If you want the formal version of my biography, that a PR professional wrote, check out the section below titled “PROFESSIONAL BIOGRAPHY.” If you rather have the casual, we’re hanging out drinking Red Stripes version, here it goes…
I Never Thought I’d Be Doing What I’m Doing Now…NEVER.
I grew up always thinking I’d be a ‘businessman’ (funny thing is now I’m a business, man). My early interests were in entrepreneurship and business. My hobbies in high school included writing business plans and reading the Forbes 400 list (I know, crazy, but I was fascinated with creation). Of course, I did other stuff that normal red blooded teenage boys do like played sports (soccer, football, and tennis were my favorites), had girlfriends (Too many to count. Not bragging, just saying), and got into trouble (basically flunked my senior year of high school).
The last two years of high school were particularly a low point in my life. I recall feeling everyone around me had lost hope. As a result, I started to lose hope in myself. A conversation with a counselor at the time was very telling. She sat me down and tried to convince me how “school is not the best thing for me and I would be better off learning a good trade like plumbing.” WOW, her message was basically, “don’t aspire to college, young man because you won’t make it.”
A year later, by the grace of God and heavy support (i.e. yelling and slaps upside my head) from my parents, I entered college and what do you know? I continued right were I left off in high school: sports, girlfriends, and getting into trouble. As I believe we all have at some point, in my freshman year of college I experienced a “moment of clarity” and unlike “moments” in my past I hadn’t taken action on, I finally started doing things differently.
The Moment That Changed My Life
Strolling through the bookstore with my then girlfriend (and now wife, Jill), I was simply on a mission to accompany her before hitting the movies. Bookstores were completely foreign to me. As a matter of fact, prior to that point in my life, I had NEVER read a book cover to cover. Scouts honor! I got through all those former English class literature exams, book reports, and homework by skimming or visiting my boy Cliff. It all changed on that visit to the bookstore, though. While standing next to Jill as she perused for a book she intended on reading, I saw a book awkwardly positioned on the shelf. From a quick glimpse, I was captured by the title Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?. I laughed to myself and grabbed it, just to see what kind of author would title a book something like this. On the cover, confidently smirking, with a big cigar in his hand, was the book’s author – Reginald F. Lewis. Hmm, I thought. This is one bold dude, but who is he and how is he having all this fun? So, I walked over to a nearby couch, plopped down, and started digging in the first chapter. 20 minutes later (feeling like it was only seconds), Jill told me she was ready to go. I was on the 4th chapter. I thought, “what the hell, I should buy it.” At the age of 18, it was the first book I purchased for non-academic reasons.
Over the next 3 days, I would devour every word of the book, reading it cover to cover twice. I then committed to maintain several of the rituals Reginald articulated in the book (like developing life mantras, reading newspapers daily, and most importantly, training my belief system). That one book has had such a profound impact on my life, I still give it as a gift for birthdays (and I give it to my white friends, too. Don’t let the title fool you–it’s not a book about race, it’s about the quest for excellence).
As a result of the inspiration developed from the book, I shot off in a new life direction like a rocket. I changed every aspect of my life: recommitted spiritually, started eating healthier, exercised with purpose, became a mentor, aggressively pursued my studies, and most importantly, began believing in myself again.
After graduating from college with honors, I entered the professional world as an analyst at an investment bank. At the time, it was my “dream job.” I was making ‘real’ money, had the opportunity to learn from the top financial minds in the world, and did I say I was making money?? 🙂 From the outside, it looked like I was Charlie Sheen–winning! While most of my fellow college grads were taking “any old job” and struggling financially, I was ballin’ (ordered my shiny new BMW, copped a Presidential Rolex (well, it was fake but you couldn’t tell me otherwise), had an amazing apartment, and first fell in love with European tailored suits). I was living THE life…or so I thought.
Two distinct things happened that led me to exit the investment banking world:
1) I started getting terrible stomach aches every Sunday night as I prepared for the work week. At the time, I didn’t realize it was anxiety. Our bodies are conditioned to inform us when we might not realize what’s happening. I listened.
2) A co-worker was praised for not attending his child’s birth and instead coming to work for a big project. Yeah, sickening!
A Succession of Business Failures
So, I quit and started a business. Everyone said “Paul you’re crazy to quit such a great job.” But one of the mantras I had created for myself years earlier was to “always listen to your gut, first.” I took my little bit of savings, moved in with Jill’s parents (because they lived near the city) and started my first company. That business lasted about 8 months before it collapsed. I then went on to found, run, and subsequently run into the ground three more businesses.
In just 5 years after working at the investment bank, financially the tables had completely turned. No new car, no new clothes, no business, I was broke. However, one thing I always had was Jill. She was my rock. Since my ‘moment of clarity’ in the bookstore at college through the ups and downs, she was by my side. While I had always envisioned being secure in a profession before getting married, I felt I didn’t…I couldn’t wait any longer. Jesse Powell can better explain to you what I was thinking.
A few weeks after getting married, I landed a job at Kaplan Test Prep and became the director of one of their ‘super’ centers. I became the first African American and youngest director for a facility of that size. I loved the work. The team I had was amazing, my bosses were cool, and most importantly, I loved the service side of the job. In particular, I loved that I had full discretion over a tuition assistance program that allowed me to discount (down to a $1) the cost of our tutoring services. While my bosses had no idea, I had nearly all of DC taking courses for $1, especially the High School students I met. There was a certain affinity I had towards the students of public schools in DC. If you read any press about DC public schools, you can see how many of those kids are simply written off. I was so compelled to help them because while in high school I, too, was written off.
A Community Organizer and Service Provider Is Born
Over several years of interacting with schools and volunteering my time after work and over the weekends with various community programs focused on youth, I realized many were missing strong academic resources (materials and instructors). Initially I leveraged my position at Kaplan, but after the demand outstripped my personal supply, I created an idea and wrote a business plan to form a non-profit group to be an “academic engine” for youth programs. I pitched the idea to my bosses for support and got denied. I pitched the idea for support to our competitors, and got denied. I even pitched the idea to local DC government and never got a no, but never got a yes either. Guess that’s politics.
The Turk & Me
Around this time of pitching my academic engine idea, I had a chance meeting with a Turkish businessman. The story of our first meeting is so amazing, it deserves it’s own post but bottom line, it is a perfect example of the power of stepping outside your box. Over casual conversation, with the Turk, he suggested I come to Turkey and pitch the academic engine idea to his team (it so happened that he was the CEO of a large educational holding company).
So not even knowing exactly where Turkey was on the map, I flew to Istanbul and pitched my idea. In what could be a scene out of a movie, seated at a long walnut brown table, with over 24 thick, rich leather chairs surrounding, I shook hands on a deal that would change my life more profoundly than Reginald Lewis’ book. Through my newly created deal, I would receive investment to develop my academic non-profit in barter for me working full-time to manage the U.S. academic investments of the firm.
With no contract, just a handshake, I flew back to the States, quit my job and started work in my new career as both the Director of my dream non-profit and the head of U.S. investments for this behemoth international firm…not a bad week!
Over the next several years, I stayed busy. I led the growth of both entities beyond my dreams. On the non-profit side, we served 1000s of low-income students, working with many of the equity holders in the community (schools, volunteer programs, churches, government, and businesses). On the investment firm side, we created one of the largest study abroad programs, a private university, and several dormitory investments (which is actually a very good business). I also had time to squeeze in going to business school at Georgetown and learn to speak Turkish.
A Matchmaker Is Born
By the summer of 2008, I was fully immersed in both of my growing projects and little did I know, 100 DC high school students in a summer camp would change my life, yet again. At the time, my non-profit was managing a program for low income high school students and to kickoff the summer long camp, I went down to work the registration table. As I greeted each student, I asked them basic intake info, with one question being “do your parents live in the household?” After slightly over 100 students enrolled, not one…NOT ONE of the students had two parents in their household. Slightly more than half lived with neither, making auntie, grandma, or big sister/ brother the more likely household ‘parent.’ I could not believe what I witnessed…NOT ONE. Knowing how impactful parents are in the development of a child and to think these 100 would not be blessed with it.
Driving home from camp that day, I couldn’t think of anything but those children and what, if anything, I could do. Over dinner that night I discussed what I discovered earlier that day with my wife. We pondered what could be done to help strengthen the nuclear family. Jill and I talked for hours, trading solutions back and forth. We ended the conversation jokingly saying, well maybe we could become matchmakers.
The next morning, I woke up, and with that “matchmaker” comment still on my brain, I started googling everything matchmaker related. Over the next few days, my research continued and I eventually ended up jotting down a list of matchmakers I’d like to call to get further information about the profession. I blocked out a few hours about a week later and started dialing. Out of 10+ calls, not one matchmaker took my call or called me back. I recall one getting back to me via email, offering to schedule a call if I first paid them. WOW! The limited response drove my curiosity even further. I discovered there was a Matchmaking conference taking place in New York in just a few weeks so I jumped on a train and headed north. My goal at the conference was just to check things out and see what I could learn. What I saw was shocking. There I was in a room with 100+ of the world’s top matchmakers and not one of the full-time matchmakers was african-american. Not one of the matchmaker’s was under the age of about 40. And I counted only one male matchmaker. Looking around the room is when I had my lightbulb moment–there is a seat for me in this industry. I need to become a matchmaker.
How Do You Train To Become A Matchmaker…Head To Denver!
So, just like when I returned from Turkey years earlier, I came back home from my New York excursion and scheduled a meeting with my Turkish employers to leave my position. And just like leaving the investment bank, just like leaving Kaplan, most of my friends and family said I was crazy to leave such a good job. But this time, they thought I was certifiable. Think about this for a second, I had just graduated from business school, was managing two successful organizations, building an amazing professional network, traveling around the world, and making more money than I ever had…and I wanted to become a matchmaker 🙂
When my mind is committed to something, I’m locked in. So I parted ways with the Turks, converted my non-profit to an all volunteer organization (no longer having the financial support from my friends from across the pond), and dipped into my family’s savings. I structured a full year ‘matchmaking training program’ that would help me best understand the profession. My self-training included studying over 213 books, attending conferences and coaching certifications, pro-bono client practicing, and my capstone was flying to Denver to train under someone I consider to be the best Matchmaker on the planet, Rachel Greenwald.
After 60-70 hours per week of training for a full year, in the winter of 2009, I launched my matchmaking firm! At that moment, I realized I was no longer jumping around my purpose. Becoming a matchmaker and lifestyle coach allowed me for the first time in life to “connect my dots” (as Steve Jobs famously said) and be fully immersed in my purpose from head to toe.
#MentorMonday: Talking Passions over Drinks with Friends
One of my favorite thoughts is by Howard Thurman, and it has certainly guided me in what could be best described as an adventurous, transformative journey. He once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I sincerely believe that once you discover what makes you come alive, the world opens up and the universe creates opportunities for you to do just that.
As I’ve traveled the world, I’ve heard countless stories about how people have found what has made them “come alive.” They’ve mustered the courage to do it and as a result, have earned some great wins, gained invaluable fulfillment and have amazing stories about their journeys along the way. And, there’s nothing more encouraging than to learn how others have identified and followed their dreams.
So, my love for learning has grown into an insatiable desire to pick the brains of trailblazers, mavericks and dreamers over Red Stripes and discuss what ignites these people’s passions. I decided that I couldn’t be the only one who would gain so much value from these conversations, so I decided to create the #MentorMonday program, with the encouragement from my good friend, Torrey McGraw. Torrey hosted an informative, engaging web series called Grind and Thrive. I wanted #MentorMonday to have a laid-back feel, much like a bunch of like-minded friends engaging in deep, entertaining and thoughtful dialogue.
Initially, #MentorMonday started as a monthly series. But, because of such great feedback and involvement from my awesome community, we decided to increase the frequency to twice a month, double down on getting the best mentors and guests and truly become dedicated to offering practical advice to those who have big dreams.
I could not have predicted the awesome response from so many people, neither could I have anticipated getting the opportunity to interview some of the most successful people who are doing what they love and are walking firmly within their purpose.
It occurred to me that our bi-weekly #MentorMonday sessions, while great and informative, weren’t enough to satisfy the ongoing conversations being had in the chat and the forum – both during the actual sessions and even afterward. An hour-long talk over drinks with friends always flies by. Plus, I wanted to add more rigor to the kind of learning and knowledge we were all getting from these amazing guest mentors in a way that was actionable for each and every member of the #MentorMonday family.
Reflecting back on the key elements that contributed to my success and the success of many others I know, I realized how important it was for everyone looking to enhance both their professional and business lives by participating in a mastermind. A mastermind is a collective of people coming together to face similar challenges and using the intelligence of the group to discuss and hopefully resolve them. Over the years, I have participated in numerous and I can’t tell you how helpful and transformative they have all been for myself and those involved. One of my favorite authors and business strategists, Napoleon Hill, is credited with the resurgence of the mastermind and emphasized the power of participating in such an alliance in his classic book, Think and Grow Rich. So, with that in mind, I decided that I wanted to facilitate an opportunity for all those like-minded members of the #MentorMonday community to engage in focused, intentional dialogue to propel both their professional and business lives forward. Because, as Ken Blanchard says, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
Upon announcing the launch of the #MentorMondayMastermind, the response was overwhelming! We were able to launch nearly 100 concurrent mastermind groups, comprised of over 650 individuals from all over the globe!
Another Opportunity to Impact the World
It was also around this time that I accepted a position on the Board of Directors of Bahçeşehir University (BAU) based in Istanbul, Turkey. One of the most exciting things about my role is working with leadership to create innovative programs that directly impact students. One project I’m ridiculously excited to be spearheading is a new scholarship program that will provide 100% tuition coverage for up to 30 undergraduate and graduate students! As an advocate for global awareness and innovative education, I can’t think of a better way to make a real impact than by becoming involved with helping others pursue and obtain knowledge.
In the last five years, television host, author and professional matchmaker, Paul Carrick Brunson, has become recognized internationally as one of the most successful matchmakers. Paul is the founder and president of the award-winning matchmaking firm, The Paul C. Brunson Agency. His firm has served over 600 clients directly and has matched over 6,000 individuals on dates collectively through inventive live events and social media. In 2013, he received an NAACP Image Award nomination for his first book entitled: It’s Complicated (But It Doesn’t Have to Be): A Modern-Day Guide to Finding and Keeping Love, which quickly became an Amazon bestseller in just 4 months. He is a Dell Inspire 100 honoree and has been recognized as the iDate Best Matchmaker and Best Relationship Coach of the Year nominee in 2012 and 2013. Appearing as the co-host on Oprah Winfrey Network’s Lovetown, USA, Oprah Winfrey notes, “Paul is much more than a matchmaker, he’s a life coach.”
Paul’s insights and unique understanding of relationships and personal development have made him a sought-after expert on love, dating, self-actualization and entrepreneurship, having appeared in over 180 major media outlets around the world – including appearances on Dr. Drew’s LifeChangers, ANDERSON, the Washington Post, Essence, Extra, The Root, The Grio, AOL Black Voices, ABC news and Hot 97. Awarded the Innovator of the Year in 2013 by the Jamaican Impact Organization, he is the proud host and creator of the popular, educational #MentorMonday webinar series. During those sessions, Paul – along with other successful guest mentors – offers practical advice for big dreams. He has begun the #MentorMondayMastermind, launching nearly 100 concurrent mastermind groups with over 650 participants spanning the globe. An advocate of global awareness and education, Paul has recently joined the Board of Directors for Bahçeşehir University (BAU) based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Paul is a graduate from both Old Dominion University and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. He resides in Washington DC with his wife of 13 years, Jill and their sons Kingston and Liam.