There’s no skating around these life lessons

January 12, 2018 / by / 1 Comment

Mike Smith goes all over the country to talk to students about looking at new, innovative ways to find their purpose.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

The Colangelo College of Business focuses on preparing students for the business world of tomorrow. On Thursday, tomorrow was in the form of a down-to-earth, likable skateboarder with shoulder-length hair who has become one of the most sought-after speakers in the country.

Tomorrow, meet what’s happening today.

Mike Smith’s 45-minute pep talk at Grand Canyon University was filled with so many thought-provoking tidbits for the packed classroom to hear, it no doubt inspired dozens of ideas among the attending students and had older listeners thinking, “I could have used this 30 years ago.”

The founder of The Bay has challenged just about every business maxim in growing two nonprofits, trying to end generational poverty in his native Nebraska and then jumping on a tour bus to tell his generation how he’s doing it. A guy who talks openly about his 2.4 high school GPA and inability to even spell entrepreneur sure has a lot of smart, entrepreneurial things to say, such as:

  • “‘What do I want to be when I grow up?’ – how many of you hate that question? You pick a job as a kid, go to college based on that and hope you enjoy your life. That’s upside down! How many things are you using today that didn’t exist eight years ago?”
  • “A lot of you are focusing on jobs, but you don’t even know what you’re good at.”
  • “My best advice for starting a company is to pick a problem that you’re cool with solving for the rest of your life.”
  • “What lifestyle do you want? Pick your lifestyle, know your strengths and then let the job part take care of itself.”
  • “Follow your curiosity – don’t worry about making money. We too often think titles and end goals and what people are going to think of us. But then we realize all of that stuff doesn’t matter.”
  • “The more time you’re watching people talk on YouTube, the less time you’re creating your own ideas.”
  • “I believe people do three things: consuming, critiquing and creating. But so many people think they’re putting time in by watching a video or reading a book.”

Smith underscored that last point by asking everyone in the room to whip out their cellphone and check the settings to see how they spent the last 24 hours. He challenged the students to be honest with themselves about whether they really do lack time to get started on their dreams.

“Stop making time an excuse,” he said.

He has spent his time doing things like this:

He said he once took pledges for living with the homeless under a bridge. It took 27 nights to reaching his goal of $10,000.

He has skateboarded across Nebraska three times to raise funds and talked of doing the same thing from New York to Los Angeles for a million dollars.

He has donated 100,000 beanies to the homeless, whose No. 1 cause of death is hypothermia.

Smith is a doer. He’s one of those people who go forward and just figure out a way to get it done. That’s the only way he was able to sustain the skatepark he opened in Lincoln, Neb. (“So many times we’ve been down to our last dollar”), and it’s the only way he keeps going through the grind of two hours of sleep and back at it.

“Find Your Grind” is one of Smith’s talking points, and he clearly has found his. Now he wants to pass it on.

“A kid sitting in there today has a way better shot at starting a couple LLCs and a nonprofit like I did than being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company because, last time I checked, there are only 500 of those,” he said after the class. “Not to not shoot for that, but that Fortune 500 dude started from the bottom, too, and had to work his way up – I don’t care what his parents did.

“I’m closer to where they can get. I’m the obtainable lily pad that they can jump to – ‘If that guy can do it, I can do it.’ I honestly hope that if they take anything from my average, humble, normal upbringing – if I can do it, they have literally no reason why they can’t. The fact that they’re in college speaks volumes. They’re already here. They should be able to create stuff, too.”

Smith was at GCU because his Media Director is Alex Ruybalid, whose father, Jon, is a CCOB instructor. And how did Alex find Smith? Simple. A Google search when he was looking for someone who was trying to do positive things for the world.

“I’m passionate about helping people out, and I think a lot of people in my generation are passionate about that,” Ruybalid said. “He’s putting the rubber to the road and making it happen and helping people, especially young people, understand that they don’t need to have some giant business or nonprofit. They can just get out and help the community in such simple ways.”

Smith spends 80 percent of his time on the road (“I’ve seen every inch of this country”) to deliver that message, and he is scheduled out for the next 2½ years. He also does online video presentations that can be viewed by students from hundreds of schools at a time, but it was evident Thursday that his first love is direct contact with his millennial audience.

“They believe that they can make a difference,” he said. “They think that’s part of their calling and their destiny and their journey, and they want to do it – sometimes they just don’t know where to start or how to start. My hope is that I can give them some little tips. That’s why this whole ‘Find Your Grind’ thing is really big.”

The message is clear: Why wait until tomorrow?

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or




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One Response
  1. Jazmin M

    I was there when he spoke! I took some good notes and asked my question about having the time to create. It was an amazing experience hands down! Thanks to my professor who invited him over.

    Jan.12.2018 at 5:58 pm
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