Time for Greatness
I’ve gone back and forth about the importance of identifying the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee… is it important to know whether there’s a connection? Whether they’ve known each other for a while? And for how long?
Ultimately, after reading an Issa Rae interview between her and a close friend, I decided yes, it is important… also, I’m an over-sharer by nature, so from my stance, the more information, the better.
With that, let me lay it out for you… I met Ross around 2008 through an ex, who went to a school down in Phoenix which is where I moved after graduating from PHS. We’d see each other at parties, and around 2009 or 2010, he helped me and Leah find a house in Scottsdale; a house I was almost never at because I was busy being an idiot with a different ex. I saw him sporadically up until 2012, and then, solely through social media, liking each other’s posts and dropping a few words in the comment section about “how fun that trip looks” every couple months.
But, as it were, the stars aligned after interviewing his good friend Devon on all things FASHION and we finally connected a little more meaningfully.
“Rossy!” I started my direct message after he responded to the interview I posted, “You’re on my list of “must reach out to,” to talk about law… What are you doing with your degree? Are you still in CA?” I asked.
He responded with where he’s at now, but I’ll let the interview evolve into the progression of his career because this might just be one of the most inspiring, ambitious people I’ve talked to yet.
No, scratch the ‘might be’… he is… he most definitely is.
Through IG, we scheduled a time to talk, when he’d be taking the long drive home from Arizona to San Diego.
- Sunday afternoon
My computer was set up on a stack of pillows in the guest bedroom (I always change where I want to be), and I signed onto Zoom. His cell tried connecting visually but alas, technical difficulties… I blame it on Mercury being in retrograde. That said, I did get a brief glimpse of him in the car and was able to appreciate his classic stark-black hair, but this time, it was slicked back, as opposed to the overly spiked style I was used to during ASU days.
To start, we shared puppy stories for a solid twenty minutes since we both have “fur babies” around the same age…
“I’ve done a crazy amount of research and I have a trainer come every two weeks,” Ross offered; I would soon find out this sort of attention is applied to just about everything he takes on.
We both agreed puppy-life was the needed training wheels before having an actual human baby and then for the sake of timing, we jumped in.
“How long do I have with you, Ross?” I asked, looking at myself speak through the screen, grateful I was having a good skin day (even though he was only connected through audio and I’d be the only one reviewing the video).
“Well… I’d say I’ll lose service in about three hours, but if we need to jump on once I’m back, we can,” he offered graciously.
“Ohhh, no, no, I imagine this will be just over an hour,” I slightly laughed, “anything more than that might be redundant or too much for the readers… I’m not trying to make this thing twelve pages!”
Spoiler Alert — we talked for just under 3 hours — and trust me, guys, you’re going to want to stay tuned for the whole interview.
“Why don’t you start off by telling us about your childhood, Ross… your parents, how you were raised, and what aspirations you had as a kid,” I suggested, throwing in one too many ‘you knows.’
“Of course! I think a lot of my friends… even good friends are going to be kind of surprised when they read this because I really don’t talk about my life that much,” he started. “So… you know I grew up in Arizona… I have a sister that’s seven years older than I am… my parents have been together for over thirty-five years and they’re the absolute best. My mom was a psychology major and she’s been a teacher ever since, and my dad does a bunch of stuff with technology which honestly goes way above my head,” he laughed and I joined him, grateful I have an IT company to call any time I have computer issues.
He went on, “I was always active in sports as a kid and picked up motocross from a pretty young age, making it my mission to become a professional racer,” I imagined him smiling as he recalled a younger version of himself, eager to make strides in the dangerous world of racing.
“We didn’t grow up rich, which I’m grateful for because my parents really did make me work hard for everything I wanted. Before I got my first motorcycle, my dad enforced the need for me to get straight A’s, be on the National Junior Honor Society, and continue to play soccer because he believed in the benefits of being on a team.”
“Okay, so your dad instilled that mentality in you from an early age?” I rhetorically asked as I wondered whether real ambition was something inherent or could be equally derived from a lot of nurture.
“Yeah, even something as small as getting a toy at the grocery store… I’d have to work for,” he said, “so I never expected a handout or to just get something simply by asking for it; from a young age, I knew I had to work hard for everything.”
I made a mental note about the importance of bestowing those ethics early on, as I would like my child(ren)? to subscribe to these same beliefs.
You want a sucker? Okay, great… go pick five weeds. You want a new toy? Perfect — we’re donating three old ones.
“So, I assume you never went through the bratty, angsty phase as a teen, then, did you?” I knew the answer before he responded.
“No, I really didn’t,” he started, and I smiled, feeling so sorry for my parents, “I really just buckled down and kept going after my goals… I would stop by my friend’s house party after a race because he lived close enough, but for the most part, I just kept working for what I wanted.”
Like I said guys, inspirational! And we’re just getting going.
“So, obviously, your initial dream to become a professional motocross racer did not come to fruition… and I assume you didn’t just get bored… what happened?” I asked, embracing for the story, assuming it would involve a bad accident.
DING DING DING
“Yeah, I was racing competitively from eighth grade through sophomore year, waking up early every single morning to do cardio and train my body, and then coming home after school, packing a PB&J and loading the trailer so I could leave to the track with my dad right at 6 pm… we’d get done around 10 and I did that consistently until my last accident,” he responded.
Cell reception got in the way briefly, so we paused until he was back to share the story about how his racing career came to a close.
“I hit my head so hard one day, I broke a bunch of bones in the left side of my face… I was in the hospital with a concussion when the doctor told me if I hit my head again in a certain spot, I could be a vegetable for the rest of my life. I actually still wanted to race but my parents absolutely wouldn’t allow it… I remember them selling everything within a few days and I was completely heartbroken.”
He continued to reiterate how that had been his dream — to become a professional motocross racer — for years and years. So, when it was taken away, he felt utterly lost.
“I don’t think I slumped into a depression; I was just so confused and kept wondering why that had to happen,” he offered.
Ross and I (like many) subscribe to the fact that everything happens for a reason, so even though his first dream was shattered, he knew something better would come. It had to…
“Were you able to experience life as a ‘normal’ high school student then?” I asked, “even if only briefly?”
He laughed, “actually yeah, my junior year, I went to parties and football games but I really was getting bored, so I joined this firefighting program that Sunrise Mountain offered to high school students, I was part of DECA which was a national marketing association, and I even taught myself graphic design and started designing clothes… But that still wasn’t enough, so I got this idea that I should get into the real estate world,” I could picture him shrugging.
As he recalled his deep ambition before even graduating high school, I tried not to dwell on the fact that I didn’t do more to satiate my performative and creative desires as a sixteen-year-old.
Not surprisingly, Ross graduated high school a year early and started taking real estate courses right away, finishing the actual test on his eighteenth birthday.
“At eighteen, I had no idea how I was actually going to use my license to sell houses… I didn’t know what to do so I just went onto Google and searched, ‘who is the best real estate agent in Arizona’ and saw Nate Martinez, the owner of RE/MAX Professionals. His office was in Glendale, not too far from my house actually, so I just went and knocked on the door and asked for a job,” he casually explained, proving the power of action.
“Yeah, to this day, I consider that a ‘must’ with whatever people are pursuing — going for it, and finding a mentor,” Ross concluded.
He spent time learning the business, from cold calling people, to driving across the valley seeing what sort of weather damage happened to a house, to quickly selling his first home.
“So then when I started at ASU, I had to learn a new territory; I met this older woman who was a retired attorney interested in buying a home. I knew she was upset they were sending me — this super young kid with little experience — to show her a home, so I learned everything I could about that house and the surrounding area to show her I took pride in what I was doing.”
He went on to explain how impressed the woman was that he could talk about the builder, the neighborhood, and the house itself, ultimately coming to the conclusion that he should try law school.
“’I think you’d be a really good attorney’, she told me.”
“I guess you could say that’s when the seed was planted,” he considered, “and then the home-selling side of things just started phasing out of my life and I got more involved with leasing properties around ASU; I was also taking a lot of business classes while I helped get football players into housing which is when I thought it would be really cool to be a sports agent.”
Guys — I know I’m not interjecting a lot here, but as you can see, I don’t have to — he’s got the gift of gab and needs no real prodding. Really making me work for my worth here, Ross.
“I started calling around to see what internship opportunities were available in Arizona, and there really wasn’t a lot, but I noticed all of these agents were lawyers, so I started looking into it and realized they were able to draft their own contracts and negotiate their own deals, but I also realized how many different career paths there could be with a law degree,” he recalled.
As you could surmise, his time as a real estate agent was coming to a natural close. Simply put, he got bored and realized it was not something that could keep up with his ever-growing ambition.
“So, at the start of my junior year at ASU, I had to step back and really evaluate what I wanted to do with my life… I was really worried about picking something and feeling stuck with that ONE THING,” he started, “but ‘law school’ just kept popping up in my thoughts, which kind of scared me because even though I got good grades, I’d actually never read a full book; I’d just skim through, and for school, I’d read Spark Notes,” he remembered with a laugh.
As he recalled his reading history, or lack thereof, I thought of an interview Reese Witherspoon did; she talked about how she reads one book every 2–3 days, so she personally knows what writers she wants to work with and help turn their words into film. *GOALS*
“But once I decided that’s what I wanted to do, I felt confident I could utilize my juris doctor degree in various roles, whether that be as a sports agent, CEO, lawyer, or an investment banker on Wall Street.”
“Totally makes sense and that’s actually something I never thought about either, because once upon a time I was actually considering going to law school, but I felt stifled by the fact that I would be stuck doing one thing with that degree,” I offered, recalling that brief moment ten years ago.
And to think, I could be repping Aaron Rodgers by now!
“For sure — you can do so much with it, and that’s what really excited me. And then once I fully decided I would go to law school, I buckled down and started studying for the LSAT. After I took the test and did really well…”
Yes, guys, you guessed it… he decided he was going to graduate early, again.
What did I tell you?
I laughed and nodded my head, as I made a thousand mental to-dos about what I wanted to accomplish over the next couple months.
“How did you decide where to go to law school?” I asked earnestly, as I projected my indecisive nature onto him.
“I guess we were typical ‘Zonis’ in that we’d go to San Diego for vacation every summer; plus my mom and sister both went to school in Point Loma, so I knew I wanted to be in that general area,” Ross explained, quickly elaborating that he loved to surf and his dream was always to live near the beach.
“So, I went through the grueling process of putting together my resume, drafting essays, and creating my personal statement about what motivated me. I cast a wide net, but ultimately I narrowed my list down to USC, Pepperdine, and USD, and then my dad suggested we go pay them a visit.”
He got accepted to Pepperdine and USD; USC waitlisted him, which was his number one school for several reasons, but as is his pattern, he was able to see the bigger picture and recognize this was out of his hands.
“So, when we went to visit, we saw this guy that just looked like he was someone, walking towards us in this nice suit, in an all but empty hallway… my mom asked if he could give us some direction on where to find certain buildings on the campus and he actually took it upon himself to show us around, tell us about the opportunities there, and get to know my family,” he recalled with admiration.
“Shoutout to Michael Devitt; he’s such a good guy and actually became a mentor of mine.”
“Was he a professor then?” I wondered aloud.
“Oh, yeah, he was a law professor which is incredible — professors don’t typically show potential admissions around, so I just was overly impressed and looked up to him right away,” Ross answered.
“Universe conspiring in your favor,” I smiled, affirming our stance that everything happens as it should.
Ross officially moved to San Diego in June 2013 and had his first minor freak out about his decision.
“Did I make the right choice? How hard was it going to be? What did I get myself into?” he mocked his younger self.
“It really was a grind, though. I remember being there my first semester with my spiky hair and streetwear and feeling so out of place. The kids were all so brilliant, too. It wasn’t like high school or college where half the people didn’t want to be there,” Ross described, and I pictured him in a Legally Blonde situation.
“It’s like getting to the NFL where everyone is insanely talented and actually wants to be there,” I responded, correcting myself to something more appropriate, “or maybe Alabama football, we’ll say… you weren’t quite in the pros yet.”
“Exactly. I was with these extremely intelligent people from all over the world; it was intimidating at first, honestly. And I had to read 30–70 pages of case law per day to prepare for classes; I had no idea what I was even looking for,” he laughed.
I widened my eyes and asked what his headspace was like, explaining that my eyes fully gloss over when I’m reading case law or health and safety codes.
“So, when you’re going through orientation, you get an idea about how to brief a case, where you sort out the facts, identify the issues, ascertain what was decided, and analyze the reasoning behind decisions made by the courts, so you can at least be prepared for the class discussion. But yeah, there was a while there where I questioned what the heck I got myself into.”
He continued to describe how intense the first year of law school was; it’s meant to be — not only because law school in and of itself is hard, but it’s partly designed to weed people out.
“Instead of just lecturing in front of a large group, professors would actually drill students with questions, and they were brilliant at it because they tested the way everyone thought, to make sure we actually came to the correct conclusions about each case,” Ross explained.
“Once you figured out that’s what it was going to be like for the next 3 years, were you nervous? Worried? Totally fine?” I asked, again projecting my own fears.
“For a solid month, I questioned my decision… I’d sit in the same spot in the library day in and day out, eating my morning bagel and coming back to the same seat after each class, which is near where I met my soon-to-be-friend, Lance; that was the biggest saving grace. He talked to me about what to expect from professors and tests and gave me outlines to help me study. He became a mentor, helped me navigate law school, and is now one of my best friends.”
Ross would end his first semester with a horrendous set of B grades. I jokingly scoffed, but he’s right — only the top tier of law students goes on to get the most desired jobs, so B’s just wouldn’t cut it. Naturally, he studied his ass off, and the following semesters he got A’s; he was even ranked the highest in some of his classes. Ayyyyyyyeee!
“Knowing you, though, I’m sure the challenge was always that much more appealing… I’m sure you weren’t bored for a second in law school,” I smirked.
“Oh yeah, the minute I felt a semblance of comfortability, they would throw something else at me… safe to say I was never bored. Also, since I was so interested in becoming a sports agent, I joined the sports entertainment law society and became the President of that. I was also the Vice President of the business law society, an active member of the international legal honor society, and contributed to the school’s journal, which was a daunting process, too,” he laid out.
I’ll let that wash over you all and hope it doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself… but rather, that it inspires you.
Before we continue down the natural flow of this journey, let’s briefly rewind to explain his trip to London after his first year in law school.
“That same professor I met when I was visiting the University of San Diego School of Law’s campus was the head of the International Law Program and suggested that instead of getting an internship, I go study abroad through the corporate law program, where I would get to see what business was like in the UK, explaining that I would take classes on international tax and business. That all sounded great in theory, but I was concerned about the cost, and honestly, I was concerned about NOT taking an internship because of how it would look on my resume, so I figured out a way to do both,” he said cavalierly.
Yep — he went to London for the program and secured an internship for the rest of the summer.
Yawn… he should’ve been taking cooking classes there as well…
While he was in London, though, he developed a deep curiosity and desire to continue learning about tax law, which makes sense, seeing as he took high school math in seventh grade.
And yes, this all ties into his writing; he figured he would draw on his experience in London and write about the international tax issue, as a lot of big companies and corporations were moving there to lessen their tax burden in the United States.
“I was so intrigued by this idea, but I had no idea how to go about it,” he explained, “it was wayyyy over my head. But then I thought, ‘you know what, I just need to start asking people’ so, I did. I started meeting attorneys for lunch and eventually had a pretty clear idea on how companies were set up in different countries, and I just found the whole thing fascinating.” I could sense he was beaming as he recounted his steps.
“So, I wrote the article thinking it was just a cool area of law, and as I pieced more and more of it together, I officially decided I wanted to do tax work, which is not something that’s heavily pushed during school. They tend to want students to practice litigation… I was not interested in that side of the law at all.”
He described how his curiosity prompted him to found an organization called The Transactional Law Team — something I quickly questioned.
“Wait, wait, wait, Ross,” I stopped him, “you founded it?” I asked, unsure why I was still shocked by anything he said.
“Yeah,” he laughed modestly, “the Dean of the law school, who was and still is such a massive inspiration to me, started it with me…” he cut off as he briefly lost service, which I debated not including in this, for the sake of a smooth read, but hey, I really like to bring everyone along for the full, authentic ride.
He went on to illustrate the purpose of this venture, in that students could actually practice the ins and outs of transactional law, which wasn’t an option before then… before, students only had the opportunity to prepare for what life would be like inside a courtroom.
A lovely reminder that if an opportunity isn’t there for you, MAKE IT YOURSELF.
“So basically, I spent the rest of my time in school working towards becoming a corporate attorney; I secured an internship in LA with one of the companies that helped me with my article, and they offered me a job that I could start as soon as I graduated,” he spelled out and I could already sense there would be another shift.
“During my last year of law school, I had some more freedom to take classes that I wasn’t initially interested in, and there was this new course called Civil Practicum which surveyed five areas of law, including civil litigation, business law, trusts and estates, employment law, and family law. The class was designed to increase our knowledge and skills in the hands-on, practical side of the beginning of a legal career. The Professor’s name was Virginia Nelson — one of the most respected trial attorneys in San Diego — who had us take mock depositions, draft various legal documents, and argue in front of the Court of Appeals which was a huge honor,” he went on to discuss how rare these opportunities were.
“And how did you like the oral side of it?” I asked, guessing how he would respond.
“Well, I was definitely nervous for my first oral argument,” he started, “it would represent half our grade, so I prepared like crazy, day and night. Once I was up there, though, it was SUCH a rush. I was actually shocked by how much I loved it!” I could hear him smile through each word, feeling him light up as he recalled the experience.
Professor Nelson’s pleas for Ross to pursue litigation were finally realized despite the job he already had in place as a tax attorney at Deloitte, which put him in quite the pickle.
He tried to quiet the voice in this back of his head as he spent almost his entire collegiate life preparing to become a transactional attorney, so once he passed the bar exam (the first time, mind you), he decided to move forward with the position at Deloitte, which unsurprisingly, just wasn’t satiating him.
In May 2017, after seven months, he pivoted into the world of civil litigation, partly with thanks to Professor Virginia Nelson who introduced Ross to another well-known trial attorney, who became the managing partner at Higgs Fletcher & Mack and afforded Ross the opportunity to get his foot in the door as a litigation attorney when no one else would give him a chance.
Ross tried his first case as first-chair trial counsel in 2019, which was REAL QUICK for a newbie, but again, at this point, we’ve all got high expectations, so we would anticipate this outcome.
“As I’m sure you’ve gathered from this interview, I place a lot of pride in how I prepare for something, so ahead of my first trial, I was trying to see how it would or could play out from every angle since I really had no idea what could happen. I drafted my opening statement and countless outlines for cross-examining witnesses, checking in with my partners along the way, often coming out with a whole new perspective,” he advised, “trial work really becomes an art; remaining succinct, being personable and relatable enough for the jury, and also gaining the judge’s respect while holding enough knowledge to object to the opposing side’s tactics by citing case law off the top of my head.”
Yeah… I’ll stick to writing.
“Ross, with all of these endeavors and responsibilities, I have to ask how you manage a work-life balance. With how much time it takes to be a great attorney, knowing you have a puppy and a girlfriend, plus, just knowing how you operate… how do you do it?” I questioned sincerely, as this is something I personally struggle with.
“I will say, there’s been plenty of times where I haven’t had balance, which I guess is natural when you’re going through law school and starting your career. In school, I’d be in the library from the crack of dawn until late in the night, every day for months at a time. And now as an attorney, I work an average of 60 to 70 hours a week. But for me, I always try and evaluate why I’m doing what I’m doing and stay present, which seems to be something we’ve regressed in as a society,” he stated eloquently, as the now established attorney.
“Even something as simple as brushing my teeth — something we all do on auto-pilot — I make an effort to be present for it, and that’s something I really try to apply to all aspects of my life, whether it be getting something done for work, going on vacation, or maintaining a relationship… I’m giving it 110%, which can be a blessing and a curse.”
Once I figure out the science of implanting someone’s mentality and ambition, Ross will be my first victim and I’ll give you all a coupon for 20% off.
At just over two hours, we spent the next twenty minutes talking about priorities, consistency, and routine, as well as next steps for Ross.
“You know you’re going to publish a book about your life someday, right?” I asked rhetorically.
“It’s funny you say that” he answered, “I’ve been writing a book for the last five years so I can one day release something that will inspire people. I mean, I’m no Michael Jordan, but maybe my journey and the things that I have learned can help others once I ‘make it,’ which I realize is a long way away.”
“Ross, sure, you may not be Michael Jordan, but come on… your Instagram handle is ‘Time For Greatness’ — I think you’ve known how big your dreams were for a long time, and I have no doubt you’ll release something to match it,” I countered.
Also, I better get to help him on this book because hello… first draft right here.
“Yeah, I actually created that name right when Instagram came out and bought the website domain because I just feel so strongly there’s a time for everything — there’s a time to work, there’s a time to play, there’s a time to relax, there’s a time to be with family and friends,” he said sincerely.
And just a note for readers, as an observer and someone who knows Ross, he’s not spewing inspiring mumbo jumbo platitudes from a quote he saw on Pinterest or Instagram… as I’m sure you’ve gathered, he’s living his life so intentionally, truly giving every moment his best effort, and that is something to both appreciate and aspire to.
Plus, he’s clearly got no time to scroll through the black hole that is Pinterest!
As Martin Luther King said (yes, I’m going there), “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
110% — EVERY MOMENT
During our last several minutes, I didn’t ask Ross for advice on how to be more ambitious, because that’s something internal for each person to muddle through, but I did ask about his process for setting personal goals; it should come as no revelation that on the first of every month, he sits and writes down what his goals are for those four weeks; he’s also written down his yearly goals, as well as long term goals (like writing his book).
“I just think it’s important not to wander around aimlessly… for me, at least. I like to see everything in front of me and figure out how I can achieve everything I desire, and if that means making my own opportunities, then I will.”
We talked about the firm Ross is at now, starting at the “bottom” again because he wanted the opportunity to work with some of the most prestigious attorneys in the country, with the goal to one day become a partner and retire from said company.
Anyone want to place bets on whether he’ll open his own firm?
“I’m about to start going through some mountains, and I know I’ve taken a lot of your time,” he started, “but I also want to say I’m really proud of what you’re doing, and I hope I can help you in some way down the road because that’s also what life is about, right? Connecting and being there for each other… I mean, look at all the people that helped get me to where I am now. I couldn’t have done any of this on my own.”
You guys heard it here… also, by this point, my bladder is about to burst and Azey has torn through my sweatshirt, but we did spend a couple more minutes talking about how helping others is not only a “good thing to do” but it’s also essential as it builds your self-esteem.
“Well I appreciate it, Ross, and I can’t wait to put this thing together, because I’m SUPER inspired right now, to live more intentionally, which will start with the hour and a half of meal prepping I’m going to do while listening to my current audiobook,” I smiled as I recalled what I purchased from Sprouts earlier that morning.
“Awesome. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out, and I’ll help you streamline it if you need me to because I know we covered a lot,” he laughed and I looked down at the time.
2 hours and 43 minutes.
By far the longest interview I’ve done, but alas, Ross will continue to rise to the top in everything he sets his mind to because, for him, it’s always time for greatness.