“I want to prepare as best I can.” This financial adviser succeeds by using lessons learned on the football field.

Like many teenagers, Anthony DiBlasi worked part-time to earn money. He got off to a particularly early start. When she was 12, her father, a mechanic, asked for her help. Young DiBlasi worked odd jobs while his father fixed cars. By age 15, DiBlasi had worked at a car wash and gym while in high school. Wanting to go to college, he got a football scholarship to the University of Toledo in Ohio.

His goal of becoming the first in his family to attend college was well on his way. But in the final game of his senior year of high school, a serious back injury upended his plans.

DiBlasi briefly attended the University of Toledo before transferring to the University of Akron in his hometown. He worked a series of part-time jobs to cover tuition, still hoping to graduate. He was well on his way to achieving his goal when his father suffered a serious accident at work which rendered him disabled.

Already struggling to make ends meet, DiBlasi’s parents suddenly faced a crisis. So DiBlasi left college to take on a series of jobs to support them.

For a few years, he earned his living in fitness clubs. First a personal trainer, he evolved into sales, then led a sales team.

Looking for a more lucrative career, he took the advice of a friend and pursued a job in financial services. At 26, he joined Merrill Lynch and trained to become a consultant.

“I didn’t know much about the financial planning business,” said DiBlasi, now 51 and a senior executive at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. But he soon realized that he had found his calling. He spent his first 10 years as a practicing consultant while coaching new planners for success.

Fast forward 25 years and DiBlasi now oversees managers and advisers in 13 states. Based in Arizona, he got numerous promotions at Merrill. Climbing the corporate ladder without a college degree didn’t deter him. “It led to some insecurities early on,” he said. “It was a problem in my mind. But I’m proud to say that in 25 years here it has never come up. It’s a meritocracy here.

He credits Merrill’s leadership training for strengthening his skills. As part of this program, DiBlasi read “Leadership Through People Skills” by Robert Lefton and Victor Buzzotta. He said the book helped him develop what he calls “an excellent communication framework” to improve his leadership abilities.

DiBlasi also applied the lessons he learned on the football field. Before every game, he prepared diligently to take the lead, and he brought that ethos to the financial advisory industry. “I want to prepare as best I can,” he said. In his early years as a counselor, he sometimes thought, “Maybe I’m not the most talented person in front of you. But I surpass everyone.

An important lesson is to create a cohesive, easy-to-follow narrative when sharing a personal story. When telling anecdotes, speakers often ramble or recall events out of order. “Put it in a timeline so that [listeners] can follow,” DiBlasi said. “Organize it chronologically. This improves understanding on the other side.

He gained confidence over time, turning prospects into customers. Initially, DiBlasi admits he viewed his past with some trepidation. “I was shy about it,” he said. “But I could see that customers want to do business with someone they connect with. So I leaned into it and started sharing my personal story.

The more he opens up, the more DiBlasi learns about the setbacks in life that many people experience. Talking with a counselor who has overcome adversity creates a unique connection. “It starts with being vulnerable,” DiBlasi said. “Once I’ve told my story, it makes people feel more comfortable sharing their story.”

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