Season 3 Episode 125: Changing the Way We View Failure with A.J. Yawn

From a Division 1 college athlete to a US Army officer to cybersecurity company founder to now a partner at a Top 20 CPA firm, AJ Yawn has experienced as many setbacks as successes. AJ has been recognized as a LinkedIn Top Voice in regard to mental health and is joining us today to talk about taking care of your mental health, lessons he’s learned from founding a start-up company and how he landed a role as a partner in an accounting and business consulting firm despite not having either in his background.

When AJ decided he wanted to separate from the military, the first person he called was his dad. His father had built a career in the US Marine Corps and gave some great advice to his son. He told him he needed an exit plan and at least 18 months to transition effectively. With both a master’s degree and the rank of captain, AJ was confident he could get a job right away. His dad challenged him to apply for a few jobs and test the waters. No one emailed or called him back. He knew that his dad was right and spent 2016 focused on earning certifications, networking and translating his military skills to the civilian sector.

His hard work paid off, and he landed a great job coming out of the military. In addition to overhauling his resume, AJ believes the certifications he earned helped him gain legitimacy with hiring managers.

With so many certification options, AJ researched job postings to learn which credentials were critical to land a role in his chosen field. Looking at job postings 18-24 months before leaving the military can have a huge impact on the way you prepare for your transition.

While a senior in high school, AJ was recruited to play Division 1 basketball for Florida State University. After breaking both of his ankles and losing his D1 scholarship, AJ was still determined to earn a degree from FSU. Looking for a new identity, AJ made the decision to become an officer through ROTC. AJ has no regrets about joining the US Army and credits his service to his ability to lead. Even during trials, AJ holds a firm belief that all of the good and bad experiences of life are for the benefit of his growth.

It was only after starting his own business that AJ began to focus on his mental health. He regularly meditates, reads and takes time for himself. Sharing his knowledge and experiences on LinkedIn, he has empowered other people to make positive lifestyle changes. In the same way that someone trains physically for a marathon, AJ believes mental health should be worked on daily.

AJ started his own cybersecurity company, ByteChek, and credits the lessons learned from that experience to helping him land a partner role in a Top 20 CPA firm. AJ is not a CPA and did not major in business. People often think starting their own business will alleviate the pressures of working for someone. As a business owner, you work for your employees, customers and investors. AJ championed the SkillBridge program and brought on several interns to gain experience in the industry. He encourages other companies to offer the SkillBridge internship. In this unique program, the company does not have to pay the service member and is essentially able to try out a potential employee for up to 6 months. On the flip side, the service member gains valuable experience.

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