a future employer, as Evident by the job description that, whether you think you meet 50, 70, 80, 90 percent of the things that are listed in that job description, how are you going to help them? We say that all the time here on the podcast how are you going to help somebody? Your skills and how to transfer them are the key to unlocking that part of your story that makes you a much more memorable candidate and gets more hiring managers Interested in who you are, in what you do, rather than simply finding you Interesting. So until next time, my friends, remember this we build our mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the mid-career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcast. Visit John narrow comm for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you in your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event. Don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at John Darrell coaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters. You.