Life lessons from the 40 Under 40’s two black belts
Success. What’s the secret?
It’s an answer everyone is seeking—and for good reason. For answers, a good place to start would be this year’s 40 Under 40 class, which is filled with Bulldogs who are leading the pack in their industries and communities.
Success, and the secret to achieving it, is different for each person. But for two of this year’s 40 Under 40 honorees, there was a common ingredient—an ancient art that taught lessons to help them succeed.
Stacey Chavis (MSL ’19) and Jack Hartpence (AB ’15) earned a spot in the 40 Under 40 Class of 2020. Chavis lives in Atlanta and works in political fundraising, training and advocacy. Hartpence resides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, bringing sustainable water solutions to communities around the world. While their lives look different, they both attribute their success to the lessons they learned from Tae Kwon Do, a Korean form of martial arts.
Hartpence: Live in the present
When Hartpence looks back on his life, he sees that Tae Kwon Do wasn’t just an after-school activity. It introduced him to an entire thought tradition that valued the importance of staying rooted in the present.
His Tae Kwon Do instructor taught him to meditate to clear his mind and let go of distractions. Today, regular meditation is part of Hartpence’s routine, helping him stay calm in tough moments and foster creativity.
But it wasn’t always this way. After surviving a 2017 car accident in which he was T-boned by a tractor trailer traveling at 60 mph, Hartpence was forced to reckon with the reality that his time is limited. He leaned into the familiar teachings of his Tae Kwon Do experience to root himself in the only moment he truly has—the present one.
“If we are anxious, we’re afraid of the future. If we’re sad, we’re down on the past,” Hartpence said. “We need to stay in the present moment. And if we just stay here in that present moment, then what we’re able to do is live our best moment.”
Since then, Hartpence has sought to prioritize altruism in his daily life, working to create a better world and live presently, knowing that time should not be taken for granted. He shared more about his story and his work in a recent Instagram story takeover on the UGA Alumni account.
Chavis: You will fail
Chavis started practicing Tae Kwon Do as a middle schooler in Greenville, South Carolina. At first, she was reluctant, signed up by her mother to take part alongside her younger brother. She ended up loving it and the three ended up practicing together as a family.
A few years later, Chavis tested for her black belt. She failed.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that you will fail,” Chavis said. “You will fall on your face, but you have to pick yourself back up and try again.”
Chavis had to wait six months before she could test again. She trained hard and earned her black belt on the second attempt. The experience still influences her perseverance today.
“My life lesson is that I give myself three times to apply for something,” Chavis said. “If at first you don’t succeed, try again because maybe this time wasn’t your time.”
Hartpence: Embrace competition
Through Tae Kwon Do, Hartpence participated in sparring competitions. Those experiences established an appreciation for competition that Hartpence has stitched into the culture of his company, Powwater.
“Competing is not a bad thing. The ancient word ‘compete’ is a Greek word that means ‘strive together,’” Hartpence said. “You want to fight against a guy who’s better than you in your practice. In the process of competing, we get better together.”
At Powwater, the company culture reflects the ethos of competition. Hartpence encourages an open forum model, which encourages all employees to step into the arena with their thoughts and ideas. He believes this approach breaks down bureaucratic structures that limit the flow of good ideas from employees and creates a dialogue in which ideas are debated and developed for the benefit of the entire company.
Chavis: Build relationships
Chavis works in politics, a field where it’s easy to only focus on building relationships with those who are in the same party. For the advocacy work that Chavis does, that approach doesn’t cut it.
In Tae Kwon Do, Chavis trained as part of a community. She learned her forms (a detailed and choreographed series of kicks and strikes), practiced her technique, sparred with, and broke boards alongside her classmates. That community, comprising students from different backgrounds, became crucial to her training and is reflected in her relational approach to work today.
“I tell people all the time: people do business with people who they know and like,” Chavis said. “So, it’s building those relationships, it’s building that community and camaraderie, and it’s working toward a common goal.”
As a public policy advocate, Chavis’s job is to identify and promote solutions to problems facing the state of Georgia. To do this, she depends on her relationships with members of both major political parties.
“I have friends who are drastically different from me but we can agree that no child should be trafficked for sex, we can agree that Georgia needs to make investments in our education system, we can agree on making neighborhoods safer for families,” Chavis said. “So, we can find areas that we can agree and work together to address those problems.”
Tae Kwon Do is not a prerequisite to success but for these two, their martial arts experience definitely gave them a leg up.