How a game of touch football changed my career forever

There was just one problem – the “cool” kids in my class ran the game, and I wasn’t part of their clique. For weeks, I was relegated to the sidelines, watching and wishing that just once I’d get invited to play in their game. I was too shy and passive to insert myself into the game or demand a spot, so I stood there and watched.

And all my wishing and hoping didn’t change a thing.

You know what did? Taking action.

One day, I brought my own football to school, and I invited some of the other kids languishing on the sidelines to go off and start our own game. It sounds easy, but trust me, in the social jungle of seventh grade boys, it was a gutsy move, one that required enormous risk on my part.

As I feared, many of my friends flat out refused or rebuffed my offer. I was part of a group of boys a notch below the “cool” kids. We were decent athletes, we were smart, but we weren’t part of the elite social group in our grade. Now, we wereabove the nerds, misfits and dorks, but not by much. (I realize it’s not politically correct or sensitive to refer to my grade school contemporaries with those terms, but that’s how we classified kids in seventh grade during the late 1980s.) The best analogy I can give is that we were card-carrying members of the middle class in the St. Rose of Lima social jungle’s pecking order.

When it came to my new playground football venture, this left me with one choice –invite the dorks. It was a form of social suicide, but I did it anyway.

Making a Way

I was tired of standing on the sidelines. I was tired of waiting, watching and hoping. I was tired of being passive, resigned to having others write the script of my seventh grade social standing and recess time.

So I took my football and a handful of dorks and started my own game.

Everyone from the “cool” game laughed at us. We were mocked. One of my friends in the middle class group referred to my new venture as “the JV game” or “Nemo and the b team.”

Remember, this was seventh grade. Boys at that age can be cruel and cutting. (I won’t even mention how catty the girls can be.) All of us were looking for our place in the pack. In no arena does this type of masculine testing and measuring show up more than the athletic one.

My new football game was horrible. The nerds and dorks couldn’t catch a pass, and some of them didn’t even know the rules of touch football.

It was awful quality. Embarrassing, even.

You know what else it was?


I was the star of my new league, firing passes that bounced off the hands of kids with thick glasses and retainers. I directed an offense of clumsy boys running bow-legged pass routes that I drew up on my open palm inside the huddle.

I didn’t belittle anyone. Instead, I encouraged them. I pumped their tires. I fired them up.

On that playground, I became my favorite quarterback, the Denver Broncos’ John Elway. I scrambled. I passed. I swaggered. I led game-winning drives. I talked trash.

I loved every second of it. The other kids did too. Weplayed. We had fun.

Then something funny happened.

After a few weeks, some of my friends from the middle class group wandered over. At first, they just watched, making snarky comments from the sidelines about how bad the quality of the game was.

“Why don’t you shut up and play with us, then?” I’d yell back. “Quit standing there and get in the game!”

They eventually did, worrying less about what the “cool” kids thought and joining what was still called “Nemo’s b team” or “the JV game.”

To this day, those seventh grade football games are some of the happiest memories I have.

Change the Game

I need to ask you: Are you standing on the sidelines of life right now? Are you stuck inside the bowels of some massive corporation, toiling away in a cubicle and wishing for something more? Are you struggling to find meaning, passion and purpose in your career?

If so, what are you going to do about it?

A few years ago, bored and unhappy at my day job, I drove home every evening fantasizing about the day I’d quit.

But dreaming never changed my situation.

Taking massive action did. Developing an exit strategy, starting up side projects, networking, learning, seeking advice from others who were doing what I wanted to step into … that’s what moved me off the sidelines and into the game.

No Risk, No Reward

In any great story, a character must risk something to advance toward his or her goal.

Your life is no different. In order to get the career you want, doing the work you love, you’re going to have to risk something of significance to get there.

So let’s get to it: Where are you holding back in your life and career right now? What aren’t you chasing after? What haunts you in those quiet moments of the early morning, before the chaos of the day distracts you and keeps your heart and head occupied? Where have you been afraid to go?

I want you to say out loud what your biggest fear is. Or write it down. I want you to put out into the light of day the worst possible thing that might happen if you start taking the type of risks I’m talking about.

Is it being embarrassed in front of your peers on the playground? Is it losing the approval of your parents, who think your passion for poetry or music is a pipe dream and that you need to get a “real” job? Is it not being able to pay the mortgage or feed your children? Is it as simple as the fear of falling on your face and having the Twitter hashtag #Fail attached to your business or life?

It’s important, because I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Nobody remembers you for the times you’ve tried and failed. Unless you stay there.
“Every strike gets me closer to the next home run,” baseball legend Babe Ruth used to say. Ruth struck out 1,330 times in his career. He also hit 714 home runs. What’s he more remembered for?

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the phonograph and the motion picture camera. He also had countless inventions that did notwork or change society.

“I have not failed,” he said. “I’ve just found ten thousands ways that won’t work.”

Edison understood: You can’t get from here to there without risking something significant. He also understood that failure was both inevitable and even encouraging.

Let me leave you with this – what are you risking by not taking any action today?

If it helps, leave a comment below or send me a message and tell me just one simple action you are going to take right here, right now, today, to move one step closer to the life you want and work you love.

See you on the playground!

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