Matthew Murawski felt lost for a long time after he finished collegiate rowing. However, he learned that if he fell back on the sport, it would lead to where he was supposed to go. His connections through rowing eventually led him to his wife and a career that he loves.
How were you first introduced to rowing?
I played all the traditional sports when I was young: baseball, football and hockey. When my sister was a freshman and I was in eighth grade, she was brought on as a coxswain on the crew team. I hadn’t heard of crew and didn’t know what it was. It’s much bigger now than it was back then. I remember my dad said I had to come to a regatta. I said I didn’t care and didn’t want to go, but then I went to my first race, and there is something about it that is so majestic. I remember there was one team who had really big guys, and I thought they would clean up by the looks of it. However, they got completely destroyed by these really thin, no body fat, tall, lanky guys. Coming from a football background it didn’t make any sense to me. I was immediately hooked by the beauty of the sport.
Can you summarize your rowing career?
When I started rowing at Central Catholic High School, we were not a good team. I was going to be kicked off the team for the fall season for some ridiculous reasons so I transferred to St. John’s Jesuit High School. I wanted to row in college and it was a blessing in disguise. I was rowing with dedicated guys that wanted to win and I loved it. I went to the junior national trials and didn’t make it, but two of the guys from my boat did. From there we got to compete at The Head of the Charles in Boston, the world’s largest regatta. I started the first mens junior team (summer league) in Toledo. I always wanted to be rowing. Then I was recruited to row at Marietta College. It was a great experience. My freshman year we won what’s called the Dad Vail Regatta, which is the biggest college race that qualifies you for the Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship Regatta. We beat crews like Dartmouth, and all the teams from the Big 10, ACC, SEC and BIG12. It was the true underdog story as a D3 school. When you win a race in college, you take the shirt off the guys back you beat. I’m 5’11”, maybe on a good day measure at 6’0” – so I’m short for a rower. I literally have shirts that when I put them on are like a dress on me. I love it because it’s a sport where you can be undersized and beat others heavier and bigger than you.
Did you continue rowing after attending Marietta?
I started having some clicking in my knees, and so I wasn’t feeling super confident about extending my rowing career as well as being burnt out. I stayed involved by coaching girls at St. Ursula Academy. We won a national championship and then were invited to the Royal Henley Regatta in London. Once I moved to L.A. I continued to row in Marina Del Rey, and teach rowing classes at Equinox. I’ve kept a hand in it, it’s always something I’ve loved doing.
Did you know what you wanted to do for a living after college?
I didn’t finish school at Marietta, and moved back to Toledo to take night classes and coach. During the first season of coaching one of the parents asked what I was going to do, and I didn’t know. I was very lost. After the last race of the season a parent who had his own muffler shop, said come work for me. I warned him I didn’t know anything about cars, but I ended up learning from scratch from Brian and he also became one of my best friends.
What took you to California?
My older sister lived in San Francisco since I was young. I always knew I wanted to go to California. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn’t in Ohio. In the off-season I would go to Napa Valley and work in vineyards in Napa and Sonoma country. With $300 in my pocket, I packed up my Dodge Neon that I had rebuilt and drove across the country. I had a place to stay initially, but I didn’t have anything lined up right away. I just knew I needed to make the move. This was 5 of the best days of my life traveling alone across the country.
What did you end up doing once you moved to San Francisco?
I took a job in marketing, but the very first day I was commuting to work on my bike and flipped over the handlebars and broke my collarbone. I was broke, and screwed first thing out of the gate. However, it led me to answering phones at a small venture capitol fund since that’s all I could do at the time – now I’m a financial planner in L.A. I sat next to a bunch of traders and got to learn probably more than anybody that has a financial services degree could, as well as more about how the markets actually work than most who have credentials since I got to see it from the ground up. It was great money, but I was super unhappy. I had worked my way up from talking on the phones to number one in that firm in 16 months. I was making insane money at 23 years old, but I realized I was miserable. Having money wasn’t even exciting anymore, and I couldn’t take the stress. I knew there had to be something more. So I left quarter million dollars in stock certificates on my desk and moved on after being pushed too far. I never regretted that either. The money isn’t the thing. You need it, but if you are doing it strictly for the money then it’s tough. I sold everything in Northern Cali and went down to L.A. to start over.
I was still lost at this point, but knew I wanted to work in the markets so first thing I did was scroll through ads and started coaching again at rowing company in Marina Del Rey. I figured that even though I didn’t know what I was going to do, I should at least do something I love and am good at. I went down, got hired immediately, and was still trying to figure out the rest. One day I took a lady out rowing who was a paralegal at a law firm. After talking, she said I should meet her friend who has his own firm and is looking for some help. It sounded intriguing. That conversation led me to my job where I’ve been for the last seven years. I think when you do the things you love, which may not be the highest paying thing, you open yourself up for your next opportunity. I also met my wife because of rowing.
How did rowing lead to meeting your wife?
Through coaching rowing classes, I got to know the gentleman who runs a company that created the water rower machine. When I first moved to L.A. he asked if I was single, and if so, if I would come to San Diego to the world’s largest fitness convention to help him. He said there would be thousands of beautiful women coming to his booth, and all you have to do is sit there and show them how to use the rowing machine. I was sold, so I went down and I ended up meeting Anja and I thought two things: 1) I’m either going to marry her or, 2) she will be too good to be true and she will be nuts. We exchanged info, and it turned out she lived in L.A. too. She had blown me off once or twice, and then when a different girl asked me to take her out on a paddleboard and posted about it on social media, Anja messaged me asking when I would take her out. We’ve been married five years now, and together seven years.
Would you have done anything differently?
I left it all on the table in terms of my athletic career. I had immense self-discipline at athletics but zero self-discipline about anything else. If I would have done anything differently, it’s that I should have used that discipline and plugged it into other areas, even if I didn’t like doing something. I never liked or cared about school. I left things on the table there. Not that school has an effect on what I do now, but I never put my best foot forward. I would have been smarter and used that in other areas of my life, and it would have made me a better person.
What have you learned from your athletic career?
The biggest takeaway, especially from the sport of rowing, is the ability to accept pain. Rowing is painful almost immediately. You get about 100 meters of euphoria and then six minutes of ever increasing pain. Even when I had very little self confidence or I was insecure or terrified about being able to pay rent or worried about what I was going to do with my life, I fell back knowing if I sat down next to someone, I could take anybody. I learned that especially as an undersized athlete. I love having those jerseys that are from giant guys, because it’s the same in business. We are a small independent firm. We aren’t a billion dollar firm. But rowing has given me a unique confidence. I will compete with anyone. I don’t always win – but I will go up against anyone, anytime, in business or athletics and know that I will grow from it regardless of the outcome.
How do you define success, and do you consider yourself successful?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I think success is the pursuit of your goals. Recently I had about 2.5 million dollars between two prospects that had been referred to me end up going with someone who was cheaper, and I was furious. It’s stuff you can’t show on the outside, and then all your demons creep in. But then I look at my list of clients I care about and remember what it was like years ago when I had only two clients. Now I scroll through pages of names. Success is the pursuit of a worthwhile goal where you don’t hurt anyone else in the achieving of it. I think about where my business is today, and if I fast forward five to 10 years, it’s exciting thinking how much fun it’s going to be. I would say I’m successful, but at the same time I don’t get any pleasure from that. I’m successful because I didn’t give up like some other people who quit early on in this business. I’m successful because I’m pursuing something that’s meaningful to me and helps other people. I love what I do, but if I was dong this for someone else I would be miserable. In that case, you’re not successful.
What advice do you have to those who also feel lost?
When I talk to high school kids, I give two pieces of advice: do the things you love and it will lead you where you are supposed to go, and try lots of things. I learned more by doing the things I didn’t want to do—like carpeting, tree trimming, brick laying, bartending, etc.—than doing what I wanted to do. People sometimes only do one thing. But doing what you don’t want to do has just as much value. I hear a lot of people complain that there are no jobs. Go take a job in a shipyard somewhere. I’ve done weird things. I took my skills as a mechanic and when I wasn’t making enough money teaching on the water, I would be hired by wealthy people to fix their rowing machines. There are so many opportunities in bad economies. There is always plenty of work, it may not be the work they want to do, but sometimes that’s the best. It’s not a straightforward road. I wish someone had come talked to me while I was growing up and told me a real story of someone who started from nothing, fell on their face, and could say it makes them better.
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