The Driven Life: Blake Koch on the power of positivity and passion

This is the latest in a series of self-improvement/motivational-themed interviews involving people in the racing world sharing insight into successful habits. Up next: Blake Koch, who founded the business FilterTime after losing his NASCAR ride.

We’re here at the track and you’re not driving. I’d think, “Oh geez, maybe he’s going to be down in the dumps.” But I follow you on social media, I see how your life’s going. You seem super happy. Obviously, you’ve had tough times and I’m sure you’ve had bad days, but you’ve managed to stay positive through all of it. How do you stay positive and how can people reading take some of that for themselves?

You’re right. I’m extremely happy, and to be honest with you, I had two good years there running in the playoffs and my career was taking a different path to the good side. It was fun, it was good — and then I lost my ride.

I was pretty upset and a little down for about a day. That was all I let myself kind of pout. I pouted for a day, like, “This shouldn’t happen,” and then you find yourself pouting and you’re like, “What’s that gonna do?” So I decided to pump myself up. You know me, I’m a Christian, so I prayed, like, “God, what do you want me to do next?” Nothing’s going to change from me sitting here and pouting, no one’s going to feel sorry for me, I have a wife and two kids, I’ve got to provide.

And I just started working. I didn’t even know what to work on, really, but I just was excited about what was going to happen next for me. I started doing the sponsor hunting, but doors were closing and no sponsors were showing interest, no teams were reaching out. I was like, “Man, God’s really shutting the door on driving. So what else should I do?”

An opportunity with FOX popped right up, and I was like, “Oh, this is great! I get to talk about the series I love, the Xfinity Series, on the show Race Hub. So that opportunity came in. And then (Matt) Tifft asked me if I was willing to help him. He was really looking forward to being my teammate over at RCR and asked if I’d be willing to help him work hard and teach him how to work hard, is what he said. And I said, “Dude, that sounds awesome, I’d love to help you!”

A part of the reason why I wasn’t a great driver is because I wanted to help people too much. I was too nice. So it really kind of fits me, because I get to be myself and actually help people like I really want to.

I know I’m going long on this answer, but how do I stay positive? I just start my day, every single morning, with some prayer, reading the Bible, and just motivating myself — listening to some motivational stuff (like) a podcast and just being grateful for everything I have: my wife, my kids, my family, my house.

I start my day like that every single day, and then I just attack. Whatever I can do to make today the best I can be is what I do. And I think what drives me is my passion, and my passion gives me that adrenaline — (even if) it’s selling air filters with FilterTime. Like I love FilterTime just as much as I did racing. I don’t know why, but I love when people email me and someone signs up and someone sends me a question about air filters. I just love it. So I think it’s just the passion that keeps me positive, motivated and just always on the go.

Going back to the times when before you realized there were other things out there like FilterTime for you and you’re on that sponsor hunt and the doors are closing, those had to be discouraging days. Even on those days, were you able to find some positivity? Let’s say someone’s been laid off and lost their job, they’re going through a job hunt right now. What advice would you give to people who are feeling like, “Man, I don’t feel like I have a sense of purpose right now, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m looking for that next thing.” How do people sort of steer themselves in the right direction?

You just have to make yourself be positive, right? It’s not a natural thing for me. There’s days when I wake up and I’m just not motivated, not excited — but I don’t let myself think that way. I immediately stop and think about all the things that I’m grateful for; little things, right? Little things like I have a vehicle to drive, little things like knowing my wife and my kids, we’d be happy if we had to go live in hotels because we couldn’t afford a house, we’d be happy because we have each other. So me just knowing that we’d be happy in any and all circumstances is very comforting for me just to go where I feel led to go and work towards where I feel I need to be working at.

And like you said, there was a time where I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I carried a notebook with me everywhere, and I wrote down who I need to call today. Every morning I need to make five phone calls to teams or drivers, and then I need to make five phone calls to somebody in another area, and then I’m writing ideas down.

I’ve had ideas down on wrapping people’s garage doors to make it look good in front of their house instead of this white plain thing. I had an idea of a mobile oil change unit that I could start and go to people’s houses to change oil. I had all these ideas that I was ready and excited to go, but you start working on it and then you kind of feel like, “Ahh, that’s not really the direction I feel led, doors aren’t opening.”

Then when FilterTime popped in my head, I knew. The doors were just flying open everywhere and it was full force, everything was just lining up perfectly and that’s kind of when I knew my calling — my next calling was to start an air filter subscription business. (Grins)

What you said about forcing yourself to be positive is really interesting to me because I assumed in some ways, “He’s just a happy person. He’s just the kind of guy for whatever reason is not going to get down.” But when you say you had to stop yourself and say, “Wait, I see myself going down this path mentally, I’m starting to have negative thoughts creep in” — it sounds like it’s something you have to initiate within yourself. It doesn’t just happen.

Yeah, you just don’t lose weight by thinking about it. But a lot of that is surrounding yourself by good people, too. You are who you hang with, and there’s guys I can call — Trevor Bayne, Michael McDowell, Justin Allgaier — if I’m feeling a little down or whatever. And my wife, too, a lot of times I have to pump her up a little bit. But when she sees me getting down, she’s like, “Babe, it’s OK, it’s going to work out,” and she pumps me up, too.

But to give you an example, when I came to this track here in Daytona one year ago, the first time not driving in a decade, I was like, “Man, I’ve got to walk in this Xfinity garage and pretend to be happy.” But I committed to it, and people came up to me saying, “You were done wrong, it stinks you were bought out,” and my answer — I committed to making it positive — was, “No, it’s OK, it’s how it works, he deserves to be in the car.” And it’s just part of it.

Whether it’s social media or turning on the news, sometimes it’s kind of tough not to be affected by like what you see as the state of the world. How do you not let that seep into your life? How do you rise above that?

I think just not worrying about things. It would be really easy to worry about the world we live in and the direction it’s going and what kind of world are my kids going to live in. But there’s nothing you can do about it other than just have a positive attitude. For me, it’s being a great leader for my wife and my kids and just creating that positive energy in the house. And if I can help somebody else be positive, that’s one less person being negative on social media, you know?

Think about if everybody just stayed positive on social media. I think attitudes would be different, and quite frankly, the day would be a lot more enjoyable.

I’d also like to talk to you about the energy that you have to do this stuff. Where do you get the energy from? Is that a natural thing where you’re just feeling enthusiastic?

My dad is super passionate and energetic, too, so I do think there’s something in my genes that just gives me that drive. For me, I never drove a race car until I was 20 years old, made an Xfinity start at 24 or something. So that doesn’t happen by an unmotivated, undriven person. So I’ve always had it.

Even before I raced, before any of you guys knew me or who I was, I did pressure washing. I pressure washed houses for a paycheck, and I loved it. I wanted to be the best pressure washer in the world, I was so competitive to make sure people were happy with the work I did.

So I think just naturally, I just want to be the best at whatever I’m doing, and that all starts with goals. You’ve got to have short-term goals. I have a goal every day of what I want to accomplish in the day, I have weekly goals, I have annual goals and I have five-year goals. And you know, if you are being lazy that day, it’s not going to get you any closer to your goal.

It all comes down to starting your day off right. I don’t sleep in, I wake up early — 5:30 or 6:00, before my family — I go into my office, I read, pray, write down goals and mentally get prepared for life. Life is tough. You’re going to have to make so many decisions every day, you’re going to hear so many bad things throughout the day that you have to really get prepared for it.

You’ve talked about your goals. You said you have daily goals, all the way up to five-year goals. Is that stuff you write down in your notebook, or is that just in your head?

Yeah, I have a whiteboard in my office. It’s like a three foot by five foot whiteboard on the wall, and I just write them on that whiteboard. And those aren’t little goals; those aren’t like, “Call this somebody.” Those are big goals. Like with FilterTime, it was, “Start FilterTime.”

For me, what I knew I wanted to do was something that was helping people and competition and something that can help me provide for my family. So those were the three things I knew I wanted to do after racing.

Helping people is my driver coaching — I work with Harrison Burton and Tifft, sharing the stuff I’ve learned over 10 years that I can help these guys with and give them true honesty. I really love doing that. The competitive side is that and the FOX Race Hub thing, so I knew that was happening. And then when the air filter business started obviously, that was helping people change air filters and it’s making me money. So that was kind of tying it all together.

If somebody just needs like a kick or a pep in their step or something, what do you think is one thing or one change they could make to sort of just help their overall life?

Literally, you have to be positive and passionate. Life and careers and jobs is all about relationships, people. And people don’t like hanging around and talking to negative people. They just don’t. So if you’re expecting to advance in your career, advance whatever you are doing, it’s all about relationships that people like to be around. If you’re not naturally positive, you’ve got to make yourself be positive. It’s just really not an option.

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