Q: Tell us your name and a little about yourself.
My name is Mark C. Perna and I’m an education and workforce development expert on today’s younger generations and what it takes to engage, recruit, and retain them in greater numbers. My company, TFS, was founded to meet the communication needs of the education and workforce development sector. To this end, I’ve pioneered strategies, tools, and best practices for educators, employers, and parents to connect more effectively with young people. I’ve also written an award-winning bestseller, Answering Why: Unleashing Passion, Purpose, and Performance in Younger Generations. The success of this message is powered by a positive perspective on Generations Y and Z that motivates them to increase their performance at home, at school, and on the job. As a dynamic keynote speaker, I deliver more than 50 speeches annually at national and statewide events and have spoken at Harvard University by special invitation. It is my passion to help shift the paradigm in education and workforce development, reaching as many educators, employers, parents, and young people as possible.
Q: What exactly does your company do?
TFS is a full-service strategic communications and consulting firm that I founded more than 20 years ago when I was providing marketing services to local educational organizations and realized their desperate need for specialized marketing, communications, strategic planning, and professional development services. Since then, TFS has grown from a small business to an internationally known organization that has helped thousands of administrators, teachers, and support staff in the education and workforce development market. I lead an energetic team of talented professionals who share my vision of making a bigger difference, working with educators and employers of all sizes across North America to deliver significant gains in recruitment, retention, and performance rates. Our mission is to share and support every client’s passion for making a difference, and it’s thrilling to see our clients being empowered to do that every day in their communities.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
I have failed in almost every area of my life (okay, maybe every area). At different times, and sometimes at the same time, I have missed the mark with spectacular blunders. I’ve failed as a husband and dad. I’ve failed at dieting. I have also failed on the job and in my financial life. But here’s the thing: I don’t know of a single successful person who never failed. What makes them successful is that they don’t camp out at the place they failed. They don’t allow their failure to define them.
Failure is how we learn. This has been demonstrated in the academic realm, and I believe the underlying principle applies to every part of life. When things are going smoothly, there’s little motivation to make changes and expend effort in the areas that need it. But failure has a way of grabbing our attention.
For me, it was a seeming avalanche of failures that woke me up to the need for decisive action. At that time, so many things needed to be fixed that I almost didn’t know where to start. It would have been easy to never start, to just remain overwhelmed and drift along in the waves of the consequences. But I knew that was not the life I wanted. All I could do was start small, so I did. I prioritized the areas that needed to change and began to methodically work on them.
Honestly, it took years. My relationships, my parenting, my weight, and my professional life were all major areas that required so much more than band-aid solutions. They required entirely new thinking and habits. Along the way I often failed again, reverting to old patterns and thoughts, but I didn’t allow myself to stay there. And that’s the secret of successful people.
Q: What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?
We really only do two things in this world: we either build our dream or we build someone else’s. That’s it. Every time you watch TV, go to a movie, or attend a performance—whose dream are you building? Yes, that of the studios, actors, producers, and others. Whose dream are you building when you watch a sporting event? That of the well-paid athletes, owners, and TV networks. And so on.
This means we have to be conscious of how we spend our time. There is nothing wrong with building someone else’s dream, going to movies, watching sports, or playing video games—as long as we carve out a significant amount of time to build our own dreams as well. When I realized this, building my own dream became more important than building someone else’s. That awareness allowed me to focus, plan, and take action in my life and has led me to the success I now enjoy.
Q: Who are your biggest influences and people you admire and why?
When I was tackling challenges in my life and business, I immersed myself in audiobooks by motivational authors like Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins, and many others. I didn’t just listen passively; I mulled over what was being said. I thought deeply about how it applied to me. As my thought life took a new direction, my actions naturally followed.
Q: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
There is no single person, but a large number of clients, friends, family, and acquaintances who have graciously added to my journey and success while helping make each milestone special.
Q: What do you see as your greatest success in life?
As a single dad, my greatest success has been bringing up my two sons to be independent, responsible, productive young men who are making the world a better place. They have inspired me to believe in the greatness of their generation—which is not a mainstream viewpoint today. I do what I do in large part due to their influence in my life and the pride I take in their accomplishments.
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