As I’m raising kids and thinking about what kind of mindset to try to help instill in them, I look back at my own successes and failures and try to figure out how I got to be who I am today. Inevitably, the answer as to who I am and how I have been able to have the success I’ve had lies mostly in my failures.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a bit of an obsessive personality and that trait has allowed me to have long, intense focus on a subject until I become proficient in the subject matter at hand. I was that 12 year old kid who would shoot a basketball for 2.5 hours every night and wouldn’t let myself go in the house until I hit 10 free throws consecutively. God, getting to 9 and missing would drive me wild. That compulsion has been one heck of an asset throughout my life. It is also a little bit maddening at times…you ever see a hunting dog on a trail that is leading him nowhere? I haven’t either, but you could imagine what it’s like! But overall, I’m nowhere without having a bit of that obsessive compulsive drive.
Instantly though, when I think back on my life, it’s my failures that I can say continue to push me. It was my failure as an 18 year old senior in high school to win the wrestling state championship that left the competitive window open for me when I got to college. All I wanted in high school, from the time I witnessed a spotlight on the mat at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, was to have my hand lifted in front of those 15,000 people. I failed. It was heartbreaking. Something in me was missing after that. That’s why, when 18 months later, when my Navy ROTC friend asked me to walk on to the Purdue Football team, I said, “Sure, why not?” I wanted to achieve that glory that I had failed upon previously.
As a Purdue football player, I joined as a defensive tackle and sat on the sidelines my first season, as the 5th player in the rotation. We never made it that deep that season. However, come the next season, through a lot of hard work, I had put myself in position to fight for a spot in the starting rotation. That training camp rolled around, and one of the coaches pulled me aside after the first practice and told me I was going to be switching to left guard the following day. I told the coach I had no idea what offensive linemen do and expressed concern that I was going to be missing out on an opportunity on the defensive line that I strived for. He told me I was going to be a much better guard than tackle and would become thankful for this move. I decided to show up with a good attitude and give it everything I could provide day one. It worked out. Two seasons later I was selected 3rd pick of the 3rd round in the 2004 NFL Draft. I was thankful.
Those little setbacks provided me with the fuel and even the opportunity to continue going. Rather than dwelling on the situations, I just kept moving forward and striving in whatever trajectory I found myself.
When I look back at my NFL Career, I can say that a few things happened that defined who I am as a man. First, I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was thankful for all of my injuries that happened throughout my career. They were humbling. They told me loudly and clearly that I was mortal and rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Watching someone do what I thought was my job was a tough pill to swallow at the time, but once the perspective was gained from having made it through that process, I had to just give thanks. It sounds crazy. I was thankful for my injuries! But, it’s true. Now, I didn’t have life altering injuries, but did have a pretty good slate of injuries nonetheless.
The 2nd thing I am thankful for when looking at my NFL career are the times when I was the absolute goat of the game. I have two incidents in mind that I won’t bore you with the details here. They were bad snaps, at bad times to have bad snaps in two games that ended up costing us the game. One was on Monday Night Football, and the other was in the Playoffs. They were crushing at the times. Devastating. After the playoffs, I went to see a sports psychologist to find out if there was something wrong with me. It turns out, those two snaps just allowed me time to intensely reflect on who I am and what I’m made of. Was I going to be a guy to just fold up shop and admit that I’m not good enough? Or was I going to make myself better and become good enough? I learned a mindset in those times that serves me very well through bad moments, failures (no matter how big or small), and while teaching my children. I say this every day before I go to bed to my boys. I say it for them and for me. “I”m Not As Good Today As I Will Be Tomorrow.” This statement allows failure and encourages growth. Nobody has a perfect, mistake free day. And who would want it? The day I have a perfect overall performance is the day I quit. You aren’t as good today as you will be tomorrow.
Have Fun Failing.