Priorities Change

Priorities are interesting. Two years ago I set out to blog once a month. Here I am, over a year since my last post, writing for the first time in 2018. #FAIL

A-Matter-Of-Priorities

Think about it for a second. Is there something you recently wanted to accomplish and you put it at the top of your list to get done? If so, you probably crushed it. If it wasn’t at the top of the list, it’s sitting on a shelf somewhere; figuratively or literally. That’s how it goes. If it’s important to you, it gets done. But there’s only so much time in a day and typically a Netflix binge seems way more important than going to bed early.

I’ve been blessed with two additional children since my very first blog, so there’s that. You see what I did there? I gave a not-so-subtle reason for why I haven’t blogged as much as I planned. Some might call children a legitimate reason for re-prioritizing. Some might call using them as a reason, an excuse. I can boil it down to prioritization. I just flat out haven’t prioritized writing highly enough to get it done. In other words, writing is not that important to me at this point in my life. I have to be honest with myself when things change. The next time someone tells you they don’t have time, go ahead and substitute their statement with, “It’s not that important to me.”

Take a look at what people do with their time and you’ll clearly see what is important to them. Some people watch sports, work, read, travel, work out, or eat. Some people even eat for sport. However you slice it, what people find important, they focus on. Sometimes that’s a benefit and sometimes, a detriment.

Unfortunately, my health has been more on the detriment side of late. Since my athletic career ended in 2002 and I cut about 50+ lbs from my all-time high playing weight, I’ve found a way to let my weight creep up and my exercise regiment slow down. These days, I consider taking 10K steps a day solid exercise. College Jake would choke if I told him walking was how I stay healthy. He would also consider my weight-room routine laughable. Personally, I needed to revisit my priorities.

My wife and I decided it’s time to prioritize our health. We’ve got three great kids (there won’t be a fourth), so we made a joint decision. It’s time to kick the everyday ice cream habit and really figure out our food and exercise plans.

Fortunately, neither of us are in a dire situation or any health danger. We want to make sure it stays that way before one comes up and smacks us in the face. I’ll be 40 years old next year and I have a lot of life in front of me. Not only do I want to stay healthy for my own sake, but I’m a bit on the older than many dads with super-young kids. I want to be able to run around with them for many years to come.

I’m not a person that jumps at shiny objects or latches onto the latest fads. I realize focusing on health sounds cliche, but priorities do change and we’re about to put health at the top of our list. We’re going to crush it. I’m sure we won’t be perfect with our health focus, and from time to time, we’ll need to pull ourselves back on track, but I’m excited as hell to prioritize our health again.

Amazing goals can be accomplished when they get prioritized. I’m knocking on a 40-year-old-door. I’m not looking to walk through it next year. I’m going to kick it down (queue obligatory Rocky theme song).

More to come on this topic. Stay tuned………

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Addiction Can Get Anyone

Recently Tiger Woods, for the first time, made me feel bad for him. Never have I had a hint of sorrow for him in the past. As his life was crumbling around him and his wife and golf game left him, I felt like he deserved it for not living up to the squeaky clean image he always portrayed. Then, when I heard he had been arrested for DUI, my first reaction was….good. He’s a bum.

A couple days later, as the smoke cleared, I found out he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol, but what appeared to be painkillers. I don’t condone the fact that he was out driving around high on anything, but hearing he was on painkillers gave me pause. As a person that deals with back pain every day because of the athlete I used to be, I can understand how someone can get hooked.  

In May, I went to my annual college football alumni golf outing. At the outing, we did what we normally do. We talked about how good we used to be, had a couple too many drinks and played some terrible golf. But this year I heard something I didn’t expect. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because my closest friends are around 40 now, but several of my buddies have been dealing with addiction in one way or another for a long time. Much of it stems from the early start they got by trying to make it through season after season of pounding on their bodies.

I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I believe the mindset of an athlete that plays at a high level is: “just get me on the field, I’ll worry about the pain later.” This attitude can cause people to take dangerous steps leading to dire consequences in the future, but I don’t think it’s unique to the people I know. I also know the macho mindset of most athletes is they can take on the world themselves and they don’t need help. This is also a slippery slope when it comes to chemical addiction.  

Dave Gove
Dave Gove (Former WMU Hockey Standout)

Of the stories I heard at the outing, one was the most shocking of all. I learned a fellow athlete from Western, from the era when I was playing ball, died of a heroin overdose earlier this year. His name was Dave Gove and he was an outstanding hockey player. Dave was a buddy of mine. We weren’t close, but we ran with the same crowds and frequented the same establishments while we were in college. We hadn’t stayed in touch after graduation as he continued his hockey career, but what I did know of him was that he was a great guy. From what I witnessed, he was a straight arrow and always had a smile on his face. When I heard the news of his death, I couldn’t believe it. Dave was not the guy you would ever expect something like an overdose to happen to.

It’s hard for me to imagine a guy that made it to the top of his profession could struggle with addiction to the extent he would die. It’s hard for me to imagine a person my age overdosed on heroin. And it’s even harder for me to imagine how challenging living with an addiction must be.

I’ve had family members succumb to addiction and their stories seemed to make sense to me, as odd as it sounds. But when I see athletes and former athletes struggle with demons, my assumption isn’t likely dissimilar to theirs. I believe they can beat it. They’re used to winning and beating the odds. They’ve been doing it their entire lives. Unfortunately, they don’t always pull through.

I’ve thought about Dave a lot since the outing. His story is all too common. If there is anything good that can come of it, I hope someone sees it and is inspired to get help when they need it. Dave had a lot of people who cared about him. And I’m guessing that’s the case with most addiction stories.

The idea of my blog is to relate to people that played sports but also to provide young folks a resource for what life can be like after sports end. Hopefully, anyone reading this heavy message can take a moment to understand how serious addiction and drug use can be. We don’t need to ever lose another one like Dave. Rest in peace Bronco Brother. 

I Love My Minivan!

I Love My Minivan!

I love my minivan! That’s right. It’s a phrase I never thought I’d utter while playing football, wearing my over-sized hoop earrings, getting tattooed and partying in college. Some might even say loving a minivan is like waving the white flag. I have to disagree. This ride is amazing. I could write about it for days…I digress. Yes, this post is about my healthy love for a grocery getter on the surface, but it’s more about a stage of life.

When I look back at my teens and early twenty’s, there’s not much else I wanted

harley
My first baby, stolen circa 2011

more than to be a “cool” guy. I was playing ball, then it was onto riding my Harley and working for a tobacco company, both of which were a little edgy. But as time has gone on, the want and need to be cool has waned a bit. Sure, everyone wants to be cool in their own way. It may be to impress friends on Facebook or Snapchat, attract that guy or girl you’ve been trying to date, or even fit in with a group of new people. It may even be just to appease the inner narcissist we have down deep in all of us.

I can honestly say (this is important, so pay attention), the only people I want to think I’m cool at this stage in my life live in my home with me. Interestingly, two of them are under three years of age and think I’m the coolest person on the planet. The other one is in her mid-thirties and I’ll be trying to get her to think I’m cool until I die. Crack on my mini all you want. Unless you can get my kids to do the same, it won’t have much impact.

jamesWhen I walk in the door each evening from work, it doesn’t matter how my day went or what I have to do after they go to bed, James and Stella smile as hard as they can and can’t get enough of their papa. My wife tends to roll her eyes every time I attempt to be cool, but she’s used to me at this point.

Stages in life are a tricky thing. They sneak up on us and then are gone in a flash. I often hear college students say, “I can’t wait to get out of school and start making money.” I also hear some young parents say things like, “Once we get through these early years, we’ll be in the clear.” Those comments make me cringe because every stage in life is going to come and go before we know it. I don’t know one person my parent’s age that hasn’t told me to “cherish these times, because you can’t get them back.” I know I can’t stop the clock and I’m all for change, but there are times I wish I could slow things down.

rsz_1rsz_kidsI’m not naive. I realize a time will come that my kids won’t think I’m the coolest person on Earth and the minivan may not be my ride of choice. When that point comes I’ll be at a different stage in my life. Who knows? The inner narcissist may take over and I might even jump on that Harley again. I guess that’s how the mid-life crisis came to be. For the time being, I’m going to focus on being as cool as I can for my kids as long as they think I am. And if you’re not sold on the minivan, come visit me in the burbs….another phrase I never thought I’d say. 🙂

 

Facebook, Football, and the Cotton Bowl

Facebook, Football, and the Cotton Bowl

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love it because it’s an unbelievably effective way to stay in touch with friends and see what’s going on with their life. I hate it because much of the time it’s used to show how perfectly wonderful life is when we all know life is not always “Facebook Fun.” It can also keep us from reaching out to our true friends because we have a false sense of knowing what’s going on in their lives due to their recent posts. I can go on for days about the pros and cons, but I’ll hop off the soap box for now.

cotton-bowl-buses
Western Michigan buses heading to the 81st Cotton Bowl

This post is about how powerful Facebook can be for important events in our lives. On January 2nd, 2017, my alma mater Western Michigan University, played in quite possibly the most important football game in our history. We played against Wisconsin in the 81st annual Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a Super Bowl in the past, but I have to say this game, being a former player for the Broncos, topped the Super Bowl for me.

The Broncos had a magical season. They entered the game a perfect 13-0 and unbeaten in their last 15 games spanning two seasons. It was the typical David vs. Goliath story. The MAC vs. the BIG10. While we lost the game, we showed we deserved to be there and, with the exception of a few major mistakes, just ran out of time. Enough about the loss. I might be sick if I write any more about it. I’m so very proud of the team for many reasons this year. They represented the school and their families extremely well.

This is about Facebook and how it played a role in the event. My entire news feed over the weekend was about the Cotton Bowl. People I haven’t seen in years were so excited to be joining the experience. Sharing their journey with other Broncos really gave the sense that the game and trip were as big as we all felt it was.

Broncos from all over the globe were celebrating in Dallas. Families made the trip. Groups of friends made the trip. Many former players made the trip. Even those that couldn’t make the trip were posting photos from their homes about the game experience they were having with their friends and families.  It was awesome and shows how people can not only rally around a sport but also stay connected through technology in a positive way.

Finally, Facebook sticks out to me above all else over the past weekend because of our Bronco Football group. There are hundreds of former players in the group and many of them were in Dallas for the game. While we all gravitate towards the guys we played with directly, all of us have a bond that transcends generations of players. And we are rarely, if ever, at a single location in the quantity we were on January 2nd, in Dallas.

tight-group-shot
Former Bronco Football Players at the Cotton Bowl

We used the FB group to post a quick meetup at half time of Jerry’s World to take some photos and catch up for a bit. I was hoping at least a handful of guys would make it for a few minutes. To my surprise, dozens, maybe hundreds showed up. Players from many decades were there to take photos, talk about how great we used to be, and how amazing the Cotton Bowl experience was for not only the current players but for the old guys like us that shared our Bronco playing days together. After halftime, photos and comments exploded even further and the party continued on after the game.

I was talking with one of the guys about how FB helped make the gathering happen in such an easy way. Getting together like that would have been nearly impossible back in our playing days before cell phones and FB were so prevalent in our daily lives. While sometimes I get frustrated about how connected we need to be all the time, there is no question technology has a major positive impact and this was another example.

Kudos to Mr. Zuckerburg for this one. I’m sure his original intention of FB was not to help a bunch of washed up football players get together to laugh and tell lies. But for that moment in time, I’m glad he decided to change the world from his dorm in Harvard a few years back.

wide-group-shot
Bronco Football Alumni at the Cotton Bowl

Row the Boat!

A New Chapter Begins

A New Chapter Begins

Much has changed since my last post a couple months ago. The biggest news is my wife and I had our second child, Stella Violet. She’s just over two months now and it’s still hard to believe I have two children. While she’s been a bit more challenging as an infant than our first, I’m so excited to have her with us. She’s a sweet little girl and her big brother can use a partner in crime.

Interestingly enough, I’m not a young dad. At the end of November, I’ll officially be in my late 30s and fortunately for me, my wife is a powerhouse with our newest addition. I’m sure I’d be dead in the water if she weren’t. This brings me to my next major announcement. I put the toughest professional decision of my life into play last month and took on a new role at Google. There’s nothing like two major life changes in the span of a couple months, huh?

google_chicago
Google Chicago

The decision to work at Google wasn’t tough. It was actually pretty easy. Google is one of the most innovative and admired companies in the world and I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity ahead. The tough part, which was actually beyond tough, was the decision to leave my “first born,” Stitch Labs. I could write for hours about my time at Stitch Labs and what an amazing challenge and opportunity it was to start a business with two outstanding co-founders, but I’ll save those stories for future posts.

People ask me regularly, how could you leave your own company? It boiled down to life changes. My life is in a very different place than it was nearly six years ago when we started the business. I’m no longer living in San Francisco, I’ve got two little kiddos to consider and I’ve been living the startup life for a long time. I know it’s hard for people to comprehend, but if there were one person that understands more than anyone in the world, it was my cofounder, Brandon.

Startups take every ounce of your being. I’m not saying I won’t give my all to Google, because I give my all in every position I’ve ever had. But it’s different when it’s your name on the door. I love my new job, but win or lose in my new role and I’m guessing Google will probably be ok. It wasn’t that way for years at Stitch Labs and it’s going to continue to be a major battle for years to come.

When Brandon and I sat down to discuss my departure, it was the most difficult professional conversation of my life. But he, as he does, handled it in a way that made me again realize why I went into business with him in the first place. He’s the ultimate partner and I know he’s going to continue to make Stitch Labs amazing.

The good news is Stitch Labs looks very different today than it did when we began with just three people. The much larger team is outstanding. We brought on more and more A-players and the direction the company is the right one. There’s never a good time to leave an organization, especially one you help build, but if there were, now was the time.

Going forward, I plan to still play a role in the success of the company. I love to be an evangelist, be a resource to any of the employees needing an ear, and stand on the sidelines as their biggest cheerleader. As this new chapter of my life begins as a father of two and new Googler, or Noogler as I’m called, I look back on my past chapter fondly and to my future one with great anticipation.

The reason I started this blog was to share what life is like after time on the athletic field ends. If there is one thing I can share with any young person reading this is that there is no blueprint to life. I always thought there was when I was a young man, but I quickly realized there wasn’t, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I never could have guessed I’d live in South Dakota one day or help start a company in Silicon Valley and go on to work at Google in Chicago. None of those are what a kid from the Region thinks about when they’re little. Make opportunities for yourself and be smart enough to take the information in front of you and make the best decisions possible as they present themselves. Life tends to be more exciting that way.

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to everyone at Stitch Labs for being the great people you are. Best of luck as you continue to do what you do. I’ll be the guy on the sidelines cheering my heart out.

Athletes Will Break Your Heart.

Be smart. That’s a line athletes hear from coaches over and over again. Coaches don’t say it because they think athletes are dumb. They say it because they’re older, and in many cases, wiser. Don’t get me wrong. Some coaches are idiots. But many of them understand the temptation for an athlete to do something stupid and want to do everything they can to make sure players stay out of trouble and eligible. Whatever their motivation, amateur coaches depend on players staying in the game.  

Once an athlete crosses into professional status, they’re on their own. Many pro athletes have too much money and time on their hands, but they’re also adults. Sure, some of them weren’t raised correctly and have no understanding of consequences, but we as a society don’t tend to feel as badly for them when they make a mistake. Maybe I’m speaking for myself, but when a pro messes up, I actually hope they get burned. ARodFor example, I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t lose any sleep if A-Rod woke up tomorrow without a dime to his name. He’s a disgrace.

I almost wrote this blog last year just after J.T. Barrett was arrested for drunk driving. I remember waking up, hearing the news and thinking to myself, how could he do that to his teammates? He’s one of the best players in the country and everyone is watching him. What was he thinking? The Buckeyes didn’t have a game the week it happened yet all the analysts on Gameday could talk about was J.T.’s arrest. It was awful to watch and fortunately no one was hurt in the process, but it was another mark on athletes in general and an Ohio State program that has a coach with a history of players getting into trouble.

I do have to take a step back and remember everyone makes mistakes. This is not a holier than thou post. I wasn’t an angel in college and many of my teammates weren’t either. We had our share of run-ins with authority and many of the instances could have been much worse than they were. Luckily, nothing “major” ever happened.

Unfortunately, when something major does happen it’s too late to take it back. After an amazing story a couple weeks ago about my Broncos and a surprise from Sly Stallone, another story broke on Saturday about two young men on the WMU football team under arrest for armed robbery. Let me write that again….ARMED ROBBERY! This was the story of two 18-year-old young men breaking into a home and robbing an innocent victim at gunpoint. This wasn’t story about a fight getting out of hand or a story about a player drinking too much. This was a story about multiple felony counts wrapped into one.  

When I heard the news, I almost couldn’t believe it. Again, I was thinking to myself, what went wrong here? How could these two young men have made a decision like this to go into a person’s home with a gun and rob her? Why do they have a gun in the first place? I don’t know their background. I have no idea what their socioeconomic status is. We could debate the details for days. What I do know is they were given the opportunity to go to school on a full scholarship, earn a college degree and play a game they loved. They took an amazing opportunity and flushed it in just a few moments on Friday night. Sure, the courts say innocent until proven guilty, but all signs point to guilty in this particular instance. I don’t believe I’m jumping to conclusions here.   

Every freshman enters their first camp and has the opportunity to start fresh. I can say this specifically about WMU because I went there and know the people in charge of both athletics and academics. Sure, not every student-athlete is a great student, but every student-athlete on scholarship is offered the same resources as the next. This was their shot to make a way for themselves and they decided to go out after camp broke and rob someone at gunpoint. These two young men went from preparing for the biggest football season of their lives to facing LIFE in prison. A bigger turn of events I couldn’t imagine.

I don’t feel particularly bad for them because they made a choice. They know right from wrong. They messed up and deserve to face the consequences of their actions. I’m heartbroken. I’m sad they threw away an opportunity many others would do anything for. I’m sad they let their teammates, fans and families down. I’m sad two very talented young men didn’t listen to their coaches and do the right thing. I’m sad a young woman had to be put through the terrible ordeal of having her life threatened in her own home. I’m just sad. I hope all involved can learn from this terrible incident and move forward in a positive way.

While at Western, our Coach, Gary Darnell, had many sayings. Some of them stuck and some didn’t. But one that stuck very well was, “Short-term decisions lead to long-term consequences.” If there were ever a situation where the saying was more spot on, I haven’t seen it yet. Those two young men made a very short term decision and the consequences are going to be dire.  

I’ll be at the opener this weekend when the Broncos take on Northwestern and I’ll be cheering for the team as I always do. I’ll have my two-year-old with me at a game for the first time. As he grows up, I’ll be sure to tell him what so many coaches and my father always told me, be smart.

 

    

Time Flies

It’s already August of 2016. We’re one month away from what I consider the greatest time of year, football season. I look forward to opening weekend of college football like a six year old looks forward to Christmas morning. What I’m struggling with this year, more than years past, is I can hardly believe how long it’s been since I was preparing for the season as a player.

Don’t get me wrong, preparing for a season, specifically two-a-days is something I don’t miss for a second. Practice and summer heat were terrible, but a necessary evil. It’s the excitement of the games and hanging out with teammates I miss. I see former teammates a couple times each year at games and I keep up with what they’re doing on Facebook, but it’s a far cry from spending about 40 hours a week with someone for five years. I see their successes and hear about some failures and can’t help but think back to a time when beating the Chumps from Central was all that mattered.

Just last week, a former teammate of mine (Greg Jennings) retired from the NFL after an

WMU_Greg

amazing 10-year pro-bowl career. 10 years went by in a flash and it’s hard to overstate what an accomplishment it was, especially since the average NFL career is only 3.3 years. Greg was a special talent. He joined the team when I was in my fourth season, but once they lifted his redshirt and he was competing against live bullets in his second year, we all knew he was a superstar. Congratulations to Greg on an outstanding career. He is an example of what a pro should be both on and off the field.

This season, when the Broncos take the field, I’ll be watching young men that were toddlers when I was playing. Now, I have a toddler of my own and another baby on the way, it’s hard to remember what life was like when football and getting to class was all I had to worry about. Today, when I watch athletes from all sports, I can visibly see they’re younger than I am. It’s an odd experience for someone that grew up idolizing college and pro athletes and thinking about how much older they all looked. If someone is a pro athlete and older than I am now, they’re considered ancient! Most athletes don’t even make it into their 30s while playing.

Life has a funny way of happening without us noticing. This year I’m entering my late 30’s. I can almost remember my parents at this age yet I don’t feel like I’m getting older, other than some back pain. Days come and they go. We get into routines and don’t always take time to step back and reflect on what’s going on around us or enjoy the here and now (I’m projecting, but I have a feeling it’s more than just me this is happening to). Because of this, I’m going to do my best during the most wonderful time of the year to stop and take a look around, enjoy the birth of my second baby, and watch a little football with a child’s enthusiasm. I’m also going to remember every stage of life is great, I just need to live in the moment a bit more and try to make the game of life slow down, just like I did with football when I was on the field.