“Two roads diverged in a wood and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Monday is Memorial Day. While we will be joining the many Americans taking the long weekend to vacation and spend time outside, we also wanted to honor the significance of the holiday. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday in 1971, with the purpose of remembering those who died while serving in the armed forces1.
The military is a longstanding tradition in my family. I know of at least eight family members who have served or are in active duty. It is a choice and life I admire. We have been lucky that with each tour our family members have returned home and assimilated back into civilian life. There are many who end up with a different fate.
I am pleased to introduce Nick Black for today’s Something Significant interview. Nick served five years active duty service as an Officer in the United States Army. While in the Army, Nick served in several leadership positions and was awarded myriad medals that included two bronze stars and an army commendation medal (valor), in addition to being Airborne-Ranger qualified. Nick is the co-founder of Stop Soldier Suicide, an organization that is dedicated to preventing active duty and veteran suicide.
Nick is someone who has experienced the true meaning of today’s holiday and we think you will find his story inspiring.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got where you are today?
Well. The boiled down version is that I’m a husband to the greatest woman in the world and a dad to a sweet little girl named Anna (and also the owner of an awesome dog). I’m an entrepreneur who co-founded Stop Soldier Suicide in addition to developing my second for-profit company, inKind.
Now for the longer story…
I’m the son of two government employees whose jobs had us live in Africa and Europe until I was 13. I went to middle and high school in Northern Virginia and was a senior on 9/11/2001. I always wanted to go into the military but the events on 9/11 sealed the deal. I wanted to serve my country and go toe-to-toe with the people who caused American civilians to jump out of the 100th floor of a burning building.
I went to The Johns Hopkins University where I played football, participated in ROTC, and joined a fraternity. I commissioned as an Army Officer in May of ’06 and was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. I was in Afghanistan a year later for my first tour, a 15-month deployment of the Pakistan border at a place called FOB Tillman. After re-deploying back to Italy (yes, we were stationed in Italy!) for a year, we deployed back to Afghanistan for my second tour, which was 12 months.
Long story short, I had the honor of serving along with the best men and women our country has to offer. Bar none. My experiences at war shaped, and continue to shape, my trajectory — as I feel I owe so much to so many.
I decided to leave the military because I felt like I could do more for my country outside the Army than within it. I co-founded Stop Soldier Suicide with two fellow Officers from Hopkins ROTC. I was lucky enough to be admitted into UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and to be blessed with an extraordinary group of people who helped integrate me back into civilian life. I started a company out of school to figure out how to scale evidence-based nonprofit service models within the “Pay for Success” umbrella of alternative investing. I learned a lot but the company didn’t take. I’m now part of an extraordinary team at inKind that is reimagining philanthropy on behalf of nonprofits by enabling any and all 501c3s to ask their donors for the exact products and services they need in addition to cash. For free.
Not sure where I am today, but I’m learning a lot and trying to do my part to do the right thing.
How has significance played a role in your journey?
It’s defined my journey although I don’t think I’ve ever incorporated it in my decision-making. I try to do the right thing and get involved where I can. If anything, I’ve always been willing to lead. That willingness is probably why I feel like I’m being pulled in a thousand directions… but if it doesn’t kill me, it makes me stronger. Right?
Was there a specific moment or situation when you became aware of those things that are most significant to you?
I’d point to my military service – especially a string of experiences in combat. While war is hell, I also think it’s the pinnacle of significance. I’ve never felt more part of something than I did when I was with 119 paratroopers isolated and surrounded by hundreds of people trying to kill in the mountains straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border. There is an old military saying that you’re not fighting for your family, god or country, you’re fighting for the guy next to you. It’s true. It’s that type of responsibility and accountability that really made me think about what was significant then and what is significant now. I don’t want to let those guys down. It’s that burden that drives me to do my best today – to make a difference today and into the future.
What obstacles have you faced in your pursuit of significance? How did you overcome them?
I was fortunate to be born on third base compared to the rest of the world. I’m an American. My parents cared. I had opportunity. My obstacles aren’t too bad, but that’s probably not answering the question.
To sum up all the obstacles, I think it comes down to following through on “taking the road less traveled.” It’s easy to make a t-shirt with the quote or to post in online, but I’ve found it’s hard to do it.
Whether I was trying to sleep through my friends partying all night for a 6AM ROTC work out session, going to Ranger School or not applying to a corporate job out of business school in favor of starting my own company, it’s never been easy. I will say that it gets easier after each decision because the quote holds true, the road that’s less traveled has “made all the difference.”
In terms of overcoming obstacles, my dad explained it best. He set the bar for me at an early age, describing our family trait in men, “We’re not good looking, athletic or particularly smart, but we never quit. Ever.” Like my dad, I don’t quit.
What is one thing you wish you knew 10 years ago?
Nothing good is easy. Never assume it will be. People may cheer you on, but there is a reason cheerleaders are on the sideline.
What is one hope you have for the next 10 years?
I hope that the returning OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) & OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) veterans can be a catalyst for our country like the WWII generation, and not an anchor of recurring expenditure that drags us further into debt.
Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend to our readers?
I think exercise is a shower for the soul. I recently got into hot yoga. I’m sure I look like an elephant in the class, but I’m enjoying it.
In regards for sanity, as strange as it may sound to some, I find comfort in listening to Howard Stern. I appreciate his simple and straightforward logic that grounds the sensationalism of modern media.
At Happy Living, we are grateful for the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving, the soldiers who have died in active duty, as well as the veterans and active duty soldiers who have taken their own lives. To show our support, we are making a donation to Stop Solider Suicide, and encourage you to do so as well.
Wishing you a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!
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