In a few weeks I’ll be turning 36 years old. There are so many things that I thought would have happened by now. Certainly, had you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said I would be married by now, I’ll be making decent money relative to my peers, I’ll be making that money doing what I love, I’ll have children, etc. Even more specifically, at 26 years old I would have told you that my hope was to be an MMA Fighter in the UFC. I wanted to be the light heavyweight Champion at 205 lbs. The funny thing is, if you would have asked me at age 22 what I was going to do with my life at age 26, it would have looked totally different. When I graduated highschool I said that I would never join the military. I ended up going into Special Operations. That’s like ‘Super Military’. When I was I kid I hated writing and speaking in front of class was terrifying. Now, I love writing (though it’s still challenging) and I have no problem being fully transparent as I speak to a crowd of a 100+ people. It’s crazy. I never wrote wrote down as a kid that I wanted to become an Army Green Beret. I certainly didn’t plan 10 years ago that I would be deeply interested in Character Development. No such thing existed to my knowledge. The process of life is incredibly revealing if we are paying attention.
I’ve had close friends tell me that they can’t stand when people say, “You can be whatever you dream of.” I get the frustration. It’s not inherently a true statement. Like many young boys in America, I dreamt of being a professional athlete as a kid. As someone who was regularly picked last, or not at all for recreational games in PE class, I knew that this dream was a long shot and I dare not reveal it to anyone else. I really wanted to be a Baseball Player. I never came close. However, I worked as hard as I could to make it happen. I spent hours hitting off of a batting tee in high school. I spent hundreds of dollars in the batting cage in college as I prepared for walk-on tryouts at The University of Houston. UH has a phenomenal Division 1 Baseball Program. I should’ve thought through my choice of college at lot more if my big plan was to walk-on to one of the best programs in the nation at the time. I went to a Professional Tryout after college on a whim. One last try… A Hail Mary… No Dice… Not even close. I started playing Baseball when I was a freshman in high school and though my personal commitment saw me make improvements by leaps and bounds, I could never quite catch up to my peers who had been playing since they were 5 and 6 years old. Add to that the mocking and constant criticism that was already a large part of my existence as an overweight and socially awkward kid. My confidence in my own ability to learn the game was under constant attack around my ‘teammates’. If you’ve ever played sports you know how critical confidence is to success. Hitting a baseball is one of the most difficult and technical skills in all of athletics. Going to the plate was always incredibly nerve racking. If I failed it would affirm what everybody was always saying about me. “You’re slow!” “You’re sorry!” “You’re Weak!” “You should stick to academics!” “You’re Fat!” It was so crushing sometimes. To know how much energy and effort I was putting in and keep coming up short. To have to keep hearing those voices in my head and not have any tangible truth that they were wrong. Frustrating.
Of course, I never made it to Professional Athletics. I’m actually happy about that. Last summer I got to spend some time as a contractor with a Leadership and Team Development Company. We worked with Division One Collegiate Athletics. This experience confirmed something that I learned in the Army: I am not a fan of someone else having lots of control over what I do. In the military, your instructors and senior leaders could dictate everything from the clothes you wore, to the workouts you did. College and Professional Athletics is similar. As a kid, I didn’t know that. And uhhh… no thank you. I’ve learned way too much about exercise for someone else to tell me what I should chase physically or how I should get to it. If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m a very independent thinker. I also dream big. Once I know what I want, I go all in. My effort is just as big, if not bigger, than my dream is. When I finally let go of my dream of being a Baseball Player, it really wasn’t about a lack of willingness to keep trying, it was more of a realization that I didn’t want it anymore. Other things (like building a business and being able to control my schedule) became more important. My focus shifted and I came to the realization that it (pro-sports) wasn’t for me. It didn’t align with my long term vision for myself. When I stopped actively chasing the dream, I was in my mid-twenties and I knew, given the resources and knowledge I had, I had given it my best shot. I would love to say that I played in college or the minor leagues but I can’t. What I can do, is look myself in the mirror and know that I gave absolutely everything I had to achieve something that I wanted with my whole heart. Everything I knew to do and everything I could do, I did. There are things I wish I would have known then but given what I knew, there is nothing more I could have done. I cried multiple times growing up when I realized my efforts weren’t producing the results I was looking for. Almost always by myself. I didn’t believe in crying in front of people. There was one time in the dugout in the middle of a game where I couldn’t hold it and the tears started to flow down my face. I had just struck out at the plate (It was rare that I got that opportunity to be in a game at all) and I knew that would see me on the bench for the rest of the game and maybe the rest of the season. I also knew how much effort I had put out in the off-season trying to get better. I couldn’t hide it. My heart was broken. In the midst of so much physical (being obese) and psychological (being bullied and ridiculed because I was obese) resistance, I was fighting as hard as I could to overcome and things weren’t moving. There was something that seemed so unjust about it all. To be clear, in the African-American community in the South, men don’t cry. Certainly not in front of anybody. You’ve got to be crushed to cry in front of people. It wasn’t just about Baseball. It was about overturning everything that was being said and had been said about me by my peers from the day I began grade school. It was about feeling like I mattered…
There is a name I give to the place we enter when we have exhausted ourselves in pursuit of a goal. There is a name I give to the place we enter when we have traveled to the edge of our sanity in pursuit of a goal. There is a name I give to the place we enter when unmet expectations and sudden chaos upend everything we knew to be true… The name of this place is called THE END OF YOURSELF. I am a firm believer that the only way to know what you are truly capable of in life is to to reach the end of yourself. It’s a place where massive amounts of personal responsibility and personal effort meet with overwhelming disappointment and heartbreak. I did everything I could and it (the business, the finances, the marriage, the job, the education etc.) didn’t work out. When we ask ourselves questions like, “What’s my purpose?” or “What am I supposed to do while I’m on the planet?” I assume that most of us are looking for something specific and not vague generalities like, “Love others.” Which is fine, but in no way accounts for the the specific details of the individual human personality and what that personality finds fulfilling based on culture, experience, and desires. The simplest way I can put it is like this: If you had a bucket with a special message for you and it was written on the bottom of the bucket in the inside of the bucket. However, the bucket is filled with sand, you would have to empty the buck to read the message. To understand the depths of our soul we must metaphorically empty ourselves. It’s an oversimplification but this is a blog post, not a book.
When I hear someone say you can have whatever you want or whatever you dream of, I don’t hear the fact that my own life has shown these statements to be false. I hear the spirit behind the words. Depending on who says it, there is something else that comes with it. When I hear it from someone who knows trial and error, who knows failure, and who knows exhausting themselves in pursuit of something, who knows what it is to get up and dream big again and go hard again… I hear a spirit that says, “Have the courage to dream big and have the grit and resilience to get up and go again when it doesn’t happen.” People, we live in a nation that is risk and failure averse. If it’s not a guarantee then we don’t want to engage it. We like known quantities… The American Dream. Predictability. Nothing phenomenal ever came out of staying in the comfort zone.
No, I didn’t become a famous Baseball Player. No, I’m not married. No, I don’t have a 6 figure income and a house with a picket fence. I wanted those things and I have gone after them with all the energy and effort I could muster. Up until now, I have failed to gain any of them. However, I did lose 100 lbs. I did graduate college with an engineering degree, with honors, and I hated school. I use those same analytical engineering skills to break down human behavior. I did become an US Army Green Beret and a Veteran of the War in Afghanistan. I’ve been in a gunfight on foreign soil and I have parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes. Oh, I also got to help deliver multiple babies and participate in surgeries during my medic training in the military! How many people have the good fortune to say they’ve experienced such diversity in life? And Why do I have these incredible experiences to draw on? Because, Win or Lose, I kept going. I didn’t sideline myself in a comfortable spot in life. In the midst of the disappointment and the pain of failure and heartbreak, I find it in myself to get up, find new focus, and go hard, again. Maybe I don’t get the specific thing I started out looking for but phenomenal things still happen when you decide that personal ownership and effort are not options. They are absolutes. No matter what life is giving you. Pain precedes purpose. You’ll never take a shot if you’re too afraid to miss.
Much more coming on this issue…
300% – Come Hell or High Water, 100% Ownership, 100% Effort, 100% of the Time!
I Love You!