Beating one-in-a-million cancer, and re-defining real success.
An interview with Troy Muljat.
Interview: Nathan Conant
Photos/Video: Ben Bender
Goodbye boring sock career
Let me start with the deepest question I can think of, which is, ‘why fancy striped socks?’
Hey, I think your socks say a lot about your game. There are boring socks, I've had a boring sock career. Now you got to get the conversation going with people. It's a conversation starter, which is great.
People see your socks and they're like, wait, wow. I have people that say, man, you are out there. Other people are just loving it. It starts the conversation, which is good.
Selling crawfish door-to-door
Let's go back as far as you can remember. What were you like as a kid?
I grew up in a pretty driven family. A father who was very driven. A grandfather, driven. Fishing family. We grew up on the lake. I'm very blessed, grew up on Lake Whatcom. A lot of water skiing at a young age, a lot of swimming. I had a lot of fun.
I just had that entrepreneurial drive at an early age. Don't know what it was, DNA.
I used to catch crawfish and I would sell them door-to-door. That was my first job, if there was anything, was selling crawfish door-to-door. I had my clients. I'd go out, had my traps. Set them. I was always doing something.
Dad had a tractor, and people had a lot of larger acreage. I would mow. I didn't mow lawns, I mowed fields. That was good too. I was always busy, busy, but had a lot of fun.
I had two younger sisters, six and 10 years younger than me. I ordered them around probably, inappropriately enough. Sorry [to his sisters and the camera!].
Grandpa was captain of that boat
Did your dad influence that thinking [on work]?
Definitely. My father did. My grandfather did. My dad commercial fished with my grandfather. My grandfather, who passed away about 10 years ago, he fished for 60 years, commercial fished. That was the family business. Dad did it at a very young age. Then the industry was changing. ...
So he got out of it and got into real estate at a young age. But my grandfather continued to fish, and he fished for his grandsons.
He had four grandsons, and granddaughters weren't allowed on the boat. We fished. We commercial fished, and that was a great summertime job. We worked hard, and we learned that grandpa was not grandpa, he was captain on the boat, and learned a strong work ethic from him. A very strong work ethic.
When you worked, you worked 23 and a half hours a day. It was some great experiences, there's no doubt. We talk a lot about fishing, and we have a lot of ex-fishermen here in the real estate office. People work hard and they know what a work ethic is.
We have six kids
Tell me about your family
Yeah,.. six kids. It's busy. I have the easy job. My wife, she has the difficult job. Life is full. We're very blessed, very fortunate.
We have four biological kids, two are adopted. We felt really called to adopt, so we have an 11 and a 12-year-old. A little boy from Ethiopia, a little girl from China.
10 years ago, just this past month, that we were in Ethiopia and received him [our baby boy]. Quite a blessing, amazing journey. Both wonderful and extremely difficult at the same time. You learn a lot about ... It's been a joy to be a multi-racial family in a very Caucasian community. It's been very, very rewarding.
How has it been rewarding?
...you don't see things from somebody else's perspective until you've lived there, and been there and done it. Then you realize maybe what race really is. You understand racial tendencies. Maybe how you've had them in your own life and you don't even realize them until you're a father of an African American, a black boy and a little girl who's Chinese, who's Asian. You learn a lot from them.
I love solving problems
With all the businesses you’ve started, do you feel successful today?
Success is different for everyone, but yet it's the same. Fulfilling that purpose, and what is your purpose? … For me it's just fulfilling that purpose and vision. Helping others, mentoring others, coming alongside people and really making them succeed. Providing value to others and serving.
I have three words on the back of my business card, invest, innovate and impact. They mean a variety of different things, depending on the situation. But I do feel successful and without that resume, even if all that was gone, I'd still feel successful.
Why do you say that?
Faith, & family is the most important things to me. Being content in who you are, and what you've done and what you're doing.
I feel wonderful, to be able to come in on a Monday morning, I'm excited to be here. I don't dread work. I feel like I was created to work. I love it. I love solving problems. I love the entrepreneurial spirit. ... in this stage in my career, I love mentoring others and helping others succeed, so I get a lot of value in that.
Being happy and content in what you're doing. Not necessarily flat-lining, you're always summiting. You're always looking for the next thing. You're trying to grow and expand. But being content as opportunities come up.
I don't have to take every deal, every opportunity that comes to the door.
I wrote my final letter to my wife and my kids
Are you better at saying no to things today than you were in your 20s & 30s?
Yeah. Definitely. As I approach 50, and I'm pretty darn close to that, I am better at saying no. Saying no was a hard thing. I was an over-committer. I spent a lot of time working very, very hard. I paid for it in a variety of ways. Successful from a financial standpoint, but that wasn't necessarily success.
So I've learned to say no. But part of my journey and story was, five years ago last month I was diagnosed with cancer. A really rare cancer. It was not a good diagnosis.
I wrote my final letter to my wife and my kids, and I meant it. That changes you more than anything.
So I'm on the other side of that. I'm on bonus time. It's a very freeing spot to be. I don't wish what I went through upon anyone, but I do wish they have the perspective of life after preparing to die, which very few people do or really think of.
We're scared of death. But I'm very fortunate to be here.
My cancer was one in a million. My mom always said I was one in a million. Now there's scientific evidence that I'm one in a million.
Rare and cancer are two words that you don't want to hear, and I heard those. You walk through a trial. God gives you trials, and you deal with them. You learn from them, and I've learned a lot through cancer.
They took out part of my spine
At the end of your life, how do you hope your kids talk about you? It sounds like, more than almost anyone else, you may have already had time to think about that.
Yeah, I really have. I sat down, I had two months of radiation. I had a couple of months before a big surgery they were preparing me for to take out a big tumor. They took out part of my spine.
I was in the hospital for 35 days, six hours, four minutes, three seconds.
I prepared. I mean, I wrote out everything. Instantly when you're told you have cancer and it's serious, everything that you think is successful ... money, properties, deals, my life, none of it mattered.
So success takes a very, very different turn, if you will. Or it comes back into focus. You may have had that focus at one point but you start to drift... We're chasing a variety of different balls, so to speak.
We're always searching to say, what is success? For me it became very, very clear as to what was important. Of course, survival and really preparing for what that legacy is, yeah, that was hard. But it was also exciting to be able to do, prepare for your death. Write your final letter and mean it.
Do you remember any of the things you wrote in that letter?
Oh, absolutely, I do. I sealed it and I put it somewhere where only Heather knew to get it. Thankfully she didn't have to open it. So it's just something that I was able to write, no one else has read.
It changed me. Yeah. It changed me for the better. People have done that where they've maybe gone through an exercise to prepare for their death or wrote their eulogy, what they want to be said about them. But when you're really writing it, and you're really faced with it, it takes on a whole new meaning.
Don't waste your cancer
...“Don't Waste Your Cancer.” That's a good saying.
Some people are very private about issues that they're going through. I was pretty public about it, and I stayed very, very positive. I felt that I needed to be positive. I had someone tell me, "Look, I see, the people that deal with trials and tribulations, cancer, the people that were positive going through it seemed to do better coming out on the other side."
I think it would have been very easy to just become very depressed. Become down, very, very inward and just crawl up in a ball. I'm not going to lie that there wasn't a time where I probably did that.
But to stay positive, to thank the hundreds of different doctors, medical staff, people I came in touch with at the University of Washington. Everyone I saw, I thanked them for saving my life.
That two-and-a-half-foot lead door
They didn't know how to deal with me when I said that. They weren't sure if I was going to live, but I thanked them. I just stayed positive through all that. That was rewarding.
Every time I sat on the radiation table and they closed that two and a half foot lead door, I mean, I would recite, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I said that every single time the radiation hit me.
I'm human, there's only so much I can do. I looked to him for strength and he gave it to me.
Learning to receive not just give
That's amazing. I don't think anybody can prepare themselves for that. But hearing other people can at least trigger your imagination to start asking, what would I do in that situation?
Yeah. A hard part for me was, something I've learned through it too, was being able to receive. I was always the guy that wanted to be the provider, a strong hand. I'm going to be the one that's providing.
I had to learn how to receive. I've learned this through others. When 40, 50 people are at my home, taking care of the lawn, the yard, [spreading fresh bark]. Taking care of that, it brought me to my knees.
I broke down. I mean, it was overwhelming for me. But it was so neat to see people wanting to help, to serve, and for me to learn how to receive, which was hard for me. We have to rely on others at times, and our faith.
Being able to receive that fully is also part of the gift. Those were some amazing moments.
Put smart people in your organization
How would you describe your leadership style?
I think for me, I don't look at anyone as an employee or an independent contractor. They're just partners. I'm working alongside of them.
... I'm not the smartest guy in the room, surround yourself with other smarter people. That's what I do.
Sometimes it's hard for me to listen to them, but I'm always learning. I'm always learning.
One thing I learned through cancer was, I had a mandatory vacation. Cancer camp I call it. I was gone for four months. The systems that I put in place, they worked.
I wasn't necessarily needed in parts of my business where I was hovering or micro-managing.
I was able to come back and step into things that only really required my attention. That was a learning experience as well.
...Putting people in your organization that are smarter than you that can lead, listening to them and letting them fly, is really important and something I had to learn the hard way.
Let them know it's okay to fail
I think the most driven, successful, smart people [can] suffer from that common thought that 'I'm the one who can do this best.'
Yeah. I still struggle with that. That is true, I have felt that 'I'm the only one that can do it'.
'I'm going to put everything on my back. My backpack is going to get bigger and bigger, and I'm just going to carry those issues and get it done'.
But letting people do it themselves. Letting them fail and cheering them on, and supporting them, and making people feel that they're supported and then it is okay to fail, is very important. It helps them move forward down the line.
College, Bellingham and getting a job
That is the dilemma, …providing enough opportunity here. Bellingham has now hit over 200 thousand people, or Whatcom County has.
Now we've become more on the radar of other regional employers. People that want to invest here, and such. I think there's a lot of opportunity in the future moving forward for Bellingham to grow.
That said, our tech sector is Faithlife. Bob is the tech sector for us and there's just limited opportunities here.
We're very small business focused. 95% of all the businesses, people working in business here are basically 50 employees or less.
Probably a high percentage of those are literally 10, 12 employees or less.
…We need as a community to support people ... entrepreneurs that want to grow, start-up and create a sustainable business, so that our kids can live, grow and thrive here, and don't have to head south to find employment.
Thank you Troy!
Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.
Learn more about Troy and the Muljat Group
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