Why you should NEVER settle with former Pentagon Staffer Ashley Stahl

As achievers, it’s so easy for us to set goals. But sometimes the hard part is deciding whether we should be going after those goals in the first place. Today’s guest – Ashley Stahl – shares how to never settle and keep going after what’s right for you … so you avoid becoming an “achiever on autopilot.”

In today’s episode:

  • What landing a job at the CIA taught Ashley about success and achievement…
  • Why the common advice of “follow your passion” or “do what you love” is terrible advice and will get you nowhere …
  • The two different kinds of “gas” you can run on (and which will make your journey a heck of a lot more FUN) …
  • How to give yourself “calm nerves” and “Certainty” in even the most nerve-wracking situations …
  • What to do if you feel you’re “behind” right now in your life, your job, or your career as an entrepreneur …
  • How to “pivot” on success (especially if you’ve been achieving the WRONG goals) …
  • And much more …

Resources Mentioned:


James Mel: Hey, everybody, welcome to The Get Ahead podcast. I’m James Mel. On this podcast, what I do is I find successful entrepreneurs and I dig deep to uncover the strategies, the mindsets, the techniques, and other things they’ve done to get ahead in their life and their business so you can do the same. I know if you’re here, you’re a high achiever. I know you want to get ahead. That’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with my entire life, and that’s what I want to help you do. Is uncover the different strategies and the techniques you need to be able to do that to get ahead in your own life. So make sure to grab a pen, a paper, or something to take notes with. Because as we uncover these gold nuggets, you’re going to want to write them down. 

Now, before we jump into today’s episode, I have something really special to give you as a free gift. Like any successful person, I’ve got a mentor and I’ve had one for over 10 years. And it turns out that he’s also my business partner. His name’s Eben Pagan, and he’s written a book on Opportunity. Now, if you want to get ahead in your life and your business, it’s super important that you not only know how to spot opportunity, but you know how to take advantage of it. And that’s what this entire book is about. And I’d like to give you a free copy. Not only that, I’d like to ship it to you absolutely free. So you get a free copy and get it shipped to you absolutely free. The way you can get this is go to www.jamesmel.com/opportunity, and it’s all on me. Go there now, grab your copy, you’ll be glad you did. 

All right. Without further ado, let’s jump into today’s episode. All right, welcome everybody. This is the very first episode of The Get Ahead Podcast. I am super excited for the guest today. One of my dear friends, somebody I’ve known for a couple years now, Ashley Stahl. Ashley is one of probably the most interesting, spontaneous successful people I personally know. Everything from having interned with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, to working in the Pentagon for national security, to living in Bali and getting a book deal with Hay House, to also having a seven figure business in three years. So, incredible, really excited to have you here today, Ashley, and hear about your story and hear about how you’ve been able to get ahead in your life, in your business, and everything you’re involved in. 

Ashley: Thank you for having me. 

James Mel: Can you remember what it felt like when you were maybe at a point in your life or business when you fell behind? 

Ashley: Yeah. I would say, going into college, I felt like a number, like a scanner. It’s like, you get there and you don’t know what you want to major in. I know, my dad, when I was a little kid, he lost our home, he lost his business. He had 300 employees. I remember making a promise to myself when I was a little kid, I’m not going to go through this when I’m in charge. When I’m an adult, I don’t want my life to look like this. I remember being in college and not really knowing what to major in and feeling really scared, or feeling a lot of pressure like I need to know who I am or where I’m going. And I think that little kid comes up in all of us throughout our lives.

I’ve met so many people who are great at setting goals, but not so great at figuring out if that’s even the goal that they want to be achieving. It’s like we’re a bunch of achievers on autopilot. So for me, I just thought, “Well, I might as well just pick a major and just pick something,” and I picked government history and French. Part of it was from indecision. I didn’t know what I wanted so I just picked everything that was interesting to me. And I remember going into Career Services and the woman said, “Do what you love or follow your passion.” And all these things that later as a career expert I would learn that this is not… these are a treadmill to nowhere as advice. 

I ended up just picking something for the sake of it and not being able to get a job in the recession. And after going to the best college I could, the top 25 school in the world for national security, learning languages, I was on my parents couch in LA, applying applying, applying and watching my resume go into what looked like a black hole of the internet and wondering if it would ever get better from here, or if anything would ever change. It was one of the most hopeless times to feel like I couldn’t create opportunities for myself. And eventually I think I fell into that trap a lot of people do where, I thought I just had to take what I could get, or that something was better than nothing. 

So, I end up taking an admin assistant job, making minimum wage. I remember going into that job every single day processing my ad executives expenses and thinking, I can’t believe my job exists to pick up what doesn’t exist on someone else’s plate. Like I don’t have my own plate. I’m just picking up people’s scraps. It felt so, I don’t know, maybe it’s like the millennial in me, but just demoralizing not to have my own tasks that relate to my own impact. I think the rock bottom for me was feeling like… because it’s one thing to hate your job, but it’s a whole another thing to not know where to go next. That’s a level of hopelessness that I think a lot of people, that’s the worst part of it all. Being stuck in that was definitely my rock bottom of my career so far. 

James Mel: Interesting. And it sounds like you did everything you thought you were supposed to do. You listened to career counselors, you went to school, prestigious schools, all this sort of stuff, and it just didn’t add up. 

Ashley: Yeah. I thought I did everything right. I did the internships, I got the degrees, I learned the languages, I went to the top schools, and later I would learn that that’s just an outdated model. The world we’re moving into right now, when you look at Generation Z, the generation born after 2000. I’ve been advising a lot of corporations on what to do with them. The truth of the matter is that most of them aren’t going to go to college and pay because they watch their millennial siblings in debt. Most of them are on YouTube. 72% of them on YouTube every day getting e-education. So, I think that’s the wave of the future. It’s just so unconventional. Gone are going to be the days of measuring yourself based on what you can put on paper and what degree you can get. 

James Mel: Yeah. Right. So, when you were in this position, you went through, you did what you thought you’re supposed to do and it wasn’t adding up, what did you tell yourself? You must have been, like you said, at rock bottom. What was the story you’re telling yourself? What was your mindset then? 

Ashley: I had such a strong story that this was going to be my new normal, and that I had to stop being so excited about life and start realizing, this is what it is to be an adult. There was a part of me that also wanted to be saved. I think I was hearing a lot of girlfriends who wanted a guy to come grab them and spare them the journey. And I feel like that was my least empowered point. But what I love about pain is, I mean, some people can choose to activate with a little bit, but at that time I just wasn’t aware enough to just activate with a little pain, I needed a lot. So, with a lot of pain, with going to this job every day feeling so much like, if I didn’t come to work, the world would be no different. And that was such a bad feeling. 

I ended up calling my university asking for a list of alumni who moved to DC. And I got a list of 2,000 people. And I worked on my lunch break. At night, I just decided I’m going to invest in my future self, I’m going to invest in any part of me that isn’t going to be here anymore. So, I took Arabic classes at UCLA because I knew the government wanted Arabic speakers. And I spent my lunch breaks either writing Arabic characters or taking calls and working through that 2,000% call list. And most people hung up on me because I mean, the nature of national security work is privacy, but some people stayed on the line. And I just said, “I’m an alumni of the same school as you,” and you could do this with anything. It doesn’t have to be college. It could be in the same… any sort of association or group that you’re in the. There’s always people that have that tie that will help you. 

I probably had about 50 to 100 people out of that 2,000 that were helpful. And it started to become a thing where they would say, “Well, are you in town? Because I have somebody you should meet.” And finally I just thought, “You know what? I need to make myself be in town.” So, I went to my parents house, and they were helping me pay for my apartment and they told me there’s an expiration to that. Which I was like, my salary is my salary. How am I supposed to pay my bills? I went to their house and I was like, “Guys, I’m moving to DC. I’ve saved three grand and I’m joining the CIA.” And they were like, “You’re?” My mom was like, “Absolutely not.” And my dad has always been the wanderluster, he was the entrepreneur, he was the creative, he was always picking up new businesses and going through the waves of entrepreneurship. And he used to tell me when I was a little kid, “You get to choose one path, Ashley. You can have a carousel or a roller coaster.”

And I remember looking at him and thinking, “I’m not sure I like either of those.” He’s like, “A carousel, you collect a salary and you kind of know what you’re in for, and a roller coaster like, you’ll never be able to predict the magic of the highs, but the lows are pretty bad.” And I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be an entrepreneur if I’m on a roller coaster.” But I’ve learned to create more stability for myself and relate to entrepreneurship in a different way since then, but at that time, I just remember saying, “I’m going to do this.” And he was like, “Okay, well, I support you and I’ll help you with some food money while you’re in DC, but you got to get a job.”

I picked up and moved to Constitution Avenue by the Supreme Court and lived with these two girls I didn’t know. One was working at USAID, one was working at Defense Intelligence Agency and I just told myself, I’ve got about six weeks to find a job. And anyone who’s listening who’s ever applied to work in the government if they have, bless them. It’s like this portal is just the ultimate cyber abyss. It’s like a point system. And if you’re a veteran, you get this many points. And if you’re like a basic white girl like me, you get no points. 

James Mel: Right. 

Ashley: Maybe I got a couple points for having a master’s, I don’t know, but speaking some languages, but you just disappear and so that was when I learned about contracting and how they can give you a job right away and the government pays them to basically do the same job, and you could get paid more. So I networked my heart out and ended up landing three job offers in six weeks and learning everything that I knew about how to get a job. And it just became this bridge into my real life of realizing the best jobs in life don’t always go to the best candidate. They go to the biggest hustler, the best job seeker. It’s like looking at all these people in the Pentagon and my job interview with their Harvard resume, I was working and I already networked with the recruiters. So she’s walking into the room being like, “Hey, Ashley.” And didn’t know the rest of the people who had way better qualifications than me, but maybe not a personality she wanted to worked with.

James Mel: Yeah. Right. I love how you just took the initiative. Would you say that’s one of the things that helped you get ahead? Like I see that pattern of you just like, “You know what? I’m not happy with this, I’m literally going to go get that call list and just start calling.” 

Ashley: Yeah. 

James Mel: It seems like a pattern [inaudible 00:11:16]. What would you say, I mean, when you made the transition into entrepreneurship. I know you’ve hired a coach and this sort of stuff, what would you say was your big break, that when you finally made this transition in entrepreneurship, you’re like, “Boom.” That was the break that then really set everything else off? 

Ashley: I think you’re right that we do usually have one. Whenever I talk to somebody, there’s usually one big break. I had a couple of small ones and one big one. The first one was, I think that wherever you are, you can harness a wind out of it and it can advance you into your future self. So for me, as soon as I got a national security job, one of the things I learned that was so fascinating to me was about the media world. Was that people don’t usually get reached out to, to blog, that they reach out and ask to blog online. So all the Forbes contributors have usually been pitched by a publicist or by themselves to be writing for Forbes. I realized, wow, if I want an award, or I want recognition, I need to go out and grab it. I don’t wait for somebody to contact me and decided I’m worthy. 

And so a couple wins that I had was, I had a couple friends who got these foreign policy awards and I was like, “I want to get an award. I wonder what that would do for my career.” So I applied for this top 99 under 33 Foreign Policy Leader and a bunch of people that I knew in National Security were like, “Oh, well, we’ll nominate you.” Because you have to be nominated. But people ask for nominations. That’s a whole another part of this. I ended up getting nominated and winning this award and going to this award ceremony, after I decided to leave the Pentagon and go back to LA and I still was working in National Security but feeling more lost and more like, “What am I really supposed to do? I thought this was it and it wasn’t.” 

Got this award with my dad who was proudest dad in the building. Flew to DC and shared a hotel room and he’s such a character so he was just so excited. I saw this beautiful girl who kind of looked like the actress Gabrielle Union, this like shining African American goddess. She came over to me and I was like, “Who are you? You’re so beautiful. How is this normal? Did you win this award too?” And she said, “Yeah, I do girls health. I won Mrs. Washington DC. I do pageants.” I’m like, “Okay.” And she said, “I did a TED talk at the UN last week and on this and…” I said, “Man, I would love to do that.” And she said, “Well, I’m sure your time is coming.” And she had a little sparkle on her tooth. And I was like, “Yeah, okay, sister. Good luck.” I’ve never spoken to a crowd except for a bunch of military people who want numbers from me about what’s going on over at the Pentagon. There’s no power of inspirational communication there. Just like factual. 

I ended up going to Turkey after that for a work trip because there are protest out there and that was the whole shit storm of getting tear gas in my eye and having to write these intelligence reports, and people were wearing screen masks like what you see in the movie, I Know What You Did Last Summer. That was the last scary movie I watch. But those crazy masks and the government had tanks out and people were just throwing things and I had tear gas in my eye, I was there to write a report and I get this text message when I went into a spice bizarre tired from all these chaos. And I’m wiping my eyes looking down at my phone and it’s Sarah, this girl from the award ceremony who took my number. She just wrote this funny little note saying, “Hey, big news. You got a TED talk at Berkeley. It’s 4,000 people. You just need to send your speaking reel.”

And I was like, “I don’t have a speaking reel like.” I remember going back to my hotel room that night and pulling out my phone and recording me talking and calling it my speaking reel. And looking online, I googled what’s a speaking reel? What’s a sizzle reel? And it was like, all these professional speakers had these five minute clips of them on 14 media outlets and 10 stages. And I was this national security girl, like a lot of them. There’s so many of us out there that are doing good work and helping the world and lots of people who are way more cut out for that than me. 

But I remember just sitting there being like, this is my ticket and I need to work with what I’ve got. And feeling like, “Oh my gosh, they’re going to rescind this invitation.” Because you told me it’s the biggest TEDx. And I didn’t really know that there were small ones or big ones. That time, six years ago, Ted was just so much more. Their brand was even stronger because now there’s just been so many people have gotten a TED talk. But before then it was so elite. I remember thinking, there’s no way this is going to happen. I just made up something on the screen. I don’t remember what. I sometimes wonder, “What did I even sound? I should find this thing because it’s so scary to think what did these people see?” 

And it was so, I mean, it was definitely really bad. But thankfully, students run TED and they have a lower bar than adults sometimes. So, I don’t know. They saw my talk and they were like, “Great. Confirmed.” And it was just like, “What?” And I spent the following four months practicing a talk and going to bed having anxiety picturing a red ring on on a stage and just wondering if they would rescind. Every morning, I would be, “Are they going to take it back? Am I going to get an email being like, sorry, we’ve found someone that’s a better fit. Best of luck.” It ended up being mine and I just practiced harder than everyone. 

Looking back now, and the talk ended up going viral. Now it almost has a million views. But it’s like, that was one of my first big breaks and that gave me so much authority as a career coach, and that journey of learning how to job hunt and I had helped so many friends while I was at the Pentagon. 

James Mel: All right, wow. So you got this invitation to do a TED talk. Public speaking is widely recognized as probably one of the most fearful things for most people. Here you were at a point in your career, what was the mindset that allowed you to do that? Because I think a lot of people would have just been like, “You know what? That’s cool, but I’m not going to do that.”

Ashley: Yeah. I think, going back to what we talked about earlier, I think the human condition operates in a way where there is the fear of the unknown and there’s the misery you have in your current state. And I think most people are so afraid of the unknown that it’s not until their misery is so unbearable that they jump in. What I learned through all of this experience was that I want to love myself more than letting myself go to that misery. So, I’m less afraid of the unknown and more afraid of misery. So I think, in this point of my career, and this is something that I talk about a lot. 

I’m writing a book right now called You Turn, which is the same name as my podcast and Y-O-U, so it’s kind of a funny little term. But the reason I’m inspired by is because I think we’re all like cars and we have two different types of gas we can put in. We can put fear in and we can drive off that, or we could put inspiration and we could drive off that. Both of them get you to the same destination a lot of the time. It’s just one journey is a lot more fun. And in my case, I was really motivated by fear at that time and it’s a powerful motivator. So anyone who’s in that it’s like, “Okay.” Then their next level is, how do you get motivated by inspiration? 

That’s just where I was at. I was motivated, it was by fear, but I was motivated. I just told myself, I’m going to hire anyone that can help me. I’m going to get support. And this was really the beginning of me seeing direct ROI consistently on investing in myself. I asked around and said, “Does anybody know anyone who teaches public speaking that could sit with me for five hours?” And I remember bringing him my first draft of my speech, and he looked at me like my old boss at the Pentagon did when I walked in and had a non military resume because most people have military resumes as you walk in there. He scoffed at it, “Oh, master’s degree.” Just like, “What is this girl?” 

He looked at my speech was like, “Okay.” But he gave me the dignity of looking at me saying, “You have a few nuggets in here though, that are really good points.” So he kept myself and Stephen intact because I myself was just so vulnerable and not, in my own mindset, at a place where I could take… I mean, it was like I was ready to take a big opportunity, but I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth yet for criticism for being attacked. So thankfully, he was really kind and helped me write my speech. Every single day I told myself for three months, I’m just going to out-practice everyone. I’m just going to have practice so much better and so much more. And what calms nerves? Certainty. What would anyone who’s doing a TED talk or a big presentation or anything in life want? Certainty. The closest thing I found I could give myself certainty was practicing. 

So I just practiced every single day for two to three hours, and I memorized my talk, I memorized every single word. I could tell you that talk without even knowing what I was saying because the words would just pour out of my mouth by the end. And I remember the girl who got me the talk ended up getting a TED talk at that same event, it was their second TED Talk. And she came on stage with flashcards. She hadn’t prepared. I went on after Guy Kawasaki, one of the original Apple employees and investors. I remember asking him, “Oh, are you nervous?” And he looked at me like, “What? I do this all the time” 

James Mel: Right. 

Ashley: But I do remember having this profound moment backstage where all of these CEOs that were way more seasoned than me, I had a coaching practice, but I didn’t have that many clients and most of them I had coached for free to get testimonials for my website. I remember having this profound moment telling myself walking in, “I’m going to be the most nervous person, I’ve never spoken on stage before.” All these seasoned professionals, everybody sounds so amazing with their bio. Even me, people tell my bio and I’m like, “That’s so weird.” It’s me but it feels weird because it doesn’t feel like me, still. I feel so much more human than what the bio sounds like. 

I looked at all these people and I saw how panicked they all were. And it was so healing for me. Also such an awareness for me to realize the nerves never die. I remember looking at all these people, I was 25, new business owner, trying to be a career coach to millennials with barely a career behind me to be able to prove myself. And Generation X people, and baby boomers being like, “How do you get your clients? What are you going to do to help them?” And I just taught what I knew. I think that’s the starting point is that, what I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that everybody knows something that’s monetizable. Even if it’s your language, you can monetize your language skills on the internet. Everybody knows something that they can monetize, and it’s just a matter of, do they want to play with that? Do they want to put it out there? 

So in that moment I thought, I know how to job plan. That’s all I know. I know how to rewrite my resume, I know how to use LinkedIn, I know how to talk to people. So I was just working with where I was, and what I knew. I got on that stage, and I remember right before I went on after Guy Kawasaki, I forgot my lines for a second, I had my notes there and I looked down. Your brain is like a train track when you remember something. So, the horror of that is, if you forget something, you’re screwed, because it’s like your brain is operating in order. And you had to start over. You’ve seen people need to start over. 

So I walked onto that red circle, I heard my voice when I talked, echoed through the stadium. I just went onto this autopilot. It’s so funny to this day, because whenever I public speak I actually have a very similar experience. I blackout and don’t remember what happened. But I know I’m on go mode. Yeah, that TED Talk changed my life. That was my biggest break as a private career coach. I mean, from there on, the talk got 1,000 views a day, and I would get applications and I was shameless in that talk. I shamelessly promoted myself. I was against all TED guidelines probably at that time, talked about myself as a career coach. They’re like, “Talk about the Pentagon.” And I just pulled a total doozy on the [inaudible 00:24:17]. Common Marketer move.

James Mel: Well, that’s awesome though. But I think, one of the key things I learned from hearing that is just how, once you got that you just became obsessed with, who do I need talk to? Who can I hire? Who can coach me to just make this unbelievable? Because I think you recognized, this is a huge breakthrough. I can really get ahead from it and it paid off that one moment. Now you say you’re at a million views plus, it’s like [inaudible 00:24:45]. Now that you’re ahead, let’s fast forward, now that you’re ahead, you have a successful business, you’ve done seven figures, right? What is that now to go from where you were where it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t even know what I’m going to do in line with my purpose to now being ahead?” What does that feel like?

Ashley: I’ve constantly wondered, is there a there? When I get there, is there a there? And sometimes I think there is. I went on this leadership retreat in the Middle East and I noticed at that time that all of the people on the retreat were very off. They were in vacation friend mode, but they were all huge executives that can make a huge impact on my career. One was a talent agent that could turn my book into a movie. One was an anchor on Good Morning America. These people could change my career if I was in that mode. I was up against a group of people who didn’t want to really network from a networking standpoint, they wanted to hang out. 

The reason I justified going on this trip in the middle of, was otherwise a really tough deadline for me on a bunch of projects was, well, there’s a lot of people here that I really should connect with. I ended up succumbing to just meeting them where they were and making friends and they ended up offering their support and so much kindness to me anyway, which is the ultimate essence of good networking. I love to network without an agenda. I don’t network with people I don’t want to network with no matter if they’re the fanciest president of the world in the room. I just network with the people that I like. And I found that that gets me so far because you build real relationships, you like people and you become friends with them. Then suddenly, business becomes a footnote and my career and other people’s career because of me has gone so far because I’m excited to help them. I want to, and I’m so clear with them, like, “Hey, just ask me for what you need. I’m happy to be in your network, I’m happy if you’re a friend too.” 

But at that time I noticed that what was driving me was not feeling like I was there. My career wasn’t there yet. I wasn’t the executive that can go on a vacation with a bunch of people and totally turn off. I remember thinking how sad that felt. Here, I was going on this trip with all these executive not able to turn off when they were, and realizing they were able to turn off because they felt complete with where they were in their life. I remember sitting and thinking, “What does that feel like?” So to answer your question, I’ve created a lot of success. My business is dedicated. It’s a career company dedicated to helping people step in the careers they’re excited about and aligned with. And that looks like speaking, coaching courses, books, content creation. We’re creating career portals for larger e-learning platforms that have members. I’m realizing it doesn’t really end for me so I couldn’t tell you what it feels like to be there. I can tell you what it feels like to be proud, I’m proud of what I’ve created. I can say that every time my ego thinks I’ve made it, I haven’t. 

What I’m learning about my journey is to make peace with where I am and know that always more is coming as long as you just keep putting yourself out there. And you don’t need to burn yourself out and kill yourself to do it, you just put yourself out there, you look at the ROI of things. I just spoke on a stage in Vegas this past weekend and I thought, “Oh, I’m going to crush this. I practiced this talk. I practiced so hard.” I get on stage and it was just a bigger audience than I’m used to. My little body felt lost in a room of thousands of people, and I did a good job. I looked at it and I was like, “Okay, I did a good job.” But I didn’t feel like I was the best. My ego thought I might be. When I walked in and there are speakers in that room getting paid probably triple my speaking fee, I just realized there’s always more and I really don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to live in the constant pursuit of chasing this ever elusive [inaudible 00:29:00] of more.

James Mel: It’s such a good point, because I think especially when we just get started, I know I felt this way. But we’re like, “If I get this then I’ll make it and I’ll be happier. If I get the house, the car, or the job, or the money, or whatever. It’s refreshing hearing you say that for somebody who’s achieved more than most people will probably achieve in their life. And had some amazing experiences, spoken on stage, built an amazing business, traveled the world. There’s more, it doesn’t end and it’s continuing to go. I think that’s a really, really important point.

Ashley: Yeah. Even in the influencer world, I don’t really call myself an influencer because I think subconsciously, I think even I have a big email list of millennial women. I don’t know. It’s like all my friends who have large Instagrams they’re an influencer, you have to have more than 100,000 followers, or 200,000, or whatever. It’s so funny because the other day I was in Vegas yet again for another work event. And there some friends who are influencers, who according to my Instagram standards, like my subconscious Instagram game I’m playing with myself. 

And they’re like, “Oh, let’s go to dinner.” I’m like, “Okay, great. Where do you want to go?” They’re like, “Well, we damned blah, blah, blah, so we can have free drinks, free food chef’s table.” I’m like, “Oh, you’re pulling the influencer card, how do you do that?” And so they were explaining how they get everything for free all the time. I was like, “Man, I need to do that, but I’m not an influencer yet.” They looked at me like, “What are you talking about You’re there now.” And I’m like, “No, I’m not, I can’t get a free gym membership or a free da, da, da, I’m not an influencer.” 

It’s not about the free shit obviously, it was more just like the awareness that I am making an impact, I have built an audience, I am out there. I think I do have a good relationship with my confidence and my self-esteem but I think that it’s all part of this illusion of being there and it’s like people who are there for someone aren’t, there for themselves to their standards. So, it’s been really funny lately for me to realize, and have them text me like, “You can get a free thing here like watch, just message them.” I was like, “I’m not in this for the free ship but, wow, this is really interesting.” I didn’t know that was on top for me.

James Mel: You know what, something that just occurred to me, Ashley, I notice throughout your story and journey, you’re not afraid to break “the rules.” Like doing the TED Talk, or whatever, I’m going to say this or I’m not an influencer When everybody else might consider herself an influencer, how important do you think that’s been to you getting where you are in life and getting ahead? Not being afraid to do that?

Ashley: I think one of the key ingredients for anybody listening is the conversation that you’re having in your head about failure. I think that is, whenever I see somebody who’s a huge success, the only thing that comes to mind for me is, “Wow, I wonder how they talk to themselves about failure.” Because it’s in the same neighborhood, it’s the opposite of success, definitely not failure it’s not trying because failure is like a marker on route to success. It’s really just a stopping point on the way. And most people will stop after a certain amount of failure because they feel thrashed around by life, they feel tired, they feel drained. I’ve really learned through all of this, that life is a numbers game. If you knock on 1,000 doors, you’re always going to get yeses on some doors. 

So, I’ve learned to see putting myself out there more as part of the numbers game. I’ve learned to flex that muscle of like, “Oh, eventually I’ll get a yes.” So I just see putting myself out there as this way of life where I don’t really make a lot of meaning of my nos. A lot of times I’ve put myself out there so much that when I get an email rejection, I don’t even remember submitting myself for the thing that is rejecting me. I found that anyone who’s waiting for an email hasn’t been putting themselves out there enough because they are not playing the numbers game.

James Mel: Right. That’s so important. So you don’t send something or put yourself out there, “Oh my gosh, got rejected or it didn’t work out. I’m going to stop everything. I’m a failure. It’s like that’s a reason for you to do it 10 more times, or 100 more times and then eventually, you’re going to get the result.

Ashley: Exactly. There’s a speaking series that I remember, they have eight conferences a year, you pay to be a member of it and they pick five speakers out of 300 applications. If you’re one of the five, you present in front of a tone of people who could hire you as a speaker. So, I was looking at about a million dollars in speaking fees if I got chosen for one of these five slots. I remember being chosen as an alternate for one of them, which I was like, “Wow,” but I was the last alternate out of seven. At first I was, “Okay, and then I started noticing every single conference, had the same people got picked. One was a celebrity, one was a famous athlete and I was like, “Okay.” So I started looking at their profile on the website. Like, what are they doing to stand out? 

I think it’s also about just staying curious. Don’t just see the failure as a reason to delete the email. Get curious see it as feedback. That’s why of all the criticism I’ve gotten because it’s so inevitable to get criticized, I’ve learned to love the three star review more than any review, because the one star is usually the bitter person, the five star is the person who probably isn’t being honest, there’s always something we could do to improve. The three star or the four star, that’s always the person that can comment on your value but also can comment on your shortcoming. So I’ve learned to just see criticism as an opportunity for me to up my game, I’ve learned to see loss as an opportunity for me to be curious, and not really make any meaning about myself, because I’ve had some wins that some people that you would assume should get that win didn’t get. I just think what’s meant for you won’t miss you.

James Mel: So important, wow. It’s such a different mindset than most people would have, I think that’s been one of the key ways that you’ve been able to definitely get ahead. So now you’ve got I mean, one of the amazing things is you’ve helped so many people to get ahead in their careers. That’s what you do. What advice would you have for somebody taking everything you’ve learned from that who maybe they’re a bit behind right now in their life, their job, their career as an entrepreneur, whatever, that they could use some action steps to help them start getting ahead?

Ashley: I would say who you are on Monday doesn’t have to be who you are by Friday, or by Tuesday really. I mean, I think at any given moment, you can choose to radically change your life. That looks like looking at who inspires you, realizing they were where you are most of the time. I mean, some people were born into extreme wealth and opportunity, but most people weren’t. So look at that person, look at what they’ve done with their life, study them, and become curious about them. It’s all the curiosity. Take a look at what steps they took, what were their big breaks? How can you start working with those big breaks? 

One of my favorite questions is, what can I do from where I am right now to reach and then just put whatever goal? I found that I can come up with list and list of all sorts of things I could be doing. What I love to do with that list is just start the things that look the most fun that I feel a little pulled towards. There’s a period where I wanted to coach women in the White House because I felt like I missed my national security life and with every step into my coaching business and onto the internet was a step away from being in the intelligence world because you’re too seen you can’t be a case officer anymore. 

I remember feeling a nostalgia for that and thinking, “Well, maybe I could work with women in the White House.” So I wrote this question down, “What can I do from where I am now with what I have now to coach women in the White House?” I started writing about going to networking events in DC, reaching out to people on LinkedIn, doing a free training for government… I just started writing, writing, writing, and then I starred the things that I felt the most exciting, one was going to DC because I missed it.

So I was excited to go back. Go into a networking event and looking at the calendar of White House events that were available to the public. Looking at what friends I had. I started staring things and the next thing I knew, I was able to start helping a lot of women who had burned out in national security as a coach. I’ve coached all sorts of people in their careers but this was one that was self-created. It was just through this process.

James Mel: That you did, and then you took action yourself. That seems like again, it’s been a common denominator for you is identifying the things you need to do and then actually doing it.

Ashley: Yeah, actually doing it and not holding it so heavily. People hold decisions way too heavily. For me, it’s like, if I want to meet someone and they are in DC, and I think it’s going to make a huge impact. I’ll tell them I’m in town. And if they say yes, I’ll fly there. I feel like that mindset of, “Okay, here’s a $300 round trip flight, but who knows what could happen if I need this person.” Maybe that person won’t do anything, but maybe the next five, one big thing will happen to my career? So, just flexing that risk muscle.

James Mel: Wow. Doing whatever it takes basically.

Ashley: Yeah. And not seeing it as a big deal. That’s the big thing. People get really like, “I’m not going to book a whole flight and do all this and do all that.” It’s like, just do it.

James Mel: I see. You go into that. You’re like, “Hey, maybe something good happens, maybe it doesn’t but it’s all good either way.”

Ashley: Yeah. It’s all just part of my journey and how I see myself all the time.

James Mel: Interesting. So is there anything that you feel keeps most people behind in their life or career?

Ashley: No. I think it’s their relationship to commitment. I think people hold commitments so heavily that they don’t make decisions that could change their life because they overthink things. Indecision is huge. I think anyone who’s indecisive usually just doesn’t totally trust themselves. I get that. That’s a journey. Trusting yourself. Especially when you have failure you think, “Oh.”  You have trauma you think, “I don’t want this to happen again.” I have plenty of that. But I learned to trust myself and to know that if I keep flexing this muscle, magic will keep happening. So, I haven’t really succumbed to indecision. I’ve also learned that being decisive, yes, sometimes you’ll make a mistake but usually you’re going to come out more ahead anyway, than the time… And the decisive person is busy having a life while the indecisive person is still making five decisions. The other person is just like failed, succeeded and won. You know what I mean?

James Mel: Yeah. So, how do you view commitment? I’m curious in your thoughts on commitment. You make up your mind on something, you do it. How do you approach that? What’s your relationship to commitment once you’ve, “All right, I’m going to do this?”

Ashley: I feel like in my career, I’m committed to a path until I’ve not. I love it until I don’t. I’m not afraid. I know that you can stand on success, you could pivot on success. So, no matter what you create, you’ll be able to pivot on it. People will trust and respect you. But my relationship with my career, it’s a vehicle for my own self-expression. I’m only in the game as long as it’s serving me and I feel creatively expressed. If I don’t, I’m not doing it. I think financially, I’ve been learning how to manage money and save and be more responsible. As far as romantic relationships go, commitment is a whole other thing. I feel like for the first time I’m in a relationship that my commitment looks like I need to learn how to be in the growth of commitment. 

I’ve been in long relationships, but I’ve never been married. In fact, I called off a wedding. It’s like, I’m learning that commitment is a choice, and you get to choose. If the choice you make is, “I’m going to stay with this no matter what.” That’s your choice. You’ve still chosen that. With my career, I just hold it very lightly. I see it as an experiment and a vehicle to meet me where I am right now.

James Mel: That’s so interesting. Yeah, I love that. Being open to basically all possibilities but sticking with until it’s not. 

Ashley: Yeah. Exactly.

James Mel: Last question here. What are any success rituals you have? Do you have one, two, or three success rituals. Or things that you feel you do constantly. You built up over your life, your career that really help you get ahead?

Ashley: Yeah. Whenever I think about something that I want, I just make cold outreach a part of my life. So if I want more speaking, I’ll be emailing my reel to more people. I set aside time every single week for outreach. Whether that’s networking conversations and coffees. Whether that’s… But I think the most important aspect of any success I’ve had is my friendships. I deeply love my friends. I would move mountains… The funny thing about me and my friends would comment on this is that, if I care about you I’ll move mountains for you and if I don’t I won’t move a finger. So, the way that I see it, it’s like, be caring about the people you love and be willing for those people, and they are going to show up for you in ways that most people don’t have relationships that would show up for them. That’s how I’ve managed my energy is, being really clear. 

I’m really clear about the text messages in my phone. I’m really clear about who I’m writing back. And it’s not from a place of ego and me thinking, I’m like Paris Hilton over here, busy with my immediate tour. It’s like, I’m just very clear on where I want to put my energy. How sacred my energy is. I respect everyone in the same mindset. Valuing their energy and how it matters to them. I have a lot of mutuality in my friendships. We care a lot about each other. A rising tide lifts all boats. My girlfriends right now, they’re all hosting large seminars around the world. One has a show on entrepreneur.com right now. One has a TV show going on. They all have really big things happening but they know that our relationship to each other is worth more than money. There have been times where I’ve passed on something, because there’s a conflict to me with a friend or something like that. I think treating my relationships as sacred, making time for them has been the biggest element of my success.

James Mel: That’s amazing. I love how clear you are with that too. I resonate with that so much, Ashley, because a lot of people talk about how, “Oh, this person’s self-made,” or this person’s like, “I don’t believe anybody’s self-made.” 

Ashley: No.

James Mel: It just goes to show you that’s one of the things I’ve learned too in my career as well is just how important relationships are, and to really water those and nurture those. I love how you spend time every week on outreach. That’s so important and I think that’s why you’re able to make so many things happen. Whether it’s in writing a book. Whatever it is you want. Basically, it seems like your system is, you identify it, you see what you need to do and then you just block out time to go do it. It’s amazing.

Ashley: And do outreach. Yeah, and I feel like I don’t even work as much as most people. I probably work 25 hours a week. So it’s not like I’m this hustler that’s like non-stop. I value my time with my friends. So I’m like off the clock pretty early in the day and off to do something fun.

James Mel: I love it. Well, this is awesome, Ashley. It’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing your gifts, your insights, your mindsets. This this has been amazing.

Ashley: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited for your podcast. It’s going to be great.

James Mel: Yeah, thanks so much. Well, I hope you love this week’s episode. If you did, tell your friends. That would be a huge favor for me and it can help build this community and we can all get ahead. And something I’d like to do is give you a special gift. It turns out that one of the ways to get ahead is to be able to find a spot and then take advantage of opportunity. We all know this. And it turns out that my business partner and mentor, Eben Pagan has written a book on this very topic. I’d like to give you that book and ship it to you absolutely free. The book is called Opportunity. How to win in business and create the life you love. 

All you got to do is go to www.jamesmel/opportunity, enter your details and I’m going to send you the book free. You’re going to get the book for free and I know you’re going to love it. I have learned so much from Eben Pagan over the 10 years we’ve known each other and it’s truly been one of the ways I’ve been able to get ahead in my life, in my business, and I know what you learn inside of this book is going to help you do the same. So go there now www.jamesmel/opportunity, and grab your copy while you can. I’ve got 4,000 copies that I’m doing this for and sending absolutely free. Shipping is on me, the book is on me so grab one while you can. And thank you so much for being here. Thank you so much for joining here. Thank you so much for investing in yourself to get ahead. By you getting ahead, it’s going to inspire other people and then we’re all going to get ahead. Have an amazing week and I look forward to talking to you on the next episode.