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The Tattooed CEO

Brian Grasso is a true Renaissance man. Grasso is a published poet, a former CEO of a large organization within the fitness industry, a motivational speaker, and a former performance coach. He also sports quite the collection of amazing ink. Over the next couple of months Grasso will be writing articles for sharing his knowledge and insight. 

In Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book “Blink,” Gladwell points out the power of unconscious thinking and the degree to which we all judge, classify, define and label certain situations and certain people based on our experiences and societal overtones.

More often than not, we do so without having any conscious idea we’re doing it.

Gladwell refers to this reality as "thin-slicing" which implies that we need only slight amounts of information before making an unconscious conclusion that drives the very nature of our conscious thoughts and actions.

Whether we believe it or not, like it or not and care or not, the world is saturated with well-intentioned folks who simply don’t understand our love of ink and oftentimes make bold, sweeping assumptions about us all.

And that’s true no matter if you’re a reformed criminal, recovering drug addict, responsible mom of four, or in my case, a former CEO of a large international organization.

Me and my 22 tattoos.

The thing is, I don’t have any interest in being rebellious just for the sake of it. I’m not making any ideological statements nor do I have a political agenda. I’m not flipping off the mainstream, mad at my parents, still frustrated because my Grade Three teacher called on me too many times when I didn’t know the answer or deliberately hoping to jade my two elementary school aged children to the evils of a conformist world.

Grasso and his wife.

Grasso and his wife.

I’m just being me and that’s something that the vast majority of people worldwide should spend more time considering when checking themselves out in the mirror every morning. No, I don’t say that with any sort of disdain or even a presumed conjecture, I’m just looking at the facts.

We exist in a world where individual rights and freedoms are preached ad nauseam, legally afforded by the highest order of constitutional law and even fought for by the brave men and women who follow orders and take our decrees of liberty and individual-sovereignty to the socially oppressed among humanity around the globe. And yet, our elected officials have to fit a very specific mold or image before even being considered worthy of a single vote. Their words, ideas and passions, carefully controlled and compressed into sound-bites that elevate the key points of their message without saying anything that could offend the majority.

Because we "thin-slice". We may rail against the normative of a status quo society, but the role our unconscious brains play in shaping our perceptions and expectations can make it a challenge for anyone to step outside of that norm ostensibly while still being accepted within it.

Which is why the most prized, dear and important tattoo I brandish runs along my left forearm from elbow to wrist and contains a single word -



It’s a Zulu phrase that translates into English as “I See You”. Considered a customary greeting in the Zulu culture, it implies that when passing a friend, neighbor or relative in the streets, you’re committing yourself to the moment and honoring the person in front of you with more than just a ‘thin-slice’ appraisal.

You’re seeing beneath the exterior. Opting to consciously beat-back any potential unconscious prejudice, assumptions or conclusions that may have spiked due to outward appearance and simply take the interaction for what it is - an exchange of energy between two fellow humans.

But more than “Sawubona” being an ethos of how I choose to relate with, treat and celebrate the individuality of others without judgement, it’s a hallmark reminder for me to always remain authentic to who I am.

Sawubona is the very reason I was able to stand in confidence at the helm of a corporation, present lectures to governmental and private associations worldwide, work as a consultant for Nike and co-author articles for acclaimed magazines such as Men’s Fitness even with ink that oftentimes made the ‘thin-slicing’ society around me question my ethics, capacity, integrity and honesty.

Perhaps most importantly - and as it relates to you - “Sawubona” is a calling to never hide behind your ink or use it as a scapegoat to settle in life. If I can climb the corporate ladder, so can you.