What I Learned

Must-read conversations with four of the Garden’s most dynamic personalities, in their own words—unfettered and unfiltered.

Man holding pencil

What Sean O'Neill Learned:

Managing a Facebook Group

Nine years. That’s how long I’ve been doing this. Why? I was sitting on the couch bored, wondering what to do in Winter Garden. I had seen another page called Osceola Rants, Raves & Reviews, and thought why the hell not? I had 10 people join, then 20, then 1,000. And now we’re at 50,000 people. It’s crazy.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no idea how to run a page or a group or anything like that. Most people would say I still don’t.

About four years ago, Facebook noticed the size of my group and how active our members were, so they invited me to a power admin. What does that mean? Nothing, really. I just get to be a part of these focus groups for Facebook when they are trying new things. But I guess that means I know what I’m doing.

Come for the reviews. Stay for the drama. So much drama.

I have five admins, and two of them are my kids. I have a lady named Kathy, she would complain all the time about how people weren’t following the rules. Finally, I said to her, complain one more time and I’ll make you an admin. She’s been with me for four years now. I love her to death. She’s the glue that keeps this site together.

You know how they say imitation is the best form of flattery? That’s not true. There are six other pages that started because they got kicked off our page.

We have a good 20,000 that are banned. We try to keep it PG-13, but people are crazy.

Don’t get me started on free speech. Someone breaks the rules and they get kicked off the page and they start screaming about “free speech.” No. It’s not free speech. This is a private group that I created, that you joined, based on guidelines you agreed to. So no, you can’t say whatever you want and get away with it. If you don’t like it, you can leave the group.

You know that saying, there’s no such thing as bad publicity? That’s true. If you have thick skin and can ride it, even the negative will work in your favor. The trick is not to overreact.

"Life Rule: Do not... I repeat, do not drink and post".

I’ve learned to have thick skin. In the earlier years of this group, we fought. Other groups fought with us. I’ve had a lot of people hate me. But since then, those people have started their own groups, and now we’ve become friends.

Life rule: Do not… I repeat, do not, drink and post.

I have the ear of Winter Garden. That’s a huge privilege, and I try to use it wisely.

I won’t allow cop bashing on the site. I’ve gotten to know a lot of the police officers, and a few have become close friends. They pick on me all the time, but I’m also the one they call when they need help from the community.

The biggest challenge was learning how to deal with people. People are more ballsy behind the screen than in real life. I call them keyboard warriors.

We have a zero-tolerance policy on political posts and religious posts. It’s just not worth it. Besides, when you can get hundreds of people arguing about Daniel’s Cheesesteak, why would you even need to talk about politics or religion?

That said, I do have a site called West Orange Resident’s Discussions. That’s a religious-political melee over there. OK. I will admit, sometimes I’ll have a drink or two and I’ll go on that page and stir the pot. Just for fun.

The number one post this year so far was when I posted “Marked Safe from Being Offended by a Beer Can.” 26,000 people and 4,000 likes in one day.

Everything you’ve done is online, and people can search your history all the way back to your childhood. And it has happened to me, and now nothing can affect me. I know that if I get called out, it’s going to be buried within two or three days, and then it all will go back to normal.

Some people make posts just trying to stir the pot.  Have I done that before?

"Doing good for others is always the most fun. And Winter Garden always comes out swinging".

Sure, but not about a small business. I’m a champion for small businesses.

I was a restaurant manager before becoming a locksmith and a review site owner. I actually wrote a book called, I Was Finally the Restaurant Manager, Who Should I Fire First? It was an accidental comedy. Kind of like my life. It’s probably sold five copies on Amazon.

I try to use my page and influence for as much good as I can. For example, Matthew’s Hope. The first time I met with Scott Billue, I was like, what do you need? What’s needed in the homeless community? What he said shocked me: Socks and underwear. I’m not even going to lie, I laughed. I thought he was joking. But he said, “Think about it. How long have you gone wearing the same pair of socks and underwear—one day, maybe two? Three if you’re in college. In the homeless community, it could be weeks, or even longer.” That’s not something people think about. Now, I do a socks and underwear drive via the page every year.

For years, I did a drive that helped feed kids in school. Then Orange County Public Schools stepped up and now they serve lunches during the school year and the summer months.

Doing good for others is always the most fun. And Winter Garden always comes out swinging—All you have to do is ask.

Small business owners are the backbone of Winter Garden.

People ask me all the time about doing advertising or free weekends for small businesses. And I do. Twice a year. It’s like the McRib Sandwich. It comes back often enough to generate interest, but goes away long enough to forget what it tastes like. You take a bite and you’re like, no, it just tastes like earwax. And yet, next winter, when it shows up again, you’re in the drive thru line. That’s how I feel about allowing ads on the site. Less is more.

If there’s one thing that truly makes me happy…. It’s helping other people.

My wife and I met in an AOL chat room… maybe that’s why I run a group site. It feels like AOL in some ways. Our first date was a Chevy’s on 535. We both ordered burgers. I’m sitting there and I take a bite of my burger and look over at her… and her burger is gone. The woman likes to eat. She doesn’t play. And right then, I thought, I’m probably gonna marry this one. That’s what I did. Fourteen years and she hasn’t left me. Yet.

I don’t think I’m famous. But then again, strangers recognize me on the street and stop to say hello. So there’s that.

Nine years, and I still learn something new about Winter Garden every single day. Just yesterday, I learned that the building behind Burger King on SR 50 is going to be an Amazon Supermarket.

I am an outgoing person. I can talk to anybody about anything. And I think it’s because I’m a good listener. People open up to me in the craziest ways.

Anonymous posts are bullshit. We tried it for five days and turned it off. If you’re gonna say something, have the balls to put your name behind it.

What Evan Miklosey Learned:

Balancing a Life of Chords and Coding

Nine months ago, I threw caution to the wind and left my hometown of 29 years, and started an entirely new career in a new state. I thought I was giving up music at the time, but turns out… I was wrong.

I had been feeling discontent with what I was doing for almost eight years. I wasn’t doing anything but restaurant and manufacturing jobs. I wasn’t happy and I desperately needed change. I literally threw my hands up and said, “I’m out of here.” It was a pretty emotional moment for me.

I knew there was more for me, I just didn’t know what that was.

Music has always been a big part of my life, and it always will be. I’ve always loved to sing. My dad and brother are both guitar players, and in high school, I decided to try my hands at it. A year later, I saw a video that changed my life. It was this really amazing guitar player with an accoustic guitar—not singing, just playing. He was doing stuff on the guitar that I had never even known was possible. And this was on YouTube, of course, where you find the best videos. This was almost 15 years ago now.

What I really wanted was to be a touring guitar player. But it’s hard when you’re solo, especially when you can’t really afford a manager. And when you’re paying them, it’s hard to pay yourself. I’ve done four-hour gigs for almost nothing, which was garbage. But that’s where that passion really has to come in; no one works for nothing unless they have that passion for it.

I thought I’d be a music teacher. I was a guitar instructor for about four years. But when COVID hit and everything went virtual, that became a little harder.

"I literally threw my hands up and said 'I'm out of here'. It was a pretty emotional moment for me".

With music, my cup was filled; I loved every second of it. But working in the restaurant and manufacturing business to fund a possible music career felt redundant. I needed something different.

I started taking up web design four years ago, doing some self-studies, learning how to make websites, and programming code. It was time-consuming, yeah, but it kept me busy. And I enjoyed it. There’s so much information out there. There’s a huge swath of it on the internet alone, where I was able to take some courses on my own to develop a portfolio. So that’s what I did.

With newfound confidence, I thought to myself, “I could probably take this with me elsewhere and not have to live in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.” But where could I excel? I couldn’t excel there; it was just not for me anymore. And anyway, I was about to turn 30 years old. It was time that I developed a solid career path.

I knew it was going to be a big learning curve, jumping from music to web. I’ve always found that applying and challenging myself would make me a better worker. It keeps my brain fresh and makes me stand out.

The way I see it, there is an Art of Problem Solving that comes with this job. It translates into songwriting too. Whenever I write a song, I never fail to encounter speed bumps along the way, and I must correct them. It’s the same with web… There are a lot of components that construct a website, and not everything I do is going to turn out the way I want.

I feel like this is a really good first job for me, not just to hone my web skills, but for the other components as well, such as the publishing and advertising aspects. I’m always going to be learning on the job. Working with my team is essential, because they really help prepare my learning curve. I’m growing in that aspect alone.

It’s crazy how much I’ve learned already, and how much I’m still learning. Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming, but all for a good purpose. You know, just taking each day as it comes, ready to learn. And I’m learning about just everything. What the hell am I not learning?

I’m becoming a more well-rounded worker. I’ve learned some tips and tricks from my coworkers. For me, it’s a goldmine of information. I have an awesome source right in front of me, and I’m gaining experience and knowledge through them.

People tell me that 30 is still young, and they say their best years are in their 30s. But still, I wish I could have done all this a little sooner. It’s not necessarily a regret, because I still had fun growing.

Every day I leave work and the first thing I’ll do when I get home is whip out my guitar, start writing and playing for a little bit.

It’s gratifying for me to work with others that are also musicians; people who love to create like I do. I’m in a much better spot now than I was before I moved here. Right now, I’m focused on keeping that momentum going. Making music out of the limelight.

Music has definitely become more of a hobby. It’s always going to be there. I’m really just trying to get my career path solidified right now.

I still write a lot of original music. My style of music is energetic instrumental, and it’s definitely a niche market. I think I just have to find my audience. It’s just me with an acoustic guitar, which is a very personal instrument. And I pour my heart and soul into every song I write.

I always challenge myself to learn new techniques and new chord structures and whatever else can help me excel. I treat this similarly to web—I try to be different with what I do, different in the style that I do. I’ll take my music in a different direction, and I try to bring these aspects into web design as well.

"I try to be different with what I do, different in the style that I do. I’ll take my music in a different direction, and I try to bring those aspects into web work as well."

I still go out and do open mic gigs and stuff like that, really just for fun. But in terms of going out and touring and making a bunch of records… it just isn’t the time. I would like to record like a small demo, which has been something I’ve been trying to do for the last couple of years. I have songs that I’ve recorded, but to actually compile it into an EP… I just haven’t done it yet. I have so much music that I want to get out there, but my focus is on web right now.

As much as I love making music and playing guitar, it’s just a matter of doing the sensible thing and saying, “let’s just get a good stable career going and make a name for myself that way.” And that’s really just my path right now. Anything could happen, but right now I’m coasting along.

I feel very comfortable with how my life is, where my life is headed. All the things that I said I wanted to do four years ago, I’m now doing!

Music was the stepping stone I needed to pull me out of my rut and really take a look into what I wanted for myself. I really leaned into the power of knowledge, diving into anything I could that would improve myself. Even though I’m not pursuing music as a career, it brought to me reassurance that I could do anything I set my mind to. Right now, that’s the world wide web.

Evan Miklosey performs live at the Embassy

The Local/Em Agency team enjoys a mini office concert.

What Jason Shelfer Learned:

Hiking the Camino de Santiago

Ten days. 115 kilometers. 9366.80 feet in elevation gain.

There is a huge capacity within each of us to do great things, to live fully, love daringly, and experience the fullness life has to offer. There is also an invisible fence we create of fear and limiting beliefs. Two of mine were, “I will get to it someday.” And “It’s not that important.” Even as an elite life coach, I still have a tendency to govern my experiences by putting expectations on the possibilities.

Life gets more full, more amazing, and more limitless the more we allow room for unexpected possibilities and unexpected return on investments.

Understanding what is important to you—what your personal values are—is not only important to how you approach a journey, but how you view the results at the end. 

In my opinion, not being clear on personal values at a deep level is where regret is born.

Overthinking and big-picture fears hold us back if we get caught up on not knowing the “how” of everything. It’s like driving a car at night. The headlights only illuminate a few hundred feet in front of us, but if we know where we are going and can see ahead of us, we can keep moving. We slow down and get hyper-focused when traffic gets busy, conditions worsen, or we see multiple exits ahead. Choosing to start and trusting that we have picked a worthy destination—one true to our soul, not our friends, parents, or whomever we have adopted as an approver of our life.

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, and that can cost you. Now I say, “What you don’t know can make you broke or keep you broke.”

I planned my whole Camino trip in about six hours. From mentioning I want to do it “someday” on our daily Virtual Coffee on Facebook, to my wife prompting me with a firm, “Make sure you practice what you preach. If you’re telling clients to have courage, be courageous. Put up or shut up.” Wow! This is why we have coaches also. It’s hard to recognize your own blind spots when you’re missing the mark by just a hair.

We do plenty of things on our own. It’s OK to ask for help; ask for directions. 

You may have a long way to go and it feels impossible to keep going, but the next small step is doable and it gets you closer. Once you know where you’re going, focus on the next doable small step.  

Once you’ve conquered a big mountain ,the small mountains are a lot easier. Heck, even the bigger mountains are easier. The key is to remember that you have a history of success. 

It can get really scary when you believe you are alone, especially if your inner dialogue treats you like a punching bag. 

Patience and process can get you through almost anything. My process was called one foot in front of the other, literally. It was simple and it worked.

When I couldn’t say positive things, I said the process. When everything in my body hurt and I was soaking wet, cold and wrinkled, I lived in the process. Every night this landed me in a place to eat with a bed and ultimately at my destination. There were times I wanted to call a cab and call it quits, but I remembered what I wanted, who I am, and what I do.

The Camino isn’t difficult, but navigating your inner dialogue and staying true to your process is. That’s what The Camino measures—determination and dedication. We all have moments of weakness, moments of hurt or injury. It’s what you do in spite of it. Learning to claim your unique process and then plugging it into the system; it becomes a game changer.

Spending the vast majority of the time by myself sometimes thinking, sometimes not (it’s kind of what guys are famous for). When I wasn’t thinking, my mind was just putting one foot in front of the other. The hypnotic thumping of my hiking boots on the ground mixed with the vibrations being sent through my body, weakening the emotional walls I had fortified over the years.

"Getting off track or getting lost happens in both hiking and life. It's not a waste until you define it as a waste."

I cried a good bit on the Camino. The first time, I had been walking in the drizzle for eight hours, by myself. I came upon a really old church where a nun helped me remove my wet poncho and welcomed me in with a warm smile. I broke down in tears; the church’s age, beauty, atmosphere, smell, kindness, connection, gentleness, and grace of the moment swallowed me whole. I felt alive. My “emotional door” had been kicked open and ripped the hinges off on the first day. I cried at some meals. I cried in prayer. I cried in frustration. I cried in giving and accepting. But most importantly, I cried in gratitude and awe. 

Emotions can be a compass. Emotions are available to help you find what you are looking for and needing most if you get familiar with them and look below the surface.

Don’t let fear stop you from doing something. You will never know what you are capable of until you push yourself. And when you put yourself in situations when you don’t have a choice but to succeed, you will find a way. In the normal course of a day, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I giving myself a way out? Am I allowing myself to be distracted from the goal?” Have I become accustomed to giving up on myself and my dreams? 

Destinations are the small dots on the map. We spend most of our time and effort between the dots. What if we lived for the journey…How much more could we then enjoy the destination?

Life is filled with ups and downs—The ups are really only exciting at the top, so don’t forget how much time and action went into creating that moment. If it feels like luck, examine the past events that led you there. You’ll see that specific things aligned over time to arrive at that circumstance. Everything happens for the right reason at the right time.

Getting off track or getting lost happens in both hiking and life. It’s not a waste unless you define it as a waste. My experiences brought me new discoveries, more resilience, better appreciation, and a deeper connection to the knowledge that I can find myself again, find my way, have the stamina to go further, and still succeed

What Kelsi-Ann Bailey Learned:

During First Year of High School

My mom always said that I know what I like, and I’ll make sure you know what I like. And if I don’t like it, I’ll let you know that, too. It was a joke in my family, but this year, I fully embraced that.

I decided early on that I was going to make my college decision completely on my own.

When I sat down and looked at the numbers, it just didn’t make sense. It was like, spend $50,000 to get my education in state, or spend double or triple at the University of California or Alabama or Brown. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

In Florida, UF, Florida Atlantic, and FAMU were all contenders for my architecture major. I visited UF and Florida Atlantic, and I just had a feeling… I didn’t like them. When we went to the FAMU, however, it was vibrant, and everything there is student-oriented.

In the beginning, being an HBCU (historically black college or university) wasn’t a factor. That came later, in the decision process. FAMU has everything I want. They will better cater to me and my needs, especially as an African American woman. What I’ve discovered is that many other institutions, non-HBCU, can lack not only the understanding, but the resources to our community as well.

When I walked on the FAMU campus, I could see that everyone had school spirit, and everyone was happy. Even if you don’t know anyone, there are so many people to connect with. It just seemed so easy to walk up to someone and start a conversation; it almost feels like family.

If you asked someone a question, like where to find a building, they’d offer to take you there! And next thing you know, a whole group is walking you to the building, laughing and joking—the vibes were great!

I tried making the decision rationally, but in the end, it came down to a feeling—how I felt on campus. Not how my mom felt, or my friends, or anyone else. How I felt. It was an entirely selfish decision, but in the best possible way.

I’m definitely a people pleaser. I’ve been one my whole life, but I had to make this decision based on my own needs and wants. I had to learn to not be a people pleaser, especially when making these decisions that will impact the rest of my life.

I was nervous telling my mom. She’s a Gator, so I knew she’d be a little disappointed that I didn’t choose UF. But I just sat her down on the couch and said, “I’ve already made the decision. I’m going to FAMU.” She was emotional, but in a good way. I think she’s happy. And besides, FAMU’s mascot is a rattlesnake, so I’m still a reptile. We’re just cousins.

It’s funny. After I told my mom, she slowly became obsessed. Every couple minutes, she sends me something about FAMU; it’s kind of ridiculous. I’m so happy that she’s excited, but I’m going to block her.

My sister is Ivy League, and she went to Brown. I felt the pressure for a while, especially in my junior year. Everybody was asking, ‘Where’s Kelsi going to go?’ I had a lot of eyes on me. So when it came time to tell everyone my decision, I wanted it to be special. Not just a text message or a million FaceTime calls.

"I tried making the decision rationally, but in the end, it came down to a feeling. It was an entirely selfish decision, but in the best possible way."

We had a combined graduation/college reveal party. My mom came up with the idea. She rolled up a banner that had FAMU’s colors and flag. I stood under it and pulled it down while she did streamers and confetti, which was fun. Maybe not for my mom, though, because glitter is still everywhere in the house. I think it’s fun. Every time I find more glitter, I get excited about what’s coming.

There’s a wall in my house that displays everyone’s diplomas, certificates, awards. My mom has three masters and a doctorate. Then my sister has awards from Brown, the city of Orlando, CPS, and all these other things. And then there’s me—I have one frame on that wall, from elementary school. Seeing that every day was a constant reminder to be better. But I can’t lie… it also comes with a lot
of pressure.

I’ve always been perfectionist and a people pleaser, and doing whatever I could to get a pat on the back. This year, I realized how toxic that was—I could have been a much freer person if I hadn’t restrained myself.

I was lacking balance. I was so determined to do good for the family that I wasn’t focusing on what was good for me.

In college, there will be similar situations, and I’ll have to make my own decisions. But now that I know what that feeling is like, and the benefits that I get from making decisions that benefit me, I will continue making decisions for myself.

Making this decision on my own has opened my eyes to the freedom and happiness that come from making a decision for myself and not for others. It was as simple as learning how to speak up for myself.

High school is one big lesson wrapped up in all kinds of chaos.

The biggest lesson of my senior year? That everything is a competition.

Whether it’s to get into a specific college, earn that scholarship, get tickets to prom, to be first in line for a ride at senior field day…  everything is a competition. Eventually you have to learn to be OK with not only coming in last place, but not even wasting your time to compete. Just go with your flow.

There are many trials in high school, but competing with yourself to be better is the most important lesson I learned. You never really know someone’s situation. You can’t look at everyone else. You have to look at yourself and try to advance and do your best. Your best might just put you in a spot to get that scholarship, or to get a position at the college of your dreams, or to get the internship that you want.

I have to stay true to myself. If you’re not true to yourself, you’ll feel burnt out and defeated, which is what happened to me. It’s better to be happy with where you are and what you’re doing to advance yourself.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone has struggles and issues that you don’t know about. No one’s life is perfect, even if it may seem like it on Instagram.

I’ve learned that honesty really is the best policy.

I’ve learned that if I like myself, or if the decision is in my best interest, nothing else matters.

Senior year taught me that the stress will eventually be rewarded, even when it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It taught me that if you want something, and if you work hard for it, everything will fall into place. Even if it’s not how you originally pictured it. Things always work out.

Most importantly, high school taught me that the never-ending teenage struggles are fleeting, even when it seems like they may never end.

Because once that diploma is in your hand and your cap is in the air, the feeling of freedom is so expansive that it’s overwhelming. But so far, nothing has been better than knowing I have finally made it.

Make room in your
life to surround yourself with people who will lift you up.

You can be the juiciest peach on a tree, but there will always be someone who doesn’t like peaches. Not everyone will like you, and that’s OK.

It took me a long time to learn that I can say no as strongly as the person who is is trying to make me say yes. Just because I don’t want the situation to be awkward doesn’t mean I should do something I don’t want to do. The person pressuring you is the one making it awkward, not you. Just say no. And remember, “no” is a full sentence. You don’t always have to offer an explanation.

None of us truly know what we are doing, but we’re doing the best we can. 

Live in the moment, because high school goes by fast. It’s understandable being caught up with everything, but it is important to take time for yourself and make the most of the time you have with your friends.

I love my school. I think that that’s very important. I didn’t fall in love with any of the other schools I viewed. But with FAMU, I see a unique value to what they offer. I feel the community and I love it. I’m happy to say that I’m a Rattler now!

"High school is one big lesson wrapped in chaos. The biggest lesson? Everything is a competition".

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