2018 is in the past. However, experiences from 2018 will be with you for life. It is up to you to learn from the experiences and let them help you become a better version of yourself. No matter if the experiences are good or bad it is ultimately up to you to decide how you want to respond and how much power you are going to give away. I am a firm believer that we can gain our power back by facing whatever we gave our power away to. Some moments are so strong, so powerful that they strip you of some of your power. As long as you are still here then you have the ability to regain that power once again but it will take facing that moment head on and truly seeing it for what it is.

For me, 2018 was the most life experiencing year. I dealt with a lot of change, some I chose, some I had no control over. From traveling to a part of the world I had never seen before, to losing my father, to so many friends getting married and having kids, to moving across the country and starting a new business. There were many ups and downs. Having to find myself through the grief and change was one of the biggest challenges I had ever faced. I give past years experiences a ton of credit for helping me persevere through the hard times and finally finding myself again.

At the beginning of a new year, I always find it useful to create a list of experiences that you want to have or behaviors that you want to continue to cultivate. Over the years some of the behaviors I wanted to cultivate were meditating, moving frequently, becoming more empathetic and understanding, becoming less negative, reading more, trying new ways to move and so on. For each behavior or experience, I would do some research and try to find stories from people who have already done what I wanted to do. I am thankful for the time I had committed to cultivating each behavior and really give it credit for helping me survive a year full of so many mixed emotions.

One of the more recent and useful behaviors that I have cultivated is meditation. I had discovered meditation when I was reading about Alzheimer's and stress. Before I had built this practice I viewed it as some hippy-dippy ish and thought it was all about pacifying your aggression. However, once I read up on its effect on stress management and mental health I started to become more and more curious. What I have found since starting to meditate a little over 2 years ago is that I am able to notice my mental state much sooner than I was before. I am able to bring awareness to any negative thoughts that are going on better than I could before. I am not perfect and I still have moments of lethargy or anger, however, they are far less frequent than at any other point in my life. During “arguments” I am able to hear the other side better and keep myself from allowing my emotions to take over my mouth ( also known as amygdala hijack = emotions take over your brain. From the book Incognito). During this heightened emotional climate that we are in, I have found that having this skill is extremely useful and highly recommend developing this ability. Using the app headspace is an amazing place to start. When I started to build the habit, I began with very short bouts of meditation, only one minute at a time until I was doing 4-5 days per week consistently. Everyone has a minute a day to spare and if you think you don’t then you are the person who needs this the most.

Another habit I am hella thankful to have cultivated is strength training. Developing strength in a systematic manner has been incredible for many reasons. The ability to know how to goal set and break your goal into smaller chunks and habits is a useful skill no matter what you do in life. Also, it teaches you patience. Knowing that you can’t rush things and some things you cannot change. You can change yourself but you cannot change outside things to a certain degree. If you want to lift 500 lbs you can’t change the 500 lbs your only choice is to change yourself, become stronger. If you want a person to stop doing an annoying behavior, you may be able to get them to change however, you’d be better served to “simply” change yourself to not become triggered by their behavior. I am a believer in human optimization, becoming the best version of yourself, and I view strength training as a very important part of the equation. Meditation helps you own your mind and your body and strength training helps to reinforce the strength of both.

There are many inevitables that we have to deal with in life. Your ability to adapt and change is crucial for how you are able to deal with any moment that presents yourself. If you are someone who loves comfort, traditions, and wishes everything would just stay the same, I challenge you to seek out some new, seek out some discomfort, seek out creating new habits because you will want to know that you are able to change. You will want to know that you are strong and have been strong before when times get hard. Everything can’t stay the same, it’s a reality of the world. Becoming adaptable has been the most important trait throughout all of any living organisms’ history and if you wish to thrive for life, then start to hone the skill now.

Football and Life: Lessons From The Gridiron - Part 6 The Struggle Is The Way

The struggle is only temporary and true reward is often on the other side. This lesson is never a fun one to figure out. Usually, it takes a great deal of suffering and pain to arrive at this finding. Though my pain and suffering can’t be compared to those who have gone through or are going through much more challenging times than football, it still managed to help prepare me for more difficult times in life than Xs and Os.

I remember when I first walked on at UCONN. I was super comfortable at the time when I decided to start training for try-outs. I thought to myself I can play with those guys, I need to play with them, I needed to prove to myself that I could play at that level. I thought I knew what I was getting into. LOL.

I made tryouts my “you know the saying”. I felt as high and mighty as one could feel. I felt that it was a breeze and thought being on the team would be a similar experience. Man was I wrong. We started off with 300m shuttles and modified spin to get our legs up to speed, this was tough but nothing too crazy. Then after about a week of doing this every day we were thrust onto the football field. That’s where the struggle began. I have never ran, jumped or cut that much in my life. My shins were in absolute agony. On top of that, our job as scout team was to give a good look to the starters. It had been years since I was hit hard by anyone or anything. I had grown, what I would consider, soft. The beating we took on special teams and from the defense was excruciating. Over and over again we were battered. Many of the other walk-ons who made the cut ended up quitting a few weeks in and I don’t blame them. It sucked. Let alone when we went to games everyone else had their names on the backs of their jerseys and ours were blank. We knew we had no shot of playing on gameday and that made taking those beatings even more difficult to take. I wanted to quit. I wanted to be back to my comfortable, unchallenged life. However, it was my remembrance as to why I joined which helped guide me through the struggle, through the pain and eventually earn my way onto the traveling team and earn my playing time.

Had I quit, I would have never known if I could play at that level, I would probably talk a lotta woulda coulda shouldas. Luckily I did not quit and I was able to learn a valuable lesson, which is often on the other side of struggle is success and eventually, you will make it out of that struggle. This grit has helped me persevere on some of my days when everything feels like a lot. If it was easy, everyone would do it. There is a reason why it is challenging, and the reward will be that much sweeter when you know you gave it your all.

Football and Life: Lessons From The Gridiron - Part 5 Preparation

Those who were most prepared seem to have the most success. Want to be successful? Prepare for it.

During my few years at UCONN, I was able to play receiver and cornerback. As a receiver, I was able to compete against these 2 stud corners who both went on to play in the NFL. I remember being locked up by them every time I had a chance to go up against them. Used to hate how hemmed up they would have me. I couldn’t understand how no matter what route I ran, they were always there, right on my hip. It wasn’t just myself they would hem up, but just about every receiver on the team seldom had success against these two. The receiver knows where they are going and the cornerback does not, at least that’s what I thought.

Fast forward a few months later and I switched to playing corner. What I discovered is that a good corner knows where the receiver is going. How the hell do they know this? Preparation. These two studs used to dissect film like it was there job (it was their job). They knew if the receiver lined up at this landmark, if they had this foot forward, and on and on that each thing gave them more and more information about the possibility of routes that the receiver could run. My mind was blown. I understood this concept, but understanding the concept and actually performing are two totally different things. You had to put time in, day in and day out, to get to that level of preparation. What I saw on Saturdays were usually two absolutely dominant performances from two craftsmen, they were everywhere the guy they were guarding went all over the field, rarely did they give up a big play. Their awareness was unbelievable and you had to credit their preparation. It was no wonder our defense was so far ahead of our offense. The defensive coordinator set the precedent and every starter followed suit. It was impressive, to say the least.

Prepare prepare prepare. If you want to increase your likelihood of having success then you must prepare for it. Know what to look for, what are the signs, what are the steps you need to take if you desire to have success.

Bonus Lesson: Top Down

This lesson is one of the most valuable lessons I think I learned. That is if you want to be a successful organization, it needs to be top down. Meaning, the values, the work ethic it all needs to start at the top or it won’t matter what is below it. If the head coach doesn’t practice what they preach, you have no chance at success. This is a tough lesson to tell without throwing anyone under the bus. So under the bus, they go. Sike. The only point is you can have the best intentions and say all of the right things but if your actions and your words don’t match up, the message is lost.

For example, if you say it is important to be awake and present during meetings, you need to be awake and present during meetings. If you say it is important to be on time, you need to be on time. That whole do as I say not as I do malarkey is nonsense. Leadership has rarely worked from that standpoint.

The single best representation of Top-Down during my time at UCONN was watching the defensive coordinator who was also the positions coach for cornerbacks. This Dude is singlehandedly the most walk the talk Coach I have ever had. On any given play he could tell you what the offense was trying to do as well as what every single person on defense was supposed to do. From what technique they should use, to their assignment. He was ALWAYS prepared, he was ALWAYS present, he was ALWAYS knowledgeable. This created a top 10 defense during his time at UCONN, a number 1 defense at Boston College and a number 1 defense while at the University of Michigan. He led from out front and pulled everyone up. A true leader.

If you want to have a successful team, it needs to start with you, the ship goes wherever you steer it so if you are asleep at the wheel don’t be surprised when it crashes.

Football and Life: Lessons From The Gridiron - Part 4 You aren't always going to win

This was a new lesson for me. In high school, we won all the time, in my track career and football career. I wasn’t used to losing. I know in today's world, everyone is rewarded no matter if you win or lose which is kinda nuts in my opinion. Anyway, losing was a new phenomenon for me once I arrived at college.

At URI we lost a lot. We were watching film, we studied the playbook, we were out there practicing in every and all conditions. Yet we would get our butts whooped week in and week out.

At UCONN the skill level was even higher from players to coaches yet we still lost a lot. We (other players not me) studied film like it was their job. Many of them went on to play in the NFL. Just about every position on the field put someone into the league as either a practice player or on a roster yet even with all of that talent, we got our butts kicked. Not defensively, defensively we were all that and a bag of chips I will add, but that’s beside the point.

Point is you aren’t always going to win. Sometimes shit just isn’t going to work out in your favor. In situations where there are a winner and a loser, guess what? Someone has to win, and someone has to lose and there is nothing that says the loser can’t be you. Putting in work can help it so you win more often, but it doesn’t guarantee 100% success.

How I have carried this into my professional life is knowing that you aren’t going to be right for everyone. Not everyone is going to see the value you bring. No matter what accolades you have you will always have haters, doubters, and people who may not be ready or they may never be a fit, and that’s alright. It is not the end of the world. Move on.

Football and Life: Lessons From The Gridiron - Part 3 The Next Play is The Next Play

Gotta keep moving forward. Whether you just showed out on the last play or got beat, the next play needs to be the next play, you can’t live in the past, need to be in the present moment. As a defensive back, you are often on an island where any mistake you make can be detrimental to the team and any play you make is just a play you made unless it was a turnover.

I remember when we played Louisville at Louisville. We were beating up Teddy Bridgewater pretty good all game. Beat him up so good he had to go the locker room for a quarter or two. He came back in toward the end of the game and proceeded to drive his team down the field and put them in a game-winning situation. Our cornerback had been battling some injuries himself and was beat on a few plays during that drive. However, he stayed in the moment, the next play was the next play. Teddy, living in the previous play, tried picking on that corner again, he threw the ball up towards his receiver in the back of the endzone and our guy came down with it. Game Over.

The lesson to take away from this is that you can’t get too high or too low. Let the past be the past and know that it doesn’t define you. Live in the moment and figure out what you can do right now to steer the ship in the direction you wish to go in. If you mess up, that’s fine, move on. You have a win, awesome, move on. Gotta keep moving forward. No matter what. You are not defined by past experiences, what defines you is who you are in the present. The past only has as much effect on the present as you allow.