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My Life-Defining Moment Happened When I Failed to Make Varsity in High School


Just because a few doors are closed, doesn't mean one won't open later. (image source: http://cdn.h3sean.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Closed-doors1-300x197.jpg)
Ever stop to think about who you are? What makes you tick and tock? How about what you truly enjoy and what you’re good at vs. not good at? Or what/ who has shaped you into the person you are today?

I’m at this stage of figuring out whether to continue independent consulting while iterating on ideas for the next startup or take on some full-time employment (consulting, product management, or otherwise). My recent post about my daily/ weekly schedule was an interesting exercise in stepping back and recognizing what I’m actually doing in a day, and made me really think at the macro level.

In one of my recent reflections, I thought about defining moments in my life. One of those watershed events that truly transformed me was my failure to make the Varsity soccer team in high school. I won’t rehash the whole story here – shared the story almost a year ago in my post titled “Getting Through Dark Moments and the Most Vulnerable Story I've Ever Told Publicly”. It’s this moment that I would say was a major Defining Moment in my life.
Dictionary.com's definition of "Defining Moment"
I remember that day in high school so vividly… it sucked, for a lack of a better word. I was crushed. Soccer was my life. Sure, I apparently wasn’t so great at it, but I loved it. I played every day. I had aspirations to be a pro one day. It’s true what they say, “you learn more from failure than success”.
As I think back to that moment and my life since, I can distinctly see how it’s shaped me.

Consistency – it’s what separates the good from the great.

Actually, the Varsity coach told me this was a major reason for my exclusion. I played well, but I wasn’t consistently playing well with errant passes or poor positioning. When you watch the great players, they were consistent in their play. They were dependable center backs who you could rely on to make that last-ditch stop, if needed. I just wasn’t dependable.

In entrepreneurship for me, this plays out in my interactions with others, being on my toes ready to pitch at any moment, maintaining a cadence with customers, etc. I strive to maintain consistency in putting together high quality products and presenting myself to the highest level.

Details – it’s also what separates the good from the great.

One of the other aspects of the great players who made the Varsity team from the others was the subtle details in their play. I remember one of the center-mids on the team had such amazing field perception that he knew where everyone was on the field. He had some Spidey Sense of when an opposing player was coming up on his back. The best players weren’t just passing, but were passing with enough oomph and in a direction that would allow the receiver to move WITH the ball and away from an oncoming defender. This is kind of like the best quarterbacks in the NFL who lead their receivers with a throw, away from the onrushing corner.

From a professional standpoint, paying attention to details means checking for spelling mistakes. It’s ensuring logistics are nailed down for any meeting or get-together. At Body Boss, for example, details included doing reconnaissance work of a school and the strength program I was visiting. It meant ensuring all the marketing collateral was ready before a coach’s clinic.

Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive.

(Thinking back to my high school days reminded me of this constant chant at football games. That’s funny, right? No? Okay…)

I remember my earlier years on the JV team when I played incredibly conservatively. I was naïve and hadn’t played at a high level like some of the others. I distinctly remember one player who had played in the highest echelons of youth soccer (beyond Classic 1 – some summit I didn’t know anything about). I had the ball running in one direction, and the player was defending me. Except, he just brushed me aside, and ran off with the ball. I just witnessed the football “swim move” but on a soccer pitch. I thought it was a foul, but it was perfectly legal. I was just weak.

Today, that mindset of being aggressive and strong pervades me. If I’m not, others who “want it more” will grab opportunities leaving me in dust. If you want the ball, if you want the sale, you need to “swim move” your @$$ in there. Don’t play conservative…

If you’re not confident, you’re not going anywhere.

Kinda like the above point, but aside from being aggressive, having a mindset of confidence goes a long, LOONNNGGG way. Be confident in your abilities. Be confident in who you are. Be confident in others.

I remember I always looked up to those guys who played in much, much higher levels than me. They carried themselves like they owned the pitch, and compared to me… they did. I looked up to them like I was a small fish, and when I thought like that, everyone else did, too.

It’s hard to get others to believe in you if you don’t.

Bad outcomes don’t mean bad outcomes forever… and short-term memory is great.

I wanted to parse these two into different bullets, but they go together so darn well. Plus, it's the most important point here.

At the end of the day (or in my case, my high school years), I didn’t make Varsity my Junior or Senior years. Boom. Didn’t make it. Enter college, though, I eventually made it to the Georgia Tech Club Team’s A team. I even captained a team one year. Since then, I’ve played on teams that have won leagues and divisions from Atlanta Division Amateur Soccer League (ADASL) to Silverbacks and various tournaments. I’ve played with some amazing players from all over the country, and my best friends are from these years.

I loved soccer so much that even as I failed to make Varsity, I kept at it, and eventually, I was in with the soccer crowds I wanted to be a part of when I was younger. I failed to make the teams prior, but then some really great things came about later because I learned from those earlier playing days, and I kept at it.

The take-aways…

It’s funny taking a step or two back to look at the grander picture. For me, I looked back at a terrible moment of my life, and found a lot of positives that came from it. I lost a couple battles in high school, but so far, I feel I’ve been winning the war.

Thinking about it perhaps more philosophically, the ­failure of not making Varsity doesn’t define me. It was the lessons from failure that defines me, or maybe just helps define me.  

Take 10 minutes out of your day for yourself and think about this – what was a defining moment in your life? Why? How has it impacted you today? 

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