The Iceberg is There, You Just Can’t See It

May, 2002: I was an eager 22 year old and had just applied for seventy-two graduate assistant positions from Maine to California. My relentless search for a full time work experience accompanied by a nominal stipend and free graduate school came with much more heartbreak than jubilation. The University of Miami told me that my lack of cultural diversity exposure would make me a “far from ideal” athletic trainer on their staff. UMASS chose another candidate from UCLA because he had “big game” experience. After 90 days and 58 “Thank you, but no thank you” letters in the mail, I received 14 congratulatory phone calls to my house. One of them, Boston College, hired me on Aug 14 for $18,000 per year and free tuition.What a steal.

I packed Whitney, my white 1998 Ford Contour, full of clothes and drove 188 miles south to Chestnut Hill. I left my comfort level behind in the rolling hills of Vermont and set my eyes on the horizon of a bustling city. Accompanied by a hand sewn prayer that hung over my childhood bed, I set sail into the big, dark sea.

“Dear God, be good to me; The sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.”

Navigating my small boat through the big sea of the city wasn’t easy. Three months in, I was still living out of my car. Boston was expensive for a young man like me. Coming up with $3000 for three months of rental deposit was no easy feat, especially with a salary of $614.23 every two weeks. After student loans, food, cell phone, and gas, even a beer was a treat. Lucky for me, my work and school was taking up twenty hours of my day. It’s tough to spend money when you’re working and studying for so many hours. With a normal routine of moving my car from parking lot to parking lot to avoid being towed, I also learned the routine of the janitors in the Chestnut Hill’s iconic Conte Forum. I knew what hallways got waxed, what rooms got vacuumed, and most importantly, what time it all took place. Monday’s I slept in an equipment closet under the bleachers, Tuesdays I had to wait until 11pm but eventually could rest my head in the training room. Wednesdays were always in my car. Thursdays I slept in the doctor’s office. There’s a security alarm in there because that’s where we kept the drugs, but for that one night every week – it was never turned on. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, God willing, either put me in a hotel with the team or in a parking deck with a hoodie.

“There is no success without hardship”. ~Sophocles

Fast forward eight years, November 2010.  I had worked two college bowl games, won a super bowl, earned a Master’s degree, caught 1000 balls from Tom Brady, and walked away with a $20,000 ring to boot. Having moved on to the LA Kings organization, I lived my life like an NHL player, but went to sleep as a staff athletic trainer. At the time I believed I was the best in the NHL at what I did, you just had to ask me. I had traveled to over 200 cities spanning seven countries and five time zones, logged nearly 400 chartered flights, and watched nearly as many NHL games – not from the stands, but from the bench. I lived on the ocean, partied on the beach, and sipped mai tai’s to the pacific sunset every evening. I partied with Brittany Spears in Vancouver, Sandra Bullock in LA, Nicole Scherzinger in Santa Monica, and Paris Hilton in Hollywood. It seemed like smooth sailing from here on out. And that’s when I plowed my small boat, bow first, into an iceberg. Fired from the Los Angeles Kings organization by the GM, Dean Lombardi, for “a lack of acceptance in my current role,” I was jobless, without income, pride, or legitimate excuses.

November 2012: After I hit my first iceberg, I was tossed into the freezing ocean. It was sink or swim. I dug deep, swam ashore, and booked a trip on the first ship out in the morning. I had just finished my 62-page business plan for Stadium Performance. I needed to raise nearly one million dollars and I had spent the majority of my savings on digging myself out of the debt accumulated in my early twenties. I was engaged to the most beautiful woman I had ever met and together we would make each other stronger, more determined, and ultimately successful without resistance. Nothing could stop us.

Growing up we were led to believe that strong values enhanced by a quality education were everything we needed to succeed. If we stay the course, remain patient, and learn from previous mistakes, life should fundamentally evolve into prosperity, love, and family. What our teachers failed to mention is the complete disregard that life has for our professional circumstances, financial status, or platonic relationships. When I graduated college I was unprepared for the possibility of failure. We placed such great energy into dismissing the possibility of failure that we essentially decondition our mindset to cope in the instance that failure occurs. My professors failed to mention that family members will more than likely be effected by cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. They also forgot to prepare me for the moment a close friend lost a child, parent, or loved one to illness, accidents, or otherwise. I wasn’t led to believe there’s a chance I’m actually living with a chromosome disorder that will prevent me from fathering a child. I spent a semester learning about medical ethics but not a day learning about relationship ethics. My business classes put so much emphasis on the tactics to make money that I was completely under-prepared to deal with losing money. Grad school also never taught me how to hire employees who would compliment my mission  rather than agree with me all the time. The Patriots organization taught me how to treat every aspect of my life like a business, but they failed to teach me how to enjoy my job as if I was a owner of the business. The Kings organization taught the value of great patience. They also completely destroyed the concept of loyalty. In general, what I learned in school and what I learned in life are two very different things.

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ~ Gilda Radner

For all students, the importance of maintaining quality character is imperative. Life will have an excess of ups, downs, twists, and turns. You won’t always have answers, but sometimes accepting the unknown is more valuable than assuming you are correct only to find out you are wrong. Don’t let the past follow you too closely. Those days are gone but the days in front of you are magically dense with possibilities. Don’t be too quick to anger when life doesn’t go your way – have patience and have faith in the notion that what is, will be. Be rigid in how you demand to be treated by others. Not everyone will like you – that’s life. The uncertainty of how the world will perceive you is terrifying. There’s no antidote for uncertainty. A mentor once told me that maturity is defined by your ability to accept not knowing. Through growth, fight, and flight, the discovery of self confidence will unfold. If you’re insecure now, it won’t always be the case. Insecurities manifest into confidence if you handle them appropriately. Acknowledge what makes you feel negative about yourself and don’t be afraid to address the individuals who inflict those feeling on you. Own your feelings as you sail through life. Guilt and insecurity are eerily similar – both are products of fear, fear of judgement. Control what you can control and the rest will sort it’s self out. Find time in your day to love something – a smell, a song, a moment, or a person. Deflect negativity whether it’s your own or something you bare witness to. You will only be as positive as the environment you allow to exist. Write your own music, play your own drum, and sing to anyone who will listen. Remember, no matter the size of your ship, the condition of the waters, or the company who sail along side you, there will always be icebergs. They’re out there, you just can’t see them.