Ever since I was a young boy I've been the scrapper, the tough kid, the underdog. I was tenacious as a pit bull and everyone knew it.
When I started playing hockey at 10 years old, I was the smallest kid out there. And that never really changed.
By the time I turned 17 I had only grown to 5'9 and maybe 155lbs; very small for a hockey player in the 1990s. Still, I was tough as nails and the size of my heart was no match for my small stature.
Along with that big heart came a quiet confidence (the arrogance came much later in life 🤪) that made me a natural leader. When we went to Chicago for the U18 national tournament in 1998, I wore an A on my chest with pride (A = Alternate captain for the non-hockey fans). My teammates looked up to me and I always tried to lead by example. I never gave up, no matter what. I still don't.
Over the years I've played with broken ribs, a broken jaw, a broken hand, even a fractured Tibia once which I thought at the time was an ankle sprain, so I threw on a compression brace and laced back up. I've had butterfly bandages applied to get me through a game, then I'd drive myself to the ER afterward to get stitched up.
I'm saying all this not to brag, but to set the stage.
The fact is that I had the attitude and the grit to make me a pain in the ass and, despite my smaller size, I was never afraid to go hard into the boards or even to throw fists. I let the opposition know I was there with a cross-check or slashing the ankles and, when they turned around and laid me out, I'd get right back up and do it again. I was the very definition of scrappy underdog.
This soon became a part of my identity: The hockey player, the tough guy, small and quick, tenacious, pain in the ass, trash-talking, bruised and bloodied who wouldn't give up until the very last buzzer echoed throughout the arena. After a fight, I'm as likely to fist bump you and say “good job” as I am to fight you again. Integrity is part of The Code and I had principles that I learned from my coach and which governed the way I played the game and the way I live my life to this day.
I had no fear, and believe me when I say, I could take a hit.
Colloquially, this type of hockey player is called a grinder, and we have many great qualities on and off the ice. When it comes to business, we can take a punch and rebuild. When it comes to relationships, we wear our hearts on our sleeves. When it comes to defending those that we care for, we are extremely loyal.
The problem that I'm facing is that, 20+ years after my brief stint playing national-level hockey, I still love my underdog story and I still believe in my underdog identity.
“Why is that a problem?” you ask. “Everyone loves an underdog.”
Well, while it's certainly a great story to tell to others (you've read this far, after all), the problem is that it's not such a great story to tell yourself. See, when you set yourself up as an “underdog,” you set yourself up disadvantaged. Right out of the gate, if you're the underdog, you're not as big as the other guy, not as strong, not as capable.
You're handicapped, in your mindset if not elsewhere.
See, as Fortune here explains to Rudy, with age comes wisdom and a knowing that there's nothing to prove to anybody but yourself. Sure it's platitudinal, but hey if the shoe fits…
Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy all the “comeback kid” stories. In fact, I love them. Rocky, Rudy, Pursuit of Happiness, and others of that ilk… they're all inspirational and can make just about any grown man cry from heartache or simply hitting too close to home.
I just know that moving forward, I don't want those stories to be my story.
Being an underdog and constantly fighting and struggling simply doesn't coincide with living a happy, easy-going life filled with joy and love and success by any measure.
As I turn 40 this April and begin to think more about family and retirement I have to ask myself, “Is this story of me always being the struggling underdog worth keeping?”
The answer, clearly, is no. It's time for me to grow up. Time to change that story.
I have less to prove these days, to myself or to others, and thank god I've been blessed with a family to think about.
And so, one of my big goals for 2020 is to rewrite my story. While there is a strong argument for Rudy being the best underdog drama ever made, it's just not mine anymore. I'm not the underdog. I'm a 39-year old man who is handsome, strong, intelligent, empathetic, and who knows how to run a god-damned business.
So, I'm going to work on my story this year. Come up with something new, perhaps less convenient and less fun, but something which aligns with the monumental goals I've set for myself.
I'll let you know how it goes. 🚀