In this episode of the career interview series, we’ll be hearing from Cheick Dukuly, a Physical Education Teacher from Brooklyn, NY. Cheick was a strong academic performer who was equally passionate about sports in junior high and high school. But, he lost focus in college and had a difficult time finding a school that fit his needs and satisfied his interests.
Eventually finding his footing, he graduated and went on to work for several years in media sales as an entrepreneur. Cheick now combines his past work experiences and passion for media, sports, and education as a Physical Education Teacher at a charter school.
- Expect and set high expectations for yourself. It’s important to challenge yourself to do your best and try to reach your full potential. Settling for the bare minimum or accepting mediocrity increases the likelihood that you lose focus and underperform.
- Every experience is a learning opportunity. The cumulative knowledge you gain from putting those educational moments together can be incredibly powerful and beneficial. Try not to view these experiences as isolated or unrelated entities. But, rather identify how they can be combined and build on each other.
- Having friends and a social life is great and important. But, your individual life and future should be a greater priority. It’s great if your life decisions can include your friends but their approval or inclusion shouldn’t be the determining factor. If need be, you should be able to stand alone and do what needs to be done. Don’t allow yourself to be slowed down or taken off your path. Seek advice and guidance from responsible mentors and other people with more life experience.
Learn more about Cheick
- Connect on LinkedIn.
Can you give me a little brief overview of your background? Where are you from?
- Hailing from Brooklyn, Cheick’s father is from Liberia, West Africa and his mother is from Aruba. They met in college, fell in love, got married, and Cheick was the result.
What were you like as a kid? What were you interested in as a kid?
- Cheick was his parents’ only child but grew up around a lot of cousins. He was the youngest cousin but was probably the largest of the kids.
- As a kid, he was very inquisitive and into everything. He wanted to know why things were the way they were no matter what it was.
How did that play out in school? Were you equally curious in class and willing to learn?
- He was always a very willing learner in school. In junior high he was placed in a class of smart kids on a fast-track to graduate early. They were very competitive but willing to help the next person do better. Many of the kids that participated in the program still keep in touch.
What was the name of the school you attended or the program that you attended?
- Cheick attended Public School 181 in Brooklyn which is now called the John Steptoe School. The program was called the Special Progress (SP) Program and was for kids who had certain reading and/or math levels and overall good grades. There were about 30 kids in the program for which children were assessed beginning in the fifth grade and began in the seventh grade.
Did you have any favorite subjects in school or particular things that interested you as a kid?
- Always interested in social studies, he really enjoyed learning about history and how certain events occurred when there were warning signs and the events were not inevitable.
When you got to high school, they still in the program or were you like in a more traditional high school type of program?
- The program took students from the seventh to ninth grade and allowed them to enter high school as tenth graders. At the end of the program, Cheick entered high school one to two years younger than the other kids in his grade. But, because he was a large kid, few people realized how young he was.
How was your high school experience with that post high school?
- In high school, the school work wasn’t easy and required effort but it wasn’t as challenging as the SP Program. This actually presented a missed opportunity for Cheick. He’d gone through a very challenging period and realized that high school wouldn’t be as challenging so he didn’t maximize his efforts. In retrospect, he wished that he’d pushed as hard as he had in junior high. With more effort, his grades would have been at a level where he could have attended school anywhere in the country as opposed to the schools that he wound wound attending.
I guess those additional expectations that were placed on you and junior high school served you better? They made you push yourself more versus when the expectations weren’t at the same level?
- Cheick wishes that he still had that push when he got to high school.
Did you work during high school? Did you have that typical first job during high school or is did that come later?
- Unlike most teens, Cheick struck out with summer youth and jobs at fast food places. Instead, his very first job was as a busboy cleaning tables at a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. He enjoyed the job because it wa fun and the atmosphere was lively. Patrons often assumed that he was a waiter so they would always ask him to take their orders. He’d let them know that wasn’t his position but would still take the orders and pass them along to the waiters. From that experience, he learned a lot about teams and realized that it’s not about who you are but rather getting the job done.
SCHOOL / TRAINING
What went into you choosing the school that you attended and your major?
- Cheick’s college experience got off to a rough start. As a 16-year-old high school senior, everyone had been going through programs where they selected their colleges early. A lot of kids knew in the October of their senior year where they were going to college the next fall. He had no idea because there wasn’t anyone around who had any of these experiences.
- Falling into a mental funk, Cheick didn’t know where he was going next or what was going to happen. He knew, he was going to wind up in college someplace but had no idea how it was going to go.
- He was invited to participate in a program at the University of Miami where they brought basketball players from New York City to Miami for a chance to work and try out for their team. But, the experience was too overwhelming for the then 16-year-old. As a New Yorker, Cheick was used to being able to move freely. He could easily ride the train and there were stores on the corner. Having no prior experience in the South and being unable to drive was a huge adjustment. Within two months, Cheick was unhappy and his mom made him return to New York.
- Refusing to allow Cheick to aimlessly sit around the house, his mom enrolled him in the nearest community college. Kingsborough Community College was a beautiful school but it didn’t have a great reputation. Cheick felt it wasn’t the right place for him but didn’t want to make another stop. He planned to take a few classes and then transfer to a school that would be a better fit.Things didn’t go according to plan. Cheick became popular and got comfortable with the situation. Overall, it was a positive experience but it resulted in a loss of focus.
- The next year, Cheick transferred to Long Island University in Downtown Brooklyn to focus more on athletics. He was promised a scholarship for the following fall semester but didn’t receive a letter of intent. A summer job at World Trade Center led to Cheick getting popular and comfortable again. Faced with uncertainty regarding his scholarship, Cheick made the decision to settle into his position at World Trade Center and remained there for five years.
- When he finally went back to school, he attended New Jersey City University (NJCU). Cheick really just wanted to just play sports and felt he could do anything academically. After meeting a few very good professors, he changed his major from computer science to political science which focused more on history. Being able to study something that interested him while also playing sports allowed Cheick to finish his degree at New Jersey City University.
You mentioned working at World Trade Center, what were you doing there? Was it one position that you had during that time or did you move through a few different positions?
- Cheick worked at the Commodities Exchange Commission on the trading floor of the coffee, sugar, and cocoa division. In addition to brokers, there were also several different positions. Brokers did the trading, floor clerks ran orders to the brokers, phone clerks took the orders and gave them to the floor clerks to pass. And in the background there were call clearing clerks who made sure that orders were double checked after being filled.
- At the time the trade volume was high so call clearing clerks were in high demand. They would hire people with no experience and train you in the position. Cheick was hired for one summer as a clearing clerk at a firm and did the job well enough to be offered a position at the end of the summer. He stayed in the position until right after Christmas when he got a new position on the trading floor.
Let’s discuss your experience at New Jersey City State. It sounds like you were able to get back into academics and on track compared to some of the other schools that you’d attended. Why do you think you were able to get back on track there versus at the other places that weren’t the right fit?
- The fact is that NJCU was not New York. Chieck wasn’t a few blocks from home or a bus ride from the neighborhood or his friend’s house. It felt like he was actually away. Just going from New York to New Jersey made a world of difference in levels of focus. That’s why he recommends that once kids go to college, they leave home, see something else, and be part of something.
Once you graduated from college, what was your first job out of school?
- vWhile in school, Cheick was part of the Gotham Times newspaper. They had no sports section, so he decided to develop become a one-man sports section. Wanting to stay in media, he took a job writing high school news for a free local paper. The goal was to get some writing experience while he applied to networks.
Thinking about your college experiences and your post college career experiences. How was your transition from school to the working world? Did you feel well prepared for those early positions or your job hunt?
- College is a totally different experience than anything you’re going to ever have after you leave. The classes you take in college won’t exactly prepare you for your job but they prepare your brain for learning how to handle situations. Chieck really loved college because of the way it made his brain rewire itself for the real world.
What do you wish you’d known when you first graduated that you think might have been prepared you or allowed you to achieve earlier success?
- Once you have school momentum going, stay the extra year or whatever time frame to complete a master’s or beyond. Getting that additional degree would have made doors open up much quicker. A bachelor’s degree had good weight but a masters or more would have been even greater.
Can you speak a little bit about what inspired your career track and the moves along your career?
- Cheick attended a gathering with a group of people who worked in the media industry. In one of the conversations he heard someone talking about a client who wanted a media package but didn’t understand just how much it would cost. As a courtesy, the partygoer had to waste time going through the motions of putting together a proposal that the client couldn’t afford to buy instead of forwarding him to a seller that could get him closer to where he wanted to be.
- Sales people at companies such as the one the partygoer worked for usually just took calls, received orders, and processed the packages. Figuring out plans for smaller budgets required educating clients and putting effort into creating media packages.
- Sensing an opportunity, Cheick did some research and realized that these companies would be happy to refer clients with small budgets that needed hand-holding. He opened shop with a partner and successfully ran the business for 13 years. Cheick particularly enjoyed teaching clients about the business so that they would more informed about their options.
You were an employee when an opportunity presented itself to build a business. So you then became an entrepreneur. Was this something that you’d thought about in the past? Or was it that you took advantage of the opportunity just because it seemed too good to pass up?
- As a young man, Cheick envisioned having his own business and running his own industry. But, he didn’t know in what capacity or what niche. Once the opportunity presented itself, it was clear that this was something that he could sink his teeth into and turn into a business.
What did a typical day look like for you running your own company versus when you were an employee at someone else’s company?
- Cheick would spend nights investigating companies that he thought could use a person with his expertise. He would cold call them the next day and try to connect with someone that would be willing to answer his questionnaire. From there it was a process of finding out what they needed, how they planned to use it, and putting a package together.
- With companies that reached out to him or had previous contact, he would first find out about their budget and product. He would then put together a marketing plan via radio, television, cable, magazine, etc. depending on what they were trying to accomplish.
- With a plan in place, he would try to negotiate the best price and go back to the client for their sign-off on the deal.
Part of that business required educating potential customers about their options. You previously mentioned roles related to teaching as well as sales. Do you believe that the skills that you might have gained from those positions helped you when you owned your own company?
- Every experience that Cheick had from his work history was needed. He needed to know how to understand people, reach people, and learn patience. To not just throw big words at people or tell them what they could or couldn’t do.
- It was important to get clients to understand and trust that what he was presenting were facts. He believed that once you gained that trust you could gain business. And not just business but repeat business. To gain businesses is great. But, to keep business is even greater.
- Another thing was the fact that not every customer that would come to Cheick was airable. He had some clients that he would have to gently tell that despite their huge budgets what they wanted to air did not pass protocol. This took a different kind of a experience.
Out of curiosity, what were these clients presenting that wasn’t up to standard? What would usually be the reason for you rejecting a client or a potential client?
- There was one particular client that was selling borderline smut. It’s stuff that might have been seen on tv before but things that he just couldn’t push. He couldn’t get the networks or locals to accept it. These were huge budgets and he’d be a lot richer if he’d found somebody to accept it. But, it wouldn’t work and was just absolutely off the wall and unacceptable for screening standards.
How do you feel operating with some kind of code or your own personal principles? How has that served you in your career life?
- Cheick found it very easy because he was raised a certain way and knew right from wrong. He believes it’s not as hard as we make it out to be. With problematics clients, he tried hard to get them to adjust their product to a point where it was a little more acceptable. He did his best for the situation and for the parties at hand. And if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. There would be another one. He could sleep at night knowing that he did his best for the client.
What are you currently working on or what have you been focused on the last few years?
- The business was shut down a couple of years ago and Cheick decided to focus on his other true passion, athletics. He’d been coaching as a volunteer coach on the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) circuit for several years. Now as a high school coach, he’s really doing what he loves which is coaching basketball and other kinds of sports at the high school level.
- Cheick works at a progressive school, the Uncommon Leadership Charter School. With his extensive media buying experience he’s developed a project where all of his work experiences are now being taught to a small group of students who have interests in these areas.
- The project gives the kids something that he didn’t have when he was in high school and allows them to reap the rewards of his experience.
- They’ve created a small media network and he is giving them all the tools and rigors that are needed. This will enable them to network, speak the language, and be able to get in once they leave high school, graduate from college, etc. unlike himself in his time.
You mentioned your passion for teaching. But, what was the deciding factor or was there one deciding factor? Was it just that you wanted to pursue your passions that led you to going into coaching and helping these kids prepare for their future careers rather than starting another business or moving into some other career?
- Cheick could never find that second person that could bring other things to the business where he had gaps. He tried through a series of employees, partners, etc could never find that second star. As a result, he wound up basically doing everything himself. He burned himself out and got to the point where he started to not like the business and decided to not do it anymore.
- He started to get fired up again but the business changed and they started getting more internet ads. This would have required directing more expertise towards the web. At the time social media networks were newbies and it was hard to make money with them. The business started shifting away and Cheick decided to go more towards things that he wanted to do.
WORK PHILOSOPHY & THE FUTURE
How would you personally define success?
- Success has several facets. One of course is financial success which everyone understands. To Cheick a key of financial success is having something you can put away financially and still being able to do anything you’re trying to do at the time.
- He believes another point of success is about you and how you feel. If you can sleep at night comfortably knowing what you do on a daily basis then that is a measure of success. And realizing that you’re doing something for your community.
- Despite leaving his business which was successful, Cheick thinks everything is still fine. And what he’s doing now is still a measure of success for him because he has way less stress and is very happy doing what he’s doing. Teaching is the way he gives back and knowing the mark he’s left through coaching, teaching about media, or just teaching in general is all another measure of success. If gives him a positive feeling.
Looking back over your career, do you feel that it has surpassed, matched, or fallen short of the aspirations and expectations you had for yourself? Let’s say when you first graduated from college or while still a college student?
- Cheick would say that it has definitely matched in certain points and surpassed in others. He never allowed whatever he was working on to get to a level where he wasn’t giving back. Even in jobs that didn’t include community outreach or being able to teach people, he was doing enough volunteer work to reach his community.
You mentioned that you think it’s a good idea for kids to leave the environments where they’ve grown up to experience something new and different. Knowing what you know now, what other advice would you offer either to kids that are currently in school or to your younger self about life or careers in general?
- A key lesson that Cheick learned is to love your friends and realize that they’re important to you. But, your life and future should be more important. Don’t make your decisions based on your friends. Instead, make your decisions and if your friends can be part of them, that’s great. But, if not, you need to be able to stand alone and live with every decision you make. Go where you need to go and do what you need to do.
- Kids in general follow and if you’re following the right person that would be great. But, in a lot of cases they’re not. They’re following someone who’s going to lead them to a path that it may not be a path of destruction. But, it will definitely be a path that could keep them off the straight and narrow. They can then be slowed down by their friends and by poor decision making.
- A lot of it is about making the right decisions. If you don’t know, don’t ask the person right next to you who has no experience. Ask someone who is more of a mentor. Find a mentor, a teacher, a parent (it could be someone else’s parents). But in those times when you need an opinion from someone outside of your box don’t go to another kid. Go to someone above your current level and make decisions based on what’s best for you not just following your friends.
What goals or plans are you currently pursuing? I know you’re working on the media project with the students. But, what plans do you have for the future or other things that you might be working on?
- Because of Cheick’s heart and love for sports, he plans to keep teaching sports until he can’t walk and talk anymore.
- Other than that there’s his project which he’s currently doing in one school but expects to grow to several schools. He’d like to go from school to school helping to manage and make these projects as huge as possible to basically have high school networks to teach kids how to do things in an adult fashion.
Imagine it’s years from now and you’re nearing or already retired. When you look back over your career, what accomplishments or achievements would make you proud? What would make you consider your career a roaring success versus just mediocre or disappointing?
- Cheick would like to look back at his roster of students whether they be athletes or the media kids and see what he calls measured success. His goal is to have every kid sustain a measure of success in whatever area interests them. He’d be able to look back on that almost like a proud parent.
Have there been any people or events that have motivated, inspired, or otherwise shaped you or your career? This can can be a famous figure, a family member, or someone that’s just known to you or your circle.
- Chieck couldn’t think of any people in his circle that he wanted to use as an examples. A fan of motivational books, he cited Relentless and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
What exactly is it about Relentless that we spoke to you?
- In Relentless, the author Tim Grover discusses his experiences with Kobe Bryant. He details how Kobe had unbelievable drive from a young age and it went through the roof later in life. Cheick doesn’t expect his kids to read the book and want to be Kobe Bryant but it teaches them what can be accomplished and achieved with drive.
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