When I first met TerryJosiah Sharpe I knew that he had something very special in him. It was a couple months ago, and we were both at a Pineapple Project business accelerator event. Each individual at the event was asked to stand, introduce themselves to the group and say a little bit about their business. TerryJosiah stood, told everyone his name, and talked about a creative community that he had organized called Music. Life.Change. He said that he was working with creative people in the music and philanthropic space to affect positive change in the world. I was immediately intrigued.
After exchanging contact information and following up with each other, TerryJosiah and I have since sat down for coffee. We've discussed a number of things from his background in music, to his business model, and how he's evolving his company to reflect the gratitude that he feels and wishes to share with his community. Last Friday I had another opportunity to meet with TerryJosiah at his office in Mission Valley San Diego. This time we were going to talk about his whole story and learn how a background with the military, a love for music, and the power of gratitude can bring about meaningful change. Here's how our discussion went...
What was the inspiration behind you starting your own organization like The Gratitude Group?
It goes back to when I decided to join the military. I joined on 9/17/2001, six days after 9/11. I would’ve joined earlier, but all the planes were grounded because of the flight situation. So my flight out to join the army was delayed.
I remember laying on my couch that day and watching as the second plane hit. I thought it was a movie or something. Not real life. I was just a young kid living in California at the time. My mom called and said, “Turn the TV on. Something’s happened!” As I turned the TV on I saw the side of a building in New York on fire, and then I saw a plane hit it. That was the day I realized that I needed to do something.
I joined the military thinking that I was going to create change in a way that I wanted to create it. That’s not necessarily how the military works though. It took a little bit of adjusting on my part, because I wanted to do things my way. The military teaches you that you’ll have to do things their way. So after six years and two tours to Iraq, I honorably discharged. I decided that I would go out and do things my way. I went to college determined to learn as much as I could. I learned more about music, more about writing, and used all of that to formulate what I wanted in a business.
I originally started a business with four guys. It was a lifestyle business that helped the community. It was a brand, that stood for all sorts of amazing things. However, when you start a business with four guys that have never done anything of the sort before, and are all considered equal partners, then there’s no true lead. Since there was no true lead nothing ended up getting done. I felt it best to remove myself from that situation so that I could actually get things done. After about a year with that group I decided to go out on my own. I went back to the drawing board, and created Music.Life.Change. which is a creative agency that cultivates social revolutions through music, education and philanthropy.
What were the very early times of the business like?
I literally started everything in my garage. At first it was just me. I felt like I had great ideas, but we have this thing among my circle of family and friends - called “Creative Circles” where we come together and offer up ideas about whatever topic may be in the middle of the circle. It’s usually my family, my girlfriend, close friends and even my kids who have incredible input. When I presented the idea of my company I received some amazing feedback, and because of that I was able to really zero in on what the actual business was going to be.
It takes a while to figure out exactly what your company will be. To hone in on what the different elements will be, and how they will work together. With the help of my entire family, and close circle of friends I was able to accelerate the process of structuring the organization. We were able to do it fairly quickly. That was a year and half ago.
Even with all of the help from my circle, there were still growing pains. The first half year I was really stubborn. I wanted everything to be my way, as I’m sure a lot of entrepreneurs want. It gets humbling real quick when you actually start doing business. You realize that you can’t take it all on alone. I took a step back to focus on not dismissing the useful things that my friends and family were saying. Sometimes I would find myself doing something, and they’d say, “We told you to do that a long time ago.” So I started to take that input for what it was, and moved forward. I make sure to bring a lot of things to the circle while still maintaining the integrity of what I want to build within my business.
Do your friends and family still play a major role in how you approach the business?
They play a role in how we deliver content. I look to them to get opinions and reviews on what we put out. They’re a bit of a focus group. It’s one of the best gifts that an entrepreneur can have.
If we don't see the good, then we have to be the good."
What aspects of your background have helped you to succeed in what you do as an entrepreneur?
I feel like my childhood was a bit unstable, but other people would consider it “traumatic”. My real father was a pimp (or something like it). He used to abuse my mom but she finally left him after a day where he was hitting her and my sister stepped in and he ended up throwing her across the room. After that my mom had had enough, so we moved out and were on our own. It was my mom, my sister and I. We didn’t have a house to live in for a while. We traveled pretty often, I remember staying in auditoriums and various places like that. Eventually we ended up in some apartments.
There was a guy in our apartment complex that we used to call “The Candy Man” because he would give candy to my sister and I all the time - it was great! Slowly, but surely “The Candy Man” ended up being around my mom a lot more. My mom ended up getting pregnant, and then they got married. However, after they got married and we all moved in together he became really mean. He used to abuse my sister and I, and after a few years of beatings, I ended up being put into a foster home.
My mom and The Candy Man - who I consider my dad - had to go to court to try and get me back. There were reasons why he did what he did, although I sometimes wish he used better judgement. Don’t get me wrong though, we were bad kids, but we didn’t deserve some of the “punishments” we received. We came from toxic scenarios growing up. So when my mom married, and we had a step-father that was very into discipline and the church, it was something we weren’t used to. We were little kids who just acted on impulse. We didn’t understand that our habits were bad. We’d end up being punished, and those punishments were beatings. Inappropriate beatings. That’s why I ended up in that foster home.
Going through all of that as a child made me want to leave. I wanted a way out. When I graduated from high school the clothing company FUBU was really popular at the time. It was one of the hottest products out. It was “For Us By Us,” pro black, and I thought it was super awesome! It was a way to move past where I had been. In my mind I thought, “If they can make a clothing line I can too”. So I thought about putting together my own clothing company and then 9/11 happened. That’s when I decided I wanted to affect change in a larger way and joined the military. When I saw 9/11 happen it made me realize that if we don’t see the good, then we have to be the good. That’s been my mantra ever since. I believe that if you want good in our world, the only person’s hands you can trust to carry that weight are your own. That’s why I’ve created my business, and the backstory of what’s pushed me to do it.
What are some obstacles that you have faced in building your business and how have you overcome them?
One of my biggest obstacles has been the name of the company, and as crazy as it sounds we’re literally transitioning to a new name right now. It’s funny to think about.
I’ve always felt that I’m an incredible writer. When I was young my mom always told me that I had a prophecy over me to be a writer. I always wrote, poems, songs, stories...etc. In college I studied creative writing. My teachers told me my writing was great, but the one thing that I would always receive criticism about were the titles of whatever I was writing. My titles may have matched the content, but weren't very intriguing or attention grabbing. So when it came to the company - the challenge was, “How do I choose a name that will present my company to the public, and still represent everything that I want it to represent?” People need to see the name and know exactly what it means.
The original name was Music.Life.Change. I arrived at the name through The Trinity. I believe in threes. I love the number three, I love the symbolism behind three, and I wanted something that was represented in the name of my company. Having three different avenues through which I’m able to express myself was at the core of it. First is Music. I write music for artists all over the world, from a country artist in Texas to a Ukrainian Pop Band. So being able to do that has made “music” a main part of my business. Second is Life. I love to learn, and I truly believe that the illiterate of today are not those that cannot read, but those that are unwilling to re-learn. Education is critical, and since I believe “life” is a journey of continual learning it became another of the three pillars of the business. Third is Change. We believe in creating actual “change” in people’s worlds. It’s the philanthropy aspect of the business. Walking the walk of creating tangible changes within our community.
There was so much that went into the name Music.Life.Change, but eventually we decided that we wanted something more concise. That name has caused some confusion as to what it is our company does. That’s actually why we’re in the midst of changing our name from Music.Life.Change. to The Gratitude Group. The Gratitude Group is a name that showcases who we are. It’s a more simple title, and embodies what we truly believe in.
Where does your creative inspiration come from?
Music. Music has always been my saving grace. It’s crazy that, as wild as my childhood was, the one thing that has been constant throughout my entire life has been music. My mom is incredibly gifted with music. She’s the one that originally taught me. She taught me how to play music by ear, and never let me look at sheet music. She used to play something herself and then tell me to play it back to her. My sister and I used to watch “The Sound of Music” religiously. It’s an amazing movie! We used to perform all of the songs. Music was the best way that we could really show our creative side. If we didn’t have a way to express what we wanted to express we could always express it through music. If I couldn’t say it, write it down, play a sport hard enough, whatever...I could always get my feelings out through creating music.
Music in general is what I love, it’s my passion. I love music that has a message. It doesn’t have to be all cheesy or “corny”. Even if something sounds good and has a simplistic message it will resonate with me. People often times don’t understand how powerful media is, and music is part of that. They don’t recognize the messages they're listening to. Because of that, someone can listen to a piece of music and very easily be influenced by it without realizing it. So I’m very cautious of what I listen to for that reason, but I also love exploring various styles as well. There’s so much great music out there and I tap into everything I can find.
What are three things that you would tell your younger self to learn more about?
The first would be to learn more about gratitude. I feel like I’m solid when it comes to gratitude. I know how to be happy at any given moment. I can turn it on whether I’m sitting in the dumps or whether I’m sitting at the Ritz-Carlton. Being in a state of happiness is not determined by where you’re physically at. It’s determined by what your mindset is. I’d teach myself how to be in a happier place so that I wouldn’t make crazy, emotional decisions. If you learn how to control your reactions by having more gratitude you won’t make irrational decisions.
The second thing I’d teach myself would be to keep pushing. There are times in life where I think - based on pure human nature - we all get down on ourselves. We want to make rash decisions or try to feel sorry for ourselves for long periods of time. We go through depression or certain negative phases. So I’d tell myself to keep pushing through, because you are going to make it.
The last thing would be to keep focusing on music. Music is always going to be there...no matter what. There have been periods where I slowed down with the creation of music, but I never stopped finding new music to listen to. Music has always been around me, but there have been periods where I stopped creating. So I would say, “Keep creating”.
What are you determined to accomplish with The Gratitude Group?
To represent the positive balance that our world needs. The Gratitude Group is the brand that will do just that. It’s a collective community of people who are saying, “Hey! I’m a good person, and I’m going to do good things in the world to help bring about positive change”. Sometimes good people have to be reminded that they’re good people. We’re the brand that’s going to remind them.
How can aspiring entrepreneurs use gratitude to improve their ventures?
Gratitude is a life changer. It’s not just for entrepreneurs, it’s not just for students, or parents. It’s literally for everybody. If you hold onto what gratitude is, and start to feel the authority of gratitude it changes your life. All the things that you feel are bad aren’t bad anymore. All the things that make you feel down on yourself won’t carry the same weight anymore. It makes everything run smoother in your life. When things start to run smoother you start finding your direction a lot easier. Once you find that direction you find your passion, and passion breeds pleasure. But it all tracks back to gratitude.
How can our readers get involved with The Gratitude Group?
We have our second of four annual Gratitude Experience events occurring this coming Wednesday, September 21st. It will be held at The Pyramid Building at 7310 Miramar Road San Diego, CA 92126. We also have our Facebook page www.facebook.com/musiclifechange or we’re on Instagram at @thegratitudegroup. I’d be open to direct email as well. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.