This morning I woke up in our new house, staring out our bedroom window into beautiful Skaneateles Lake. Without a cloud in the sky, the sun reflected off the water sending a peaceful ray of light into our room as if to say “Good morning, it’s going to be a great day”. The backyard grass was green and neatly mowed (I have the sunburn to prove it) and our trees were starting to bloom in these fascinating colors. Not going to lie, the tranquility of it all was pretty awesome.
I got up and sailed through my morning routine: I showered, got dressed, brushed my teeth, ran five miles (no), did a workout (no), and ate a healthy breakfast (no).
After that accomplishing start, I sat down at my computer to check my email. And that’s when I took a turn to Negative-Town.
Imagine your cruelest pet peeve: Maybe it’s nails on a chalkboard…Maybe it’s leaving dirty dishes in the sink (my wife’s favorite). Mine are those “1,001 Ways to Get Noticed by Coaches and Better Your Lives” emails. I had FIVE of them in my inbox. In one night.
I don’t like lists. Especially those kinds of lists. They are often overwhelming in their amount of content (17 ways to do this, 22 ways to do that) …yet underwhelming in their message.
I like stories better.
Stories have a unique ability to invoke a personal connection between reader and writer, as we often see some part of ourselves in the narratives we read. This connection gives us the ability to reflect about our own lives, allowing us to search for meaning and make sense of the world in which we live. Stories give us the opportunity to think, learn, and grow.
…And they’re way more fun to read.
Below are a few short stories and lessons learned from my journey. Maybe you’ll be able to connect with one of them. Maybe one will hit home with something that you’re going through right now. If any of these stories can touch just one person and help them get some clarity in their own life, well, then bearing all of this out would be totally worth it.
LESSON LEARNED (1): CARE ABOUT OTHERS
It’s Christmas. You are thirteen years old. You are headed to Grandma’s house, and you know what that means…PRESENTSSSSS!!
You spend the car ride with your siblings guessing what you are going to get for gifts. Video games? New clothes? A puppy?! Your parents begrudgingly smirk at each other in the front seat, but you pass it off. Just kids being kids.
You arrive at Grandma’s house, and you notice a small bus at the foot of the driveway. You must be taking a trip this year!! Awesome!!
You step on the bus with Grandma, Grandpa, and all of your aunts, uncles, and cousins. You notice a gathering of bags in the back, but you are told they are off limits until arriving at the destination. And as if the suspense wasn’t enough, Grandpa then reveals that where you are going is a surprise. Exciting!!
(Sorry for all of the exclamation points…What can you say, you were a kid on Christmas!)
The whole bus ride, you and your cousins try and guess where the bus is headed. After about an hour, the bus pulls off the highway in Downtown Chicago where all of the big-time clothes and toy stores are located.
You drive right past them.
You ride some more, and your mind wanders thinking of all the cool places you could be going. Then all of a sudden, you look out the window and notice the bus is heading through a rough neighborhood.
The bus driver stops.
He opens the door outside a disheveled looking brick building surrounded by more old buildings that have plywood and bars covering a majority of their windows. Your dad asks you to grab the bags in the back. You take a peek inside and see a ton of presents…
And then it hits you.
These presents aren’t for you.
You walk with your family into a worn down building - past a long line of tired looking people wearing ragged clothing that look as if they hadn’t seen a washing machine in years.
And then it hits you again.
They are in line for food. On Christmas.
Your stomach sinks. All day long you’ve been talking about presents… the material things you were getting from Grandma and Grandpa. And these people don’t even get food. On Christmas.
You feel terrible. You feel spoiled rotten. You start to cry.
But then something magical happens.
You have one of the best days of your life.
Your family splits between working the kitchen, waiting tables, and passing out presents. You get to do all three. You meet some amazing people. People who have nothing, but choose to see the good in everything.
You give presents to kids your age that until that day had never received a Christmas gift. You serve food to people who hadn’t eaten a decent meal in days. You learn about their lives, their families, their hopes and their dreams. You learn of their good times and bad. You see how grateful they are for what they have (and they don’t have anything).
It is one of the hardest, but most rewarding days of your life. You learn a valuable lesson.
These people teach you more than you could ever learn in a classroom or a book. They teach you that happiness is a conscious choice. They teach you that appreciation for what you have (no matter how much you have) is powerful. They teach you about gratitude and humility.
You are a better person having met this group of people and shared this experience. You recognize the power of the gift of giving…not only for the people on the receiving end, but for you as well. It felt great to give. It felt better than any present you could have received that day.
That day will shape many of your beliefs about life moving forward. Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa, for the best Christmas present ever.
LESSON LEARNED (2): EMBRACE THE TOUGH
You still remember the feeling. The “pop”.
You remember two hours prior to the incident being so excited before your first regular season game of the year. And then you remember laying on the locker room floor, helpless.
You remember the white, hollow walls caving in and suffocating your every breath. You remember the look on your trainer’s face. That somber, sorry look. He doesn’t want to tell you, but you know. It’s bad.
It’s the ACL. It’s gone.
You remember how after your team’s first tournament of the year, only a week ago…colleges were lined up to talk to you…
You remember how a week later, after your injury, not one of them called you back. It was devastating. It was demoralizing.
It was one of the best things that ever happened to you.
You learned a valuable lesson. You learned through that difficult period how to fight when you get knocked to the ground. You learned the power of a positive attitude in even the worst of situations.
Through that first month waiting by the phone for a college to call (they didn’t). Through the next six months of the grueling and painful rehab. Through the exhausting summer of training twice a day. Through the start of the next season when you had to prove yourself all over again. All you could think about was showing everyone who stopped believing in you what a mistake they made.
You learned how VALUABLE adversity can be. Not devastating. Not demoralizing.
It was humbling. It was rewarding.
You eventually learned to see adversity for what it was…an OPPORTUNITY FOR GROWTH. It made you stronger. It made you better. It made you mentally tough. And it prepared you for the next time an obstacle reared its ugly head. Because it did. Again and again. But you were ready.
This year of your life shaped much of your attitude on positivity and perseverance. Thank you, knee, for blowing out and allowing me to suffer immensely to be able to learn these lessons! Jerk.
LESSON LEARNED (3): WORK HARD
You are one day away from being a college freshman. It’s an exciting, nerve-racking, life-changing time. During the flight and subsequent drive to Cornell, all you can think about is meeting your new teammates…your new family.
You arrive on campus, eager to dive in to the next four years of your life. The sun is shining and the weather is warm and breezy: the perfect day to start an exciting new chapter. Your first stop, of course, is to the hockey rink. It’s the place where you’ll spend the majority of your life over the next four years (other than the library). But who are we kidding.
You walk into the rink, anxiously anticipating meeting your new teammates. There’s a nervous wave pulsating through your stomach and chest as you approach the locker room door.
You walk in…
And amazingly, the guys welcome you as if you’re already a part of their family. You instantly feel at home. The nerves, gone. The excitement to be there… Sky-rockets in flight (Afternoon Delight!).
But then the team’s best player (and also leading scorer, captain, and All-American) pulls you aside. He has a bit of a serious look on his face, a little different from the warm embrace of everyone else.
Him: “Meet me at the football field at 8 a.m. tomorrow.”
Him: “Tomorrow morning. Me and you. 8 a.m. at the football field”
Me: “Umm, Ok.”
The next morning at 8:00 you learn a valuable lesson. You get your ASS KICKED. A one-hour workout, just you and him. It feels like it lasts for ten. Your legs wobble, your head spins, your body aches. Your lungs feel like they’re going to explode. Like, ten minutes in.
You have never worked so hard in your life. And he’s BARELY SWEATING.
You learn what it means to work. You thought you knew, but you had no idea.
This day will shape your view of what it really means to put in an effort. Thank you, Matt Moulson, for showing me what it takes. Thank you for being a leader and bringing a younger guy along. I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am if it wasn’t for that day.
And for any kids reading this, that attitude is why Mouls is still playing in the NHL today. And making a bazillion dollars doing so.
LESSON LEARNED (4): WORK HARDER
You are now a college junior. You have learned what it means to work, as the older guys have taught you well. Now it’s your turn to be the teacher. The new freshmen have arrived, and they are a great group of guys. You try your best to pass along to them the same values that have been passed to you.
You are the first to the rink and the last to leave. It’s something you have pride in, as it’s what you have had to do your whole life to survive being your size. You CANNOT and WILL NOT be outworked (and you have now learned how much work that can be).
Then a freshman comes along who pushes those boundaries. You start to notice that he is doing a little bit more than everybody else. And then you start to notice that he is doing a little bit more than you. At first this kind of pisses you off. This kid is trying to show you up! YOU are supposed to be the hardest working guy here.
You start to realize that you have to keep up. Your competitive juices start to flow and now you find yourself staying even later and giving it even more than before. You can’t let this kid outwork you.
And then you recognize that this freshman is making you better. You have gone from teacher, back to student. You learn another valuable lesson.
This year will shape your view, again, on what it means to work. Thank you, Colin Greening. You showed me that even when you are working hard (and I was working really hard), there is always someone else out there that is working harder. You learn that there is always more to give, even when you don’t think it is possible.
And for any kids reading this, that attitude is why Greener is still playing in the NHL today. And making a bazillion dollars doing so.
Lesson Learned (5): YOU ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS THE PEOPLE WHO SURROUND YOU
There’s actually no story here. There’s too many stories to share. Only a simple question:
WHO IS IN YOUR CORNER? Because you are only as good as the people you choose to surround yourself with.
For me, I have unbelievable people in my corner. Through Family, Friends, Teammates, Coaches, Teachers, Neighbors…you name it. I AM A LUCKY EFFIN GUY.
I have family that shows me unconditional love. I have teammates that I know would take a bullet for me. I have friends who have stood by me through some great and not-so-great times. I have had coaches who pushed me outside my comfort zone and made me better. I have had teachers that helped me get an incredible education. I even have a next door neighbor that I let marry my little sister!!
I once heard a story about a college football coach who went to recruit a big-time player at his high school. After speaking with his coaches in their office, this coach brought the athlete in. He asked him two questions:
“Who are your two best friends on the team?” and “Could you please go get them for me?”
Those were the last words that coach spoke to the player that day. But after talking with his two friends, he decided that the kid’s influences passed his test of approval. He continued to recruit the kid. He believed that much in the power of influence.
That was a ballsy move!! But I love it.
We can’t choose our families. Many times we can’t choose our teachers, our teammates, or our coaches. But we can choose our friends.
For any kid out there reading this with big dreams, SHOW ME YOUR FRIENDS AND I WILL SHOW YOU YOUR FUTURE.
These are the people that:
Love you for who you are
Comfort you when you fail
Celebrate you when you succeed
Push you outside your comfort zone
Help you make the right decisions
And just flat-out be there whenever you need them
***Not the amount of friends you have on Facebook, or how many followers you have on Instagram***
I have seen so many people make the right choices when it comes to friends, but I have seen a few who went down the wrong road. And most of them, later in life, have regrets. They chose to surround themselves with people who did not have their best interest at heart.
But the ones who do…they grow as people and have a lot of fun doing so. Because when you are constantly around those you love, and those who love you…that’s a formula for happiness.
Surround yourself with great people, and you will have the opportunity to do great things. If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that you are one of the people who helped me get here. All I can say is a profound and heartfelt THANK YOU!!!
These lessons learned have led to a lot of good things in my life. I whole-heartedly believe that if you:
Care about Others
Embrace the Tough
Work even Harder
Surround Yourself with Great People…
You put yourself in a position to accomplish some amazing things, while also enjoying the hell out of the ride. There will undoubtedly be many good days and bad, and many circumstances that will be completely out of your control. And everybody’s circumstances and situations are different.
But all I can say is that having learned these lessons, I have been able to write a pretty memorable story. At least I think so J.
Get busy writing yours!