I was born in New York City and raised in a suburb not known for creating Division I basketball players, let alone North Carolina Tarheels legends or superhero athletes. The odds were stacked against me both in terms of my background and my natural athletic talent. Furthermore, I was harsh on myself because I simply did not have the work ethic that I knew I needed. I knew what I should do, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. This was a problem: if there was someone who could get away with less than a hundred percent effort, it wasn’t me.
Although there were a few things that I had going for me — stubborn competitiveness, loving family and friends, and street smarts — they didn’t make up for being living proof that “white men can’t jump.” Even though I was developing my fundamentals, drilling in a great jump shot, hitting the weight room, and maximizing my athleticism, reaching my goal was still rather unlikely. Nevertheless, I worked tenaciously toward a spot as a starter on the high school varsity basketball team. I was proud to be playing in one of the elite high school leagues in the country. I was fully committed to my dream. Then one experience sparked a shift in my perspective that would change my life forever.
Think of your #1 goal. Now define your nightmare, the absolute worst thing that you can imagine happening to you impeding that goal. For me, it came true. It happened during the first game of my senior year of high school, when, after an aggressive play, I ended up with what the doctor called a season-ending injury. I had broken the scaphoid bone in my wrist. Unlike most fractures, scaphoid fractures heal very slowly. Many people with this injury require surgery and often need to wear a splint for up to six months. A season-ending injury during your senior season. The athlete’s ultimate nightmare.
Shortly after the doctor said I was “done for the season,” a switch in my brain seemed to flip. It’s true that I was devastated that I would not play for UNC. But I realized that the fact of my injury was something I could not change; the only thing I could change was my attitude. From that point forward, my dream of playing top-tier college basketball evolved to include the goal of “maximizing my chances.” I didn’t stop aiming high, but I became convinced that this aim included fashioning the right kind of attitude, that the end result could not be separated from the process of getting there. Without recognizing it, I had embarked on the development of my Effort methodology which has become the framework for my career. But this new definition of success depended on my experience of profound failure.
Getting cut from college teams, and not getting signed at pro combines, were huge disappointments. I had never even dressed for a college basketball game, but I had worked as best I could. And I was devastated. But my cultivation of an effortful attitude helped me not to give up, keeping me open to possibilities and opportunities. This came in the form of a man named Damian Stephens, who told me that my training was the problem. He was a no-nonsense guy, and I was open enough to listen to him and trust his tutelage.
Three years under his coaching completely reconstructed my ability to perform at a high level. And, as I persevered in the face of adversity, all of the energy came flowing out of me like the great athlete that I always wanted to be.
After graduation, I started attending professional basketball combines. In the first year of pro tryouts, I didn’t get signed. In the second year of pro tryouts, I didn’t get signed. All of this simply fueled me more. I truly believe there’s no other person on this planet who got cut from two college teams, two pro tryouts and didn’t quit. Yes, I wanted to give up, but I refused to stop trying. My resiliency and my work ethic that had developed from training for these ambitious goals molded me into the person I am today. Failure was indeed a blessing.
On the third try, I hit nine three-pointers and I signed a professional basketball contract. I played for both the Virginia Wolverines and North Jersey Pros, two pro teams in the Eastern Basketball Alliance (EBA), and American Basketball Association (ABA). I will always be proud of playing the game at a professional level.
Did I achieve my childhood dream of playing for UNC? No. Was this a failure? Yes and no. I did not (and do not) delude myself that I actually played for the team of my first choice. But acknowledging this, and using it, precipitated tremendous successes. I never stopped aiming high—that is why I ended up playing professional basketball—but I did so accepting that the journey would be a gradual one dependent on a certain mental attitude. As a result, I am at peace today and feel fulfilled with my journey as an athlete. The injury and the other disappointments were what inspired me to take up running and start a successful coaching and training business, one that has lasted thirteen years. These “failures” helped me grow a tenacity for life and the right attitude to go with it. Through the ups and downs, I have become the coach, speaker, and author I am today. I successfully developed Effort, and rely on it for every goal and use it to rebound from every setback.
Since 2006, I have committed my career to increase people’s performance levels and assisting them in conquering their #1 goal. The clients with whom I have served achieved a lot. But I have not only helped them with results; I have also encouraged them to see that the results are tied to the process. Only by developing a sense of Effort (the name of my book) can we feel confident of achieving more great results in the future.