I was taken back when George asked me to write about my life because he classified my tale as a success story. You will not see my name in headlines, my picture on billboards or magazines, but I definitely have had an interesting road and one that I am damn proud of, but I still have a long way to go.
Even though he was very healthy, my father passed a month before I was born from a heart attack. To this day, they still do not know what caused it as they could not find anything significant in the autopsy or bloodwork. My mom was absolutely crushed and tried her best to keep my sister, who was six years old at the time, and herself, mentally stable. The doctors were concerned that my mom may lose me in pregnancy due to the stress and emotional pain it caused her. My mom powered through and I was born a few weeks late, but fully healthy.
However, I was born with a very intense speech impediment that the doctors say was probably caused by the stressful last 45 days of my Mom’s pregnancy. I was a very happy kid growing up, but my stuttering problem was severe as it would take me minutes just to say a sentence or two. The frustration of not being able to communicate got worse as I got older. My mom remarried when I was 3 and my step-dad was extremely supportive. They did everything they could to try and help me, but nothing was working.
My parents took me to over a handful of speech therapists over the years, but none would make an impact. We tried any remedy they could think of such as going to a chiropractor, changing my diet, trying acupuncture, and being hypnotized, but nothing would help.
I lived in a world of fear and emotional pain because I had an outgoing personality yet I refused to talk on the phone, order for myself at restaurants, and would do anything not to get called on in class. I remember crying myself to sleep multiple times a week as I was afraid of what the next day in school would bring. Over my teen years, I was able to find the tricks to my stuttering problem and learned what words & situations to avoid, but the joys of avoiding an embarrassing stuttering situation were always short lived. I was also athletic and loved playing sports, but would only pick positions where I knew I wouldn’t have to talk under a pressure moment or play.
Being constantly picked on as a kid, you learn countless things about yourself. I learned how to fight and get my anger and frustration out on those who verbally punished me, but I also learned how to stay resilient and that your family and closest friends are your life blood. Without immediate support, we all suffer and a major reason I was resilient during the hard times in my life was because of my friends and family.
Even though my parents could see my pain, I kept most of it bottled up. I always had a few close friends, but spent most of my time growing up alone. My time alone was spent dreaming of a brighter future and praying to God & my biological Dad for some help. Well, they were listening and would soon answer.
I loved having fun and refused to allow my stuttering to completely hinder my life. With my parents help, I decided to change schools and start over again my freshman year in high school as the middle school days were rough. During my freshman year at St Mary’s in Annapolis, I met a several good guys in my first few weeks of school and wanted to introduce myself to George Chmiel, who was a popular guy in our grade, as I needed a place to crash and his house was just a few blocks from that upcoming weekend’s party. After I stuttered all over my introduction, George hesitantly but warmly accepted me as a guest in his house and we have essentially been best friends ever since.
My junior year in high school, my step-dad was traveling for work in Virginia. While in his hotel room, he saw a tv commercial for a stuttering camp/program in Virginia Beach that was created by a former stutterer. After watching before and after videos of former stutterers, we locked myself in for the following summer at the Precision Shaping Fluency Program (which still exists today). This program is not a miracle worker, but basically a boot camp over the course of 6 weeks. I lived in Virginia Beach, spent 8 hours a day in the classroom, and had homework every night. The program is designed for you to re-learn how to speak starting with the very basic single syllables. Imagine being 17 years old and having to act like you are 2, trying to learn how to pronounce words and communicate. It was hell, but I loved it. I love challenges and I knew I was going to succeed.
The students were across the board as some were in their 40s and others were kids under 10 years old. I felt for everyone and we had a common bond, which was neat. We pushed to make all of us better. At the end of the program, they had a graduation where all the parents were welcomed down. I knew I had improved, but wasn’t quite sure how much. Well, at the very end of the graduation, the program director (former stutterer) asked me to stand up and read a page in front of all the students and their parents. My face dropped and I am surprised I didn’t urinate myself, but I still stood up, took a deep breath and started to read out loud. To this day, I have no idea what I read, but I know that I read it without one stutter. I looked up and everyone was clapping and then I saw my step-Dad who had heavy tears of joy pouring down his face. I did it. I freakin did it.
I will always be a stutterer, but I have control over my speech. I can’t even begin to explain how good that makes me feel, while most people take it for granted. I was always a popular kid in high school, but having control of my speech took me to new levels. My senior year, I was on Homecoming Court, won the Unsung Hero Award Scholarship for football, and was Prom King in the spring. My life was just beginning.
After graduating from Elon University in 2003, I moved down to Atlanta and spent some years in outside sales and real estate. My dream has always been to start my own company and I started to fine tune that dream in 2007. I was unhappy working for someone else, so I decided to quit a good-paying secure job, and move to Charlotte so I could start my own firm.
George and I continued to stay tight all of those years as we spent a large majority of our conversations discussing investment opportunities and potential future work endeavors, which always kept our minds churning and itching for more. I constantly told George that I wanted to start my own company, but needed the capital to do so.
After several years of planning and finding the right business partners, George helped make my dream a reality and Capstone was founded in 2008. This was arguably the best and worst time to start a commercial real estate company as the epic financial collapse of 2008 that we still feel today came to a head one month after we incorporated. We immediately had to change our business plan as we knew the commercial real estate market would never be the same again, so we decided to focus purely on apartments in early 2009, which turned out to be the best decision we could have ever made, however the results would not play out for quite some time.
My business partner, Beau, and I started Capstone out of my 800 square foot condo in downtown Charlotte. Our desks were 2 feet away from one another and we had to take turns making phone calls because the sound of a voice echoed throughout my condo. We spent our days making endless cold calls to apartment owners across North & South Carolina, while we spent our nights doing administrative work to stay organized as we knew we only had so many hours to make cold calls. Beau and I used an Apartment Guide magazine and would go page by page to track the right person to talk to, which was a tedious step by step process that would take about 30 minutes per property. When you have thousands of apartment complexes to call on, our progress seemed minor. But we built out one heck of a database.
2009 & 2010 will hopefully be the worst real estate markets of our lifetime. During this timeframe, transaction activity was non-existent, which means obtaining a paycheck seemed virtually impossible for us. We never gave up and fought day in and day out on trying to get business going, while setting up our company structure & systems for the future. At one time, Beau and I were working side by side with two unpaid interns on my couch.
During this painful time, I drained two IRAs, my stock portfolio, and all of my savings in order to keep my dream alive. I spent countless hours staring at the ceiling at night wondering how I was going to pay my bills the next day, while making sure I kept the company alive. I was crawling through every day trying to make sure I could make it through the next. When you can’t provide for the people around you, it makes you feel like less of a man, which is more mentally damaging than most realize. These days felt eerily similar to my younger days of wondering how I could get through a day of not being embarrassed or picked on. Just like before, I refused to quit as I knew a brighter future was ahead and I had faith in God that I was on the right path. I also knew in this case that people were counting on me including my best friend, George, and I would not let them down. I could never live with myself if so.
I continued to put my head down and power through. I worked harder than I ever have in my life even though I went almost 8 months without getting a single paycheck and was constantly days away from bankruptcy. I ended up losing my condo. The most interesting part of this stage was that my closest friends and family members never doubted me. They continued to stay positive and support me whether I quit or whether I decided to sleep on my parents couch at 29 years old to keep the company alive. George double and tripled down on his investment in me. This support system was another major reason I kept fighting.
But I knew that God was listening. Multiple times we were down to our last week as a company. Our funds were running dry. And just before we ran out of time, our firm would have a small closing and that would keep us alive another few months. It happened again and again until we would have a bigger closing and then the closings started to get more frequent.
At the same time, the market was starting to turn and the apartment sector started catching steam. Due to the fact that 60% of our competition went under while we were clawing our way through every day and that we had so many contacts in the pipeline from our endless cold calls over a 2 year span, our business took off. We hired 3 brokers over a 2 year period, launched an apartment property management company with one of our largest clients, and opened up two other offices in Raleigh & Virginia. Capstone Apartment Partners did more in sales in the first quarter of 2012 (over $20 million in apartment sales transactions) than we did all of 2011. Our management company manages close to 2,000 apartment units across the southeast. Our forecasted sales continue to be strong and we are looking for more expansion opportunities into Tennessee & Texas by the end of 2012. Our goal is to take Capstone national in the next 5-10 years.
Looking back on the dark days of my life brings tears to my eyes for so many reasons. Yes, those days were painful, but I would never change anything about my history as every decision, struggle, and event has made me who I am today. I am so damn thankful for my life and the loved ones that surround me and it sometimes takes pain and struggles to realize the great things & people that are around you every day. But, the main reason that tears come to my eyes when I look back on those days is knowing that I did it. I did it.