Lessons from a Millionaire turned Janitor

Blog - Marques Ogden.jpg

I just listened to an interview between the best-selling author of the “5-Second Rule,” Mel Robbins and former NFL football player Marques Ogden. You may not have heard of Marques, but you probably heard of his brother Jonathan (if you follow the NFL).

Jonathan is considered one of the best offensive linemen in football history. He was an athletic giant, standing 6’9” with incredible speed, dexterity, and strength. He was an All-American from my hometown UCLA, being drafted 4th overall (which is extremely high for an offensive lineman). He played twelve seasons for the Baltimore Ravens, making the Pro-Bowl eleven times. He helped the Ravens win their first Super Bowl and was inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a collegiate athlete and an NFL star. 

While Jonathan Ogden had a great NFL career, his brother Marques didn't do as well. Marques went to Howard University (a notable football non-powerhouse) to study finance. He never planned on playing in the NFL but instead wanted to become an investment banker like his father. But in his junior year, the agents started calling him and he decided to focus on his football career. Marques was drafted in the sixth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He bounced around the NFL for a few years until he retired without much fanfare.

Marques was smart with his finances. He saved $2.5 million from his short NFL career and started a construction business. This business grew to become a multimillion dollar company with over fifty employees. But soon after, he lost everything. Several multimillion-dollar deals fell through. He stretched himself too thin and got into massive debt.

His cars got repossessed. His home was foreclosed on. And Marcus filed for bankruptcy. 

With the help of the NFL Players' Association, he finally got the job he always wanted in the financial industry. He started working at Merrill Lynch but was fired in one week because he couldn't pass the necessary exam. This was a huge blow to his ego. Even though he studied finance in college, he couldn’t recall enough to pass the basic exams. This led to depression and seeking solace in alcohol. To pay the bills, he took random jobs coaching high school football and running football camps. 

Still, this wasn't enough to make ends meet. So Marques decided to get an additional job. In the evenings, he worked as a part-time janitor making $8.25 an hour.

His turning point was when he was taking out the trash one night. His glove ripped open, and he got spoiled milk all over himself. He said that the lowest point in his life was when the spoiled milk got on his bare skin.

He sat down on the curb and began to weep. This was not the life that he had dreamed of. He was a college educated man. A former NFL football player. A former business owner of a multimillion dollar company. 

Now, he’s just a guy that works 3 jobs with spoiled milk on his hands. 

Marques is now a successful keynote speaker and author. He works with the NFL to mentor young players about life and money decisions. This is a much-needed job because 78% of retired NFL athletes declare bankruptcy shortly after retirement because they don't know how to handle their money. 

What happened? How did he turn it around? What was the catalyst?

Well, his turnaround and his lowest moment happen to be at the same moment. It was the spoiled milk incident that got him to say, “That is enough. I can’t do this anymore.”

In that low moment, he remembered the lessons his father taught him. He said that he heard his father’s voice in his head saying, “Marques, this is where you’re going to have to go back to what I taught you. Leadership skills are the only thing that will get you out of this. If you keep blaming other people, you’re always going to be sitting right here on your ass, getting 2nd or 3rd best. You’ll always get what life throws you, not what you always wanted.”

He wiped his tears away and took out a pen. He wrote down his goals and plans to get his life back together. 

During the interview, Marcus was seeking Mel's advice on taking the next step, a quantum leap, in his public speaking career. 

Mel gave him some great advice that resonated with me.

Here’s a summary of the lessons:


Marques’ wanted to grow his public speaking career. But he didn’t own his story. He presented himself as a “leadership expert.” No wonder his speaking career stalled out. “Leadership experts” are a dime a dozen. It’s hard to distinguish one from another.

It was when Marques embraced his story of early success, struggle, failure and restoration that propelled him to his current level of success. He stopped trying to “be an expert” and started to embrace his story. It was his story of getting spoiled milk on his hands that made his keynote addresses relatable and memorable. 

So how can this lesson help you? You need to understand that you are one-in-a-million. Leaning on your credentials or expertise is a sign of insecurity. It’s the “imposter syndrome” poking his head out. It’s your story, not your credentials, that makes you unique. 

Here are a few thought-provoking questions:
    - What part of my story am I currently ignoring? 
    - Where am I trying to be someone I'm not? 
    - Where am I leaning too much on my credentials and expertise?

Take some time to answer those questions honestly. It will reveal the areas where you’re not owning your story. That’s where you need to focus.


Mel Robbins gave Marques this amazing nugget of advice that we all can apply. She calls it “time traveling.” 

This is how you do it. In your imagination, go forward in time to where you want to be in 2 years. Imagine where you are, what you’re doing, and the success you’re enjoying. Then interview yourself. 

Be a journalist and ask yourself some basic questions:

    - How did you get there? 
    - What did you have to overcome? 
    - What are your daily habits like? 

If you can't imagine yourself 2 years from now, find people who where you want to be in 2 years and interview them.

Once you find out the answers to your interview questions, compile a list of behaviors and habits that helped your future self find success. Once you have identified that list of behaviors and habits, start making those a part of your daily routine. 

Match your habits with the habits of successful people. Start doing what successful people do, and in a short time, you’ll be successful too.


How do you get yourself out of a hole when you're stuck?  Mel Robbins says that the best thing to do is "go back to basics," by asking a simple question:

"What in life came easily or energized me?"

For Marques, he loved speaking and coaching. It came naturally to him. And he loved helping people. Going back to doing the thing that he loved doing gave him the momentum to get unstuck and back on track.


Those were the three lessons I learned from Marques Ogden’s story. I believe that all three are relevant to my life at this time. I'm not at a rock bottom place with spoiled milk on my hands. But I'm also not functioning at my best.

I'm going to meditate on those three lessons. I'll need a little time and mental space to discover the answers to those questions. I'll document what I discover in the next article.

What do you think of Marques Ogden's story? How is his story similar to your story? Which lesson or question was most meaningful to you?

[Note: If you haven’t listened to Mel Robbins’ “Kick Ass” yet, go do it. It’s a series of audio recordings of her coaching sessions available only on Audible. I should warn you that there’s plenty of colorful adult language and serious topics addressed. While I can’t endorse everything she says and how she says it, I learned so much about coaching from this resource.]