My Greatest Professional Fear


I grew up in a small town in central Nevada with about 2,500 people in total. The high school enrollment was~120 people, and that included the 1-3 hour bus routes from 4 other small towns that represented sometimes close to half of our student population. There were no movie theaters, no malls, no bowling allies, etc. We had one fast food option, 5 or six total places to go out to eat (mostly casinos #Nevada…), and one grocery store. Oh, and no stop lights. Needless to say there was a lot of time for really great things, such as family, developing passion an skills, learning how to create your own fun, etc.

Tonopah, NV 

Tonopah, NV 

I have many distinct memories and defining points where this small town life really influenced and shaped who I am today. But one of them stands out in particular.

I was over at a family friends’ house with my family, and a few of the adults talking were discussing work-related issues. I was on the other side of the room playing talking with a friend and overheard a conversation that I realized was something I had heard before. They were talking about things that many people come into contact with daily, such as a boss that doesn’t manage in ways that you prefer to be overseen, how they get along well with some of their co-workers, but not all of them, etc. However, the end point of the conversation usually ended on one of two points. The number of days until the next day off work, or the number of years left before a reasonable retirement is available. I distinctly remember that conversation ending with “Only 15 more years left…”

I was sixteen at that time – at that moment I couldn’t imagine spending what was then my entire life, waiting for something to end. Now, perhaps that wasn’t the original intent, and I’m highlighting this from kind of the harshest perspective one can, but at the time I was starting to get asked “What are you going to do with your life?” and looking back at the passions that had ebb and flowed for me at that point (e.g., bicycles, basketball, four-wheelers, guitar) in life all I knew was what I didn’t want to do, and I also knew that I knew relatively little of what was out there. So where’s the professional fear, and where’s the behavioral science angle?

Finding Your Passion

It seems like everyone has an opinion on finding out what interests you, or developing a passion. I really don’t think I can do much justice on that front from a standpoint of “here’s what the research says is foolproof!). (What The Hell Is Passion, Anyway?) Luckily I stumbled into a field that I had absolutely no clue was out there. I literally ran into behavioral science as an undergraduate because it was the next sequential class after my Psychology 101 class. Who knows what I would have been into had that class not caught my interest and been somewhat easy for me to understand and use in life. When I watch other influencers on social media, within the walls of academia, etc. there does seem to be one thing that many of them suggest in some way: Increase variability. Whenever I find myself feeling "stuck" I look for ways to systematically add variation to my life and measure the results. One way that I’m currently doing that is through social media. In consider my first 8 years in behavioral science a "chapter"of sort, where I gave everything I could to develop a pretty respectful skill set. But there's so much more out there... 

Exploring the Mediums: Video, Audio & Written

After finishing up my graduate degree from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2013 I was in a position to get involved in the first startup that I’ve been a part of: Lodestone Academy. I was in the trenches, literally on day 1, when my then past Advisor and then boss, Josh Pritchard, PhD, BCBA-D, and I walked into the empty building where we envisioned a service that would fit the needs of children who required 2 staff to 1 student ratio services. He was continually tinkering around with different gadgets, and occasionally we would go to a creator lab just outside downtown Orlando where I lived at the time.

Now, simultaneously, a couple close colleagues close to me were really into podcasting and YouTube videos. I wasn’t into the world of podcasting much, nothing seemed to be that interesting to me since I was so enamored by the possibility of a behavioral science – and no one was talking about that sort of content on a podcast (well, there was one area of measurement practices called "Precision Teaching Podcast"). On the other side was YouTube, which I just looked at as a useful place to go and get some help if I was stuck on a computer problem, or wanted to lose a couple hours of time watching things I totally wasn’t planning on checking out in the first place (but were nonetheless fun). Occasionally these two colleagues would suggest we create a project related to these mediums for disseminating some of the information we’ve learned during our years of studying and research. None of us were quite sure if we had developed the skill sets required to effectively create this material, but I also wasn’t convinced that creating anything video, audio, or even written was really worth my personal time.

Fast forward about three years and I found myself back in Reno, NV. I successfully transitioned out of Lodestone Academy and was working full time for a Non-Profit Organization as well as was entrenched in my own startup, the Institute of Meaningful Instruction, with two close friends. This second company was different in the sense that I was part owner, and that included the vision, the ups, the downs, and the massive workload.  I constantly looked for resources to learn more about the skill sets that I needed to successful start and run a business. I had the business administration minor from undergraduate, I had the Organizational Behavior Management (What to read next: Where Do I Start with OBM?) classes, but there was something missing. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew we didn’t quite have the “recipe” that we needed to experience the success that we were aiming to achieve.

So now we find ourselves in about March of 2016 through January of 2017. I had great business partners, and we had developed a great curriculum. Finding the marketing channels was fun, but difficult, but we had found them. However, I wasn't quite "feeling it" in the day to day grind like I was at other points in my life. One night on Facebook I stumbled over to a YouTuber named Casey Neistat, who at the time I think had somewhere around 1.2M subscribers on his YouTube channel. His style of video consists of finding something in his daily life, whether business, personal, leisure, etc. that he can turn into a story that people will want to watch – a sort of video-blog or Vlog. I had sampled a couple other creator’s vlogs prior to his, but his hit me in a far different way. I found myself clicking the next video immediately – I did this so much that night that my alarm went off at 6am to wake up for work and I was still watching his archives. That day at work I kept coming back to the question, “Why the hell was I so interested in his videos?” Well, it turns out he had a background in film for 15+ years, and I’ve come to learn has networked well and is also business savvy.  Needless to say, this was a defining point in which I realized the "power" of media. I set out to start learning how to create across three mediums: 

  1. Written 
  2. Video
  3. Audio

I didn't realize it quite yet, but this was the beginning of the next chapter. In a matter of 15 months I moved into a studio, created what's now my third startup, and have clients in a sector outside behavior analysis working on purely "creative" content. In addition, we have the capability to run a weekly podcast with people from around the world (which is also a sponsor of Podcon 2017) called Why We Do What We Do, with a mini movement in Reno, NV for creators across these various mediums.

Behavioral Science’s Unique Position

For a closing thought, let's play a little game. If behavior analysis is the scientific approach to why living things do what they do, then are we not sitting on the most secure job in the world? The way I understand it, theoretically, anything is possible. It just requires finding that area of passion, developing the skill sets, aligning the resources, and putting in the work. I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this, but I’m moving forward everyday. And that seems to be what I am always searching for. I don't want to feel "stuck." I don't want to count down the days to the weekend, or to retirement.  


I’m just chasing learning opportunities. - RYANO



Ryan O’Donnell, MS, BCBA

Affiliation: RYANO, LLC


Bio: Ryan O'Donnell hails from northern Nevada in the grungy, yet surprisingly classy, (and newly renovated) Reno, Nevada . He likes his climate like he likes his data: evolving, uncompromising, and progressive. He is a master of science; that is, he has a M.S. in Applied Behavior Analysis, however he has since grown to include many other interests, including entrepreneurship and capturing perspectives and stories through various mediums. He has used this degree to work with a lot of great people to help organizations and families in Florida and Nevada that support people with Intellectual Disabilities. Currently he leads product development and distribution for High Sierra Industries as a Learning Systems Development Specialist. His focus outside this role is on building a community of thought leaders and doers to create content that increases the transparency of behavior analytic technologies with the hopes of creating a platform that truly saves the world. His interests are all over, from artificial intelligence and machine learning applications to the theory and philosophy behind Why We Do What We Do ( In his spare time you can find him consuming social media, prepping/climbing a giant mountain, or walking around with his camera in his hand (and, occasionally, all simultaneously). Connect with him on most all social platforms via TheRyanoDotCom and let him know what drives you to pursue the Behavior Analysis vision.


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