Illogical (2022) is the story of how Emmanuel Acho, former pro football player turned media star, decided to take the illogical path to fulfill his potential and his dreams. Instead of following society’s rules, expectations, and constraints, he decided to break all of them – and in doing so, he became what he is today. And guess what? You can do the same.
Introduction: What’s in it for me? Find out how to achieve your wildest dreams like a (football) pro.
Taking an illogical path allowed Acho to pursue a new and unexpected career.
In order to succeed, engage with your childlike faith.
Rise above your own fears and those of others: be David.
Achieve more by not setting goals.
Learn when – and when not – to use your earmuffs.
Keep your opportunities open by breaking the pattern.
About the author
Table of Contents
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview
Motivation and Inspiration, Personal Development, Christian Living, Personal Finance, Success Self-Help, Career Success, Personal Success, Psychology, Personal Development
Introduction: Find out how to achieve your wildest dreams like a (football) pro.
Emmanuel Acho suits up for a regular-season NFL game despite a pain in his thumb. At first, everything is going fine. But then, three plays into the game, he hears a pop.
Instantly, Acho realizes that he’s broken his thumb – and with that, his dreams of continuing as a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles are broken too.
Later, the doctor confirms his worst fear, the thumb will take over four months to heal. He receives a call from the Eagles’ general manager after communicating the bad news and is subsequently released from the squad.
Acho realized at that moment that he had a decision to make. He could wait until his thumb healed, continue training, and hope for a call from a team. That was the logical path. And then there was the illogical path. He could pour all of his energy into something completely different, something he’d no experience in at all, and change career path entirely.
You can probably guess which choice Acho made. He chose the illogical route, deciding to pursue a career in media. In this summary we’re going to explore what made Acho turn away from the field he knew and was skilled in, to go down such a risky path. These summary are, in the words of Acho, about embracing chance instead of always wondering, What if?
Today, we’re going to bulldoze through limitation and see what lies on the other side.
In this summaries, you’ll learn
- why you should adopt the attitude of a professional gambler;
- how to be like David; and
- why you should always pick up the phone.
Taking an illogical path allowed Acho to pursue a new and unexpected career.
When Acho injured his thumb, it was as if the fears he’d harbored all his life were coming true. The success he’d fought tooth and nail to achieve was now at great risk of becoming undone. Acho stole traffic cones from a parking lot in Philadelphia and used them to do drills in the alley behind his apartment. He found empty fields to train in by himself.
As you’ve already learned, it was at this point Acho realized he needed to make a choice between a logical and an illogical path. But what exactly is logic, as he defines it?
For Acho, logic is conventional wisdom. And conventional wisdom is any principles or procedures that the majority of society agrees are sensible.
But how sensible are they really? Take, for instance, beauty standards throughout history. For hundreds of years, women have faced societal pressure to conform to constantly-changing ideas about what’s considered attractive. During the Italian Renaissance, for example, a beautiful woman was one with pale skin, full hips, a full chest, a rounded body, and a high forehead. Think Mona Lisa. Today, on the other hand, these things are all strikes against you.
“Conventional wisdom” doesn’t stand the test of time, nor do its standards seem to make much sense. And yet we allow these definitions of beauty – and many other things – to run our lives. We’re constantly longing for things that somebody else has decided we should value.
And that’s where illogical comes into play. Acting in a way that is illogical according to conventional standards, can often mean living a life that actually makes far more sense for you. In other words, it’s about not letting your value, your success, or your greatness be determined by other people.
When Acho made this decision to be illogical, he decided to believe there was something more to him than everyone around him ever expected. He needed to break his old patterns and find new ones. For him, the logical path would be to stick with football – this is what everyone expected him to do. The illogical path was pursuing a career in media, a career he’d never imagined was possible for someone like him, a career he had zero experience or background in.
Two years after Acho had been released from the Eagles, he rejoined them to celebrate the Super Bowl. But not as a player – this time he joined as a television analyst. Then, in 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, Acho received a call from the Eagles’ general manager. He knew Acho had been using his platform to speak out against racism, and the manager wanted his advice on a statement the team could release.
The path to this point was, by no means, straightforward. Everyone around Acho felt that playing in the NFL was the opportunity of his lifetime. And giving up on that belief was hard. In order to move on, he had to start thinking and acting against other people’s logic.
In order to succeed, engage with your childlike faith.
A gambler known as “The Kid” is sitting at a table in the back room of a casino in Philadelphia. He has more than $20,000 on the table, but he’s, somehow, unfazed. There’s one card left to flip over. The Kid has two fours in hand, totaling eight. The dealer has a ten and an eight, making 18. The point of blackjack is for your total card value to be at 21, or for you to be closer to 21 than the dealer. The Kid has one last chance, one final card, to beat the dealer.
The odds are deeply stacked against him. Only one card in the game – an ace – can win him the game. That gives him a 62 percent chance of losing, a 31 percent chance of tying, and a 7 percent chance of winning. But he doubles down anyway, meaning that his $20,000 bet will earn him $40,000 in total if he wins. And when his final card is flipped over, it is – you guessed it – an ace. The room goes wild.
Of course, the odds weren’t in The Kid’s favor. He didn’t care. Now, I’m not saying you should go out and start gambling $20,000 like it’s nothing. But you can learn a lesson from The Kid’s attitude. Even when the odds are stacked against you, you can still own the moment and be confident.
Will you take a chance on your dreams despite their supposed success rate? Will you ignore the odds and just go for it? Or will you let logic dictate your every move?
You’ll never really be ready to start being illogical. But in a way, that means you’re already ready. Now is the time.
The most important aspect of preparedness is simply our own minds. Each of us has the power to believe, to think for ourselves, to form new opinions about our futures. So what’s next for you?
Decide what you’re willing to be illogical about. Unearth the stuff that’s buried deep down within you that you feel is worth believing in and dedicating yourself to no matter what. At this very moment, know that you don’t need to be smarter, more qualified, or more anything in order to follow your calling.
Engage with the childlike – or, perhaps, “Kid-like” – faith that you will succeed.
Rise above your own fears and those of others: be David.
Another story to highlight the power of thinking illogically, is the story of David and Goliath. It goes like this: According to the bible there were two nations at war, the Israelites and the Philistines. Goliath was a champion fighter for the Philistines, over 9 feet high, he was a confident giant, so confident in his power and ability, in fact, that he challenged the Israelites to a one-on-one battle; if anyone could defeat him, the Philistines would promise to serve the Israelites, but if they should lose, the Israelites would serve the Philistines instead. There was only one problem: the Israelites were all too scared to take on the giant Goliath. That is, except for one person – a young shepherd called David, who was barely a man.
David ended up going to battle by accident. His father had asked him to check on his brothers and bring them food. But when David made it to the front line, he heard Goliath taunting the Israelites, wondering which of them would be brave enough to face him. Even though he was a shepherd by trade, David was a warrior at heart.
David decided, then and there, to run straight at the battle line between him and Goliath. He put his hand in his bag, pulled out a stone and slingshot and hit Goliath directly on the forehead. Ultimately, David won the battle and defeated Goliath.
It may seem like a simple lesson, but it’s also a powerful one. Instead of backing away from the nine-foot bully and absorbing the fear that everyone else around him felt, David chose to act upon his own – perhaps illogical – belief. A belief that he could succeed. In a similar way, we can either let the fears of the people around us dominate our behavior – or we can push past the doubt and insecurity of others and act according to our own instinct.
Acho, had his own “David moment,” after the tragic murder of George Floyd in 2020. He felt he had to speak out. Yet for years, Acho and many others had been warned not to talk about racism in the public eye. There was seemingly never a good moment. Until, one day, Acho decided it was time to ignore the fears of other people and pilot an idea he had for a YouTube show: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. There were many people who told Acho that he wasn’t the right guy to start these conversations. But the racism and police violence that he and others were experiencing was too brutal to ignore. He didn’t care anymore whether he lost his audience on social media, whether he was the right person or not, he just needed to speak up. To run at his own battle line and to act according to his own belief.
So, If you feel afraid to approach your own battles with similar urgency, take some time to reflect on the following questions: What battles have you won already? What tools are you skilled at using? If your voice is loud and your personality is bold, use that to your advantage. If you’re calm and softly-spoken, ask yourself how you can find your own way to success through quiet strength and perseverance. In Acho’s fight against systemic racism, he never attended a single protest or held up a single sign. Instead, he used his show to express himself. Again, it’s not about taking the logical path, it’s about finding your own way to fight your own battles. Doubt your doubters, doubt your own doubts – and begin by taking action.
Achieve more by not setting goals.
Acho had two goals in his senior year of high school. One was to become homecoming king and the other was to win Athlete of the Year. He thought he was a shoo-in for both.
But, when homecoming nominations came around, he found out that he hadn’t even made the list. Why? Because his older brother had won homecoming king the year before and the school didn’t want to create an “Acho dynasty.”
Luckily, he still had a chance to win Athlete of the Year. The night of the awards ceremony, his entire family were present; they were dressed to the nines, beaming at him from the front row. Then the presenter began: “The winner for Athlete of the Year is . . . Ben Grisz.”
Acho was dumbstruck. Perhaps the presenter had misspelled or misspoken his name. How could someone else have possibly beat him to Athlete of the Year? This was his award, the goal he’d been working so hard to achieve.
Normally, Acho isn’t much of a crier. But this time, the despair was too strong. He wept uncontrollably, he felt as if the award had been ripped directly from his hands. Despite the sorrow of the experience, Acho learned an important lesson – that the easiest way to fail in life is to set a goal.
Now, you’re probably shaking your head at this idea already. Sure, what happened to Acho sucked – but that doesn’t mean goals are bad?
And certainly, society – and millions of other self-help books out there – will tell you that setting goals is the only way to get things done or to achieve what you want in life. But think about it another way. Setting a goal can end up creating a ceiling for your achievements – in other words, it can prevent you from dreaming higher or dreaming differently. Say you set a goal and achieve it. That’s great – but what if you could have done even more?
When you set your mind to a goal, your brain will do everything in its power to achieve it. But it will only work toward that single, blinkered goal. For example, you may have heard of the famous athlete, Roger Bannister. Prior to 1954, scientists didn’t believe it was physically possible for human beings to run a mile in under four minutes. But Roger Bannister believed that he could – and – he was right. But what if he could have run even faster? What if four minutes was just an arbitrary cutoff or an unnecessary limitation?
The other thing about goals is that not achieving them can be incredibly damaging to your self worth. If you let a goal become your sole focus in life, then not reaching that goal can lead you to question your whole self, even your existence.
So, if you’re not setting goals, what’s the alternative?
An objective with no limitations.
Now, you may think an objective sounds a lot like a goal, but it’s actually quite different. According to Merriam-Webster, an objective is “something toward which effort is directed.” You’re seeking for something, of course, but you’re not seeking for a specific, defined ending like you are with a goal.
When you’re chasing your dreams, direct your energy toward achieving an infinite number of outcomes. Think about how much of an impact you can make on the world. When Acho first got into media, people asked him if he wanted to be the next Michael Strahan. But he immediately said “No.” Michael Strahan achieved a lot, but if Acho only set his sights on being like Michael, that’s as far as he could go. He could never have become what he is now or created the things he ended up creating.
Learn when – and when not – to use your earmuffs.
Acho was attending a rap concert where his friend, Tobe, was performing. The concert was being held at what had been dubbed an “intimate” venue in New York City. And as Acho pretty quickly discovered, mixing “intimate” and “rap music” is a pretty bad idea.
An hour into the show, Acho’s head was starting to ache to the beat. He had to get out of there. But as he was jostling toward the exit, he noticed a mother holding a sleeping child. She was swaying to the music and screaming the lyrics to all the songs – all while her child slept quietly on her chest. Acho wondered: How can the kid possibly sleep through all this noise?
As he got closer to the two of them, he realized their secret: the child was wearing a pair of large wooly earmuffs covered-up by a sweep of hair. Thanks to them, the child could sleep through one of the loudest concerts Acho had ever attended.
And so, what’s the lesson in this story when it comes to your career? Simple: don’t forget your earmuffs.
Of course, we’re not talking about what gear you should bring with you to the next rap concert you attend. Instead, it’s about finding your way through all the noise in the world. When you’re doing something that’s going to make a big impact, you’re bound to hear lots of skeptical criticism, hesitancy, people trying to hold you back.
Acho is no stranger to this. Back in 2020, he was getting ready to record the first ever episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. The day of the shoot, he was nervous – and then, four minutes before he was set to record, his phone went off. It was a text from a Black friend and colleague at ESPN who he’d told about his idea a few days prior. She’d been hesitant about the show and was texting him, on the day of its launch, casting doubt on the project and telling him to hold-off.
On the inside, Acho began spiraling into a whirlwind of doubt. But he had to make a choice: he could either listen to her doubts and call off the show, or he put his earmuffs on. In this instance, Acho chose the earmuffs and went ahead with the recording. Ultimately, that first video resulted in 80 million views across social media platforms and paved the way to a number-one New York Times best-selling book.
Whenever you’re on the verge of doing something truly great, there are going to be people around you, whispering in your ears, trying to drown out your own internal voice. That’s when you need to make sure you’ve got your earmuffs at the ready. Acknowledge that the criticism exists, but don’t let it overwhelm you or change your course.
Keep your opportunities open by breaking the pattern.
In this case, Acho decided to pop on his headphones, ignore the skeptical text, and go ahead with the show.
Five days after the first episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man was released, he was eating Cheerios and scrolling through Twitter. When his phone rang – with a no-caller ID. Early on his NFL career Acho had developed a pattern of ignoring calls like these, they usually brought the bad news that players had been cut from the team.
And so immediately Acho feared the worst, a sense of dread and foreboding flooded over him. His whole body protested against him answering that call – but despite the tension, he felt he needed to answer it.
To Acho’s surprise, the voice on the other end of the line called out chirpily: “McConaughey speaking.” Acho sat there still, thinking to himself: “McConaughey? Like Matthew McConaughey?” And to his even greater surprise, the voice did turn out to be ‘The Matthew McConaughey’, award-winning American actor. Fortunately, Acho was able to play it cool. McConaughey told Acho that he had watched the first episode of Uncomfortable Conversations and wanted to have a conversation with Acho as part of the next episode.
They spent an hour on the phone through their ideas. And the very next day, Matthew McConaughey sat down with Acho for episode two of Uncomfortable Conversations.
Now, think about the opportunity that would’ve been lost if Acho had decided not to pick up the phone. He’d established a pattern early in his career – one that told him never to pick up unidentified phone calls. And this pattern, this fear, almost triggered him to screen the call.
Fortunately, he kept himself open to the possibility that things can always be different. This time could be his chance.
And we can all act in similar faith. Building the confidence to believe, this moment is going to be different from the rest. Believe in yourself and your truth, and in doing so, you open yourself up to the opportunity for greatness. As always, this is about thinking and acting illogically.
Emmanuel Acho decided to set out on an illogical path – a path that defied conventional wisdom – when he decided to pursue a career in media through his YouTube series, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. Being illogical is all about going against what people expect you to do and not letting your value be determined by someone else’s arbitrary standards. When you’re fighting to live your truth by taking the illogical path, charge straight at the battle line, don’t listen to the people who doubt you, set objectives instead of goals, and consciously break free from your old patterns.
And here’s some actionable advice: Seize your “it.”
When Acho was a kid in school, he spent a lot of time in detention. He challenged his teachers and his peers often, he believed there were better ways to think and learn and he was not afraid of saying so. For much of his adult life, Acho thought that playing football was his “it” – his unique gift, the thing that he was inherently good at. But in fact, his “it” was talking. In order to discover what your “it” really is, it’s helpful to take some real time reflecting. Write down the answers to these questions: What were you naturally skilled at when you were growing up? What did you gravitate toward? Once you’ve taken the time to find whatever your “it” is, dedicate yourself to developing this skill constantly. Invest in it with your time, money, and resources – no matter how costly it may seem at the time – the payoff will be life changing.
About the author
Emmanuel Acho picked up a football and made it to the NFL. He picked up a pen and became a New York Times bestselling author for Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, followed by the #1 bestseller Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Boy. He picked up a microphone and won a Primetime Emmy for his groundbreaking online series, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, amassing more than 90 million views to date. All this by the age of thirty, because of his ability to think and act illogically.
Emmanuel, the son of Nigerian immigrant parents, grew up in Dallas with his three siblings. He is a 2021 Sports Emmy winner, Fox Sports analyst (cohost of FS1’s Speak for Yourself), and television personality. He is a former NFL linebacker and has a master’s degree in sports psychology from the University of Texas.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Pins or Screws?
Before the Cards Are Flipped
Don’t Forget Your Earmuffs
Keep on Dreaming
I Might Be Crazy
The Battle Line
Pick It Up
The First Drop of Rain
Let the Games Begin
When the Dam Breaks
Goals Are Dumb
Still Get Out of the Boat
How the Turtle Got There
You Gotta Have “It”
Epilogue: The Theory of Everything
From the New York Times bestselling author of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, a call to break through our limits and say yes to a life of infinite possibility.
You may know Emmanuel Acho as the host of groundbreaking video series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” Or as a New York Times bestselling author. Or as an Emmy-winning television broadcaster. Or as a former linebacker for two NFL franchises.
What you probably don’t know is that Emmanuel defines his own life with just one word: Illogical.
Behind every triumph, every expression of his gifts, Acho has had to ignore what everyone around him called “logic”: the astronomical odds against making it, the risks of continuing to dream bigger or differently. Instead of playing it safe, at every turn Acho has thrown conventional wisdom―logic―out the window. Now, in this revelatory book, he’s empowering us all to do the same.
Whether it’s creating the next groundbreaking startup, fighting for change as an activist, or committing to a personal passion, Illogical is the go-to book for all readers ready to become change-makers. With a step-by-step guide to finding our callings and shifting our mindsets, enlivened by stories from Acho’s life and other illogical pioneers, and the Bible, Acho asks us to replace the limits set for us, and which we set for ourselves, with a world of possibility. Our horizons, he shows us, are endless.
Video and Podcast
“An accomplished athlete becomes a cheerleader” and calls it “a heartfelt guide to personal success.” -Kirkus
“Acho, a Fox Sports analyst and former NFL linebacker, encourages readers to think illogically and reject convention in this optimistic guide.” The review goes on to praise that “his upbeat tone adds spunk and confidence” and adds that the book ” brims with infectious positivity.” – Publishers Weekly
“Former NFL linebacker, Emmy–winning broadcaster, and bestselling author Acho provides a step-by-step guide advising readers on how to stop letting society’s metrics or allegedly logical expectations determine their value, success, or greatness.” – Booklist
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview
Introduction: Pins or Screws?
In March 2015, I was feeling great about my future in the National Football League. We were between seasons waiting for drafts, cuts, and re-signs to make up next year’s team, but I wasn’t worried about my place on the field. I was the guy, rated the thirty-third overall linebacker in a league of thirty-two teams, each with two starting linebackers—I deserved another year with the Philadelphia Eagles. I knew I could hang and I felt sure my team knew it, too.
Being sure was all the sweeter because I had been cut the year before. Then, I’d had a feeling it was coming. The coach had his favorites and I was not one of them, no matter how well I performed. I invited my parents to the final game of the preseason because I suspected it might be my last chance to show them that, yes, I could play pro ball. I led the team in tackles that day. But sure enough, the next morning, after I left brunch with my parents, my phone rang. It was Howie Roseman, the general manager. He told me to return my playbook; the team was releasing me. “It’s not that you’re not fast,” he began, “we just found someone a little bit faster. It’s not that you’re not strong,” he conti; nued, “we just found someone a little bit stronger. It’s not that you’re not quick,” he concluded, “we just found someone a little bit quicker.” I laughed to keep from crying.
Two weeks later, after one of the starters suffered an injury, they re-signed me. And even though there were three other linebackers ahead of me on the roster, I started that game and finished the 2014 season as a starter. I was more prepared, a better player. By March 2015, I felt sure even the politics of favoritism couldn’t hold me back.
Then everything changed.
I had complained about continued pain in my thumb earlier in the week, after a sprain during a pre-season game. (A thumb sprain may not sound debilitating to you, but when your job is to grapple with three-hundred-pound men, trust me, it can be.) An X-ray showed there was no fracture, but I knew something was wrong. Due to the demands of the NFL, however, I suited up for the next game, and three plays in, I heard a pop.
The pain was unbearable. Both physically and emotionally. I realized I had likely broken my thumb, but worse than that, I had shattered my dream. If the break was major, the doctors would need to put pins into my thumb to keep the bone together. I had been injured before, so I knew that the amount of hardware in my hand would determine the extent of my rehab. Pins would protrude out of the skin and cause me to miss more than four weeks, over a quarter of the season. If the break was minor, though, screws would be placed on the bone under the skin and I could be back playing in a week or two, just in time for the start of the regular season. After I came out of surgery, I asked my doctor one question: “Pins or screws?”
His answer would determine whether the team would see me as expendable and use my roster spot on someone else—ending not only my season and time with the Eagles, but most likely my entire NFL career—or whether they would keep me on the roster for the season. Sure I might have to play with a club on my hand, but the check would cash and my job status would be secure.
“Pins or screws?” I asked again. His answer: “Pins.”
I knew what was coming. A few moments later, my phone rang. It was the GM, the same person who had called me the year before, telling me again that it was time to go. I got up off the operating table, took off my gown, and caught a ride back to the team’s practice facility.
I was less than an hour removed from surgery and still foggy from the pain meds, but upon arrival I was asked to return my playbook and empty my locker immediately. I turned in my team-issued iPad and received, in exchange, a large black garbage bag. I awkwardly opened my locker with my left hand—my right hand heavily bandaged and punctured with pins—and item by item dumped out the memorabilia into this black hole. As the bag filled up, my emptiness increased.
I spent the next few weeks rehabbing and the subsequent months training, waiting for a call from an NFL team, any team. I remember stealing some traffic cones from a parking lot in Philly and using them to do drills in the alley behind my apartment. I found empty fields to train on. My former teammates were making millions; I was making ends meet with the severance check the team gave me when they sent me packing. It was embarrassing. Though I was not seeing a psychologist at the time, the word “depressed” crossed my mind on more than one occasion. It was dark, cold, and lonely, and I had no end in sight. My friends in the NFL were busy playing and my non-football friends didn’t live in Philly. I was alone. I was sad. I didn’t know where to go.
It all felt like something I’d feared my whole life: failure. From the injury, to the release, to the solo workouts—I saw the life I’d worked so hard to attain, the success I’d competed for with my whole body, mind, and soul, slipping away. And though it wouldn’t be the last time I stepped on an NFL field as a football player, it was a major turning point in my life.
During that time, I had a decision to make. I could either do the logical thing: sit, train, and wait for a team to call me back—or I could do the illogical thing: pour all that energy into something completely new that I had no experience in. Eventually, I made up my mind to choose the latter and decided to pursue a career in media. Prior to this I had put my head down, worked hard, sacrificed my individuality for the sake of the team, but now I knew I needed to step out, use my voice, and share what was inside of me with the larger world. This decision changed everything. Instead of chasing a dashed dream, I began to believe in my heart there was something more to me. More to my story. I just needed to be brave enough not to follow old patterns and instead reach for new ones. I needed to be illogical.
A little over two years later, I rejoined the Eagles to celebrate the Super Bowl. Except this time, it wasn’t as an NFL player, it was as a television analyst.
Fast-forward to July 2020. After the tragic murder of George Floyd, I got another call from the Eagles’ general manager, now asking for my advice. The team wanted to make a statement but didn’t know what to say, so they asked me for help because I had been using my voice and platform to speak out against racism and I was now well-versed in the media landscape. They let me take control of their statement and make edits as I saw fit. I did. That same GM, the one who allowed me to be cut five times before I turned twenty-five, would call me again a few weeks later asking me to come speak to the entire team about how best to stand for justice in the midst of our world’s turmoil. My illogical path led me straight to my truest calling.
Before we go any further, let’s start with a working definition of what logic actually is. “Logic,” for the purpose of this book, is conventional wisdom. The thoughts, beliefs, and opinions held by the majority of people around you. But let’s break it down even further. The word “conventional” is derived from the word “convention.” What is convention? Our friends at Merriam-Webster tell us it’s “a general agreement about basic principles or procedures.” “Wisdom” is simply defined as “the fact of being based on sensible thinking.” Putting the pieces together, conventional wisdom is “a general agreement about basic principles or procedures based on sensible thinking.”
Let’s get historical for a second. For hundreds of years now, women have unfortunately been forced to chase ever-evasive standards of beauty. As soon as society has settled on one definition, it changes. This change subliminally forces women to adapt to the change and men to alter their taste in order to follow the mold of society. Allow me to prove it to you. The Italian Renaissance from 1400 to 1700 is known for connecting the ancient world to the modern world. It was the age in which the printing press, eyeglasses, and even the flush toilet were created. But the Renaissance era was also known for a distinct taste in beauty, vastly different from what we appreciate now. For a woman to be deemed “beautiful” in the Renaissance era she had to be pale with full hips, a full chest, and a rounded body. Interestingly enough, a high forehead was also a necessary ingredient to meet the epitome of beauty standards.
Two weeks ago, I took a trip to Paris, and while there I of course had to journey to the Eiffel Tower and the famous Louvre Museum. The Louvre blew me away with the artwork not only on the walls, but even the designs on the ceiling. Thousands of people walked the halls and stairs of the museum taking in all of the distinct creations, but only one painting commanded a line of people—a line so long that I decided not to wait in it, but rather walk around and see what all the fuss was about. I wondered what was so captivating that hundreds would choose to wait in line for one painting amidst a museum full of brilliant creations. As I walked toward the front I finally saw what everyone had been waiting on. It was the Mona Lisa (painted between 1503 and 1519). The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings known to man. The half-length portrait of Lisa Gherardini has been featured in hip-hop songs, and there have been movies made sharing its title. But if the Mona Lisa were painted today, it would likely end up for purchase at your local garage sale. Not because it is not an incredible work of art, but because Lisa Gherardini was a pale woman with a seemingly large forehead and thin lips. Pale complexion, thin lips, and a large forehead are now seen as strikes against you when it comes to 2021’s beauty standards. In 2021, the beauty of a woman is defined by sun-kissed skin, and you are expected to be skinny, but not too skinny. Stomach must be flat, but breasts should be large along with the butt; however, the waist should be small. An impossible physical paradox for most. From the 1400s to the 2000s, the world’s standards of “beauty” have changed many times. Tall, short, round, thin, busty, and flat have all come and gone. And some have come again.
From birth, society tells us what beauty is, what success is, even what happiness looks like. But why do we let insignificant people have such significance in our lives? Think about it. Somewhere along the way, during the early 1400s, a few people (likely men) decided what “beauty” looked like. And everyone else subscribed to their definition. Then, a few hundred years later, another group of people got together and defined beauty. We then mindlessly chased that definition, and this cycle has repeated itself and will continue to repeat itself until the end of time. Society teaches us to toil toward a goal we can never reach, like hamsters in a wheel, and by the time we get close the goal has changed. So what is the solution?
Get off of the wheel.
If we chase a standard of beauty that someone else has set for us, imagine what else in life we long for even though its value has been defined by someone other than you. As I’m writing this book, the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo have recently concluded. Many athletes stood with jubilation atop the podiums that boast the top three finishers. Their necks were adorned with medals: gold, silver, and bronze, respectively. A fourth-place finish is arguably the worst pain an athlete can endure on the Olympic stage, but why? Because somewhere along the way value was assigned only to the top three finishers of their sport. If you finished fourth, well, you failed. In reality, what is the difference between third and fourth? A few points maybe, a tenth of a second, a penalty kick. Either way, it’s nothing so drastic that it should undermine the success of athletes that are already greater than everyone else in the world. However, every four years (occasionally five during a global pandemic) we see this happen.
Let me break it down even further for you. The National Basketball Association ends each basketball season with the NBA Finals, a best-of-seven contest between two teams where the first team to win four games gets the trophy. The second-place team leaves the court with heads held low and tears in their eyes. They have lost it all. They have failed. However, the exact same sport and the exact same second-place finish will yield a much different emotional response at the Olympic Games. Because at some point in time (1904 to be exact), second-place finishers were told they had value at the Olympics. But still, in the NBA, second-place finishers are as irrelevant as the last-place finisher. It’s truly mind-blowing to think about. The exact same finish in the exact same sport will yield a totally different emotional response because of what some people from 1904 decided!
Let’s personalize it. LeBron James is in a two-person race to become the greatest basketball player of all time. The race is between him and Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan has won six NBA championships while Lebron has won only four; however, LeBron has six second-place finishes, while Jordan never amassed any second-place finishes. Michael Jordan either won the championship, or did not come close. But never second. The greatest argument against LeBron James is the fact that he’s lost more NBA championships than he’s won. Similarly, the greatest argument in favor of Michael Jordan is that he never lost an NBA championship he played in. Based upon the “goals” that the NBA has set, Michael Jordan clearly has the advantage as a winner. But if you take the exact same athletes and the exact same results and apply them to the Olympic metric of success, LeBron would clearly be supreme. LeBron has amassed four first-place finishes and six second-place finishes, while Jordan has six first-place finishes. All of this is to say, who is “greatest” between the two athletes is all dependent upon which archaic metric created by someone else years ago you wish to subscribe to. I say we should unsubscribe.
Stop letting your value, your success, or even your greatness be determined by someone other than you. Especially someone you don’t know. Stop letting your beauty, your happiness, or your worth be dependent upon the convention of the time. You are valuable, worthy, and beautiful. We all are. We just have to assess ourselves based on the metric that matters most—our own. Once you’ve realized that your standards are the only ones by which you should measure anything, then you can take full agency over your life. You can take the power back from the society which took it from you at birth.
We were raised with certain ideologies and limitations engrained into our minds by society and we just accepted them to be true. A black man could never be president, we were told. A woman could never be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And a black woman, ha! There’s no way she could become a billionaire. We all fall victim to these limitations except for the select few who realize that the wisdom of someone else may be foolishness to them.
In the 1999 science-fiction film The Matrix, the main character, Neo, has a unique encounter with a character known as “Spoon Boy.” Neo sits in the waiting room of the Oracle waiting to be told if he is indeed the chosen one who is believed will save humanity. While he waits, he sees a boy sitting legs crossed with several bent spoons in front of him. He doesn’t think much of it until he witnesses the boy hold a spoon in front of his face and bend the spoon only by looking at it. Neo stares in amazement and the small boy then offers Neo the spoon as if to say, “Here, you can do it, too.” Neo receives the spoon from the boy, confused. He’s not sure where to begin. (I get it, I’ve never bent a spoon with my mind either.) As Neo holds the spoon, staring at it with confusion, the boy says, “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.” Neo responds, “What truth?” To which the boy answers, “There is no spoon.… It is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” Neo then holds the spoon in front of his own face and stares intently, as the spoon begins to bend and he is summoned into the Oracle’s office.
While this movie is fiction, the application of this scene is very real. A spoon can’t bend without an external physical force; that is scientifically impossible. It is also impossible for you or I to ever measure up to the standard of beauty the world has set for us. It is impossible to be successful enough or great enough according to someone or something else. But we must apply the same truth to our lives that Spoon Boy told Neo in the scene of my favorite movie growing up. It is not the things around you that bend, only yourself.
We may not be able to bend the standards of society. We may not be able to bend the metrics of greatness that others set hundreds of years before we were even born. We may not even be able to bend how others see us. But what we can do is bend how we see ourselves. We can bend our perception of what it means to be valuable, to be successful, or to be beautiful.
We adopt far too many values and beliefs from someone else. It’s not just the large ideologies either. We even do this with the small things—a banana, for example. We’ve been engrained since birth to believe that the long stem was the top and thus that’s how we peel them, starting from the top. However, what we consider the bottom of the banana is actually the top, as bananas grow from the stem upward. So yes, you’ve been eating bananas wrong your whole life based upon indoctrination.
Let’s think about the spoon again for a second, and no, we’re not bending it this time. A spoon is actually a much better utensil to use when eating a rice dish, so why do we use a fork? A fork allows the grains of rice to escape whereas a spoon does not. But society tells us to use a fork to eat all dishes that are primarily dry in substance. So that is what we do.
I’ve challenged everything from how you think to how you eat to remind you that at best, you could be living life inefficiently. At worst, you could be doing life all wrong. No, everything in life is not truly meaningless, but the only meaning anything in your life should have is the meaning you give it. From here on, take agency over your view of life. Take control over what is valuable in your life. Take the power back from society. Step off the hamster wheel and bend the spoon. Just remember, it’s not the spoon that bends, only yourself.
To bend ourselves, we must be illogical.
* * *
Funnily enough, I tend to be highly logical. That trait has taken me far. It has helped me approach situations looking for rational, reasonable resolutions. But it has also threatened to limit me if I leaned into it too much. I had to make the leap to illogical by realizing that there is more to life than conventional wisdom can offer. I changed my way of thinking and started asking myself, “But what if it is possible?” “What if I can bend the spoon?” I exchanged thoughts of “I can’t” with thoughts of “I will.” Logic in and of itself isn’t bad, but faith is better than fear. Especially when logic is the limiting factor.
I’m here for one simple reason: to tell you that the basic principles or procedures you’ve been living by haven’t been working. Why? Because they were never meant to. If you dig a bit deeper, you’ll find a few other definitions for “conventional.” You’ll see statements like “lacking originality or individuality,” “commonplace,” even “ordinary.” You were not meant to be ordinary. And you sure as heck weren’t meant to be logical. Let’s fight against this trap of being ordinary. Let’s fight against the mundane life that we may find ourselves mindlessly living, together.
Like I said, life can change quickly. Losses pile up and wins can seem few and far between. But what I learned from my time with the Eagles, and so many other times when life took an unexpected turn, is that we’ve got to start playing a different game; to start playing by different rules, our own rules. Even when society deems them illogical and attempts to walk you down the logical path. You may not be the favorite; you may get fired, get injured, get let go. But your story isn’t over. If you can let yourself envision something different, your story may just be beginning.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons in my illogical life, and I share them in this book. It’s not easy to shrug off the mantle of the world’s wisdom. It takes courage and perseverance every step of the way. Each chapter is a truth I’ve found essential to keep in mind and I hope these truths will help you, too. This isn’t about me, but about all of us. In these pages you’ll see stories from some of my many illogical heroes: people who, in ways large and small, personal and global, didn’t let conventional wisdom stand in their way.
We must know how and when to change the rules of the game. It’s time to not let the goals we set for ourselves, or that others set for us, limit what we can imagine. We must not let others’ fears become our own because their words “make sense” in societally conventional ways. We must rethink what we call success or failure—even thinking beyond “failure” entirely. This book will teach you how to, as I call it, be illogical. To live your unique truth. And by doing so, live a life without limits.
* * *
The only meaning anything in your life should have is the meaning you give it.
* * *
1 Before the Cards Are Flipped
It was the middle of the summer and “The Kid” was sitting in the back room of the Sugar House with more than $20,000 on the table. “The cards are the cards,” he said, cracking a smile. I was nervous. I couldn’t stop tapping my measly twenty-five-dollar chip on the wooden frame of the table. The Kid seemed unfazed. He doubled down on his bet, leaned back in his chair, and allowed himself to relax. He had it all under control.
While in the NFL, I frequented casinos more often than I’d care to admit; everybody has their thing. For me, the friends I made at the different gambling tables filled the void left by having no family near me during my playing career. That along with the excitement of winning a game of chance. The joy of victory and the agony of defeat could seemingly both be experienced in a matter of minutes. Complete strangers sharing hugs and embraces (pre-COVID, of course) after a big win, or collective sighs of frustration after the loss of a hand. High risk, high reward. It was invigorating. I made many memories during those visits, but the most unforgettable of them all came the day I took a trip to play blackjack with The Kid.
The game of blackjack is simple. For those of you who have never seen the movie 21, I’ll explain. You are dealt two cards and left with one decision. Ask for more or stick with what you’ve got. The object of the game is for your total card value to be at or as close to twenty-one as possible. You’re competing against the dealer, so whoever is closer to twenty-one wins. Aces are worth one or eleven, face cards ten, and number cards are worth the number shown on the cards, two through ten. You take the cards you’re dealt. You can’t change them. But you can ask for more. You can take a risk to try and get closer to a win. The only issue with this risk is that it comes with a clause, the chance that you could bust. Busting is when the value of your cards rises above twenty-one. When that happens, you lose, the dealer wins, and you’re out of the game. High risk, high reward.
In the back room at the Sugar House, The Kid decided to double down, meaning that his $20,000 bet would yield him an additional $20,000. He had $40,000 at stake; enough money to make a down payment on a small Philadelphia townhouse. It also meant that he was choosing to take a major risk to accept one card, and one card only, from the dealer. I was familiar with the idea of doubling down, but not with the cards that The Kid was showing. His hand showed two fours, a total value of eight. The dealer had two cards as well. His top card was an eight and his bottom card was facedown. Advantage, dealer. Or so I thought. No matter what, The Kid wasn’t getting to twenty-one. I already told y’all the value of every card, and there is no card valued at thirteen in the game. But for whatever reason, he still made the decision. He liked his odds.
While in the NFL, I took a sports analytics class as part of my graduate degree. My professor was from Philly, a Temple University alum who was familiar with the Sugar House. For my final project, I chose to focus on odds and the game of blackjack. After all, you pursue an education to learn, but also to increase your chances of making money, right? I spent roughly one hundred hours studying the odds of nearly every potential hand in blackjack. Talk about real-life application.
Based on my formal education, The Kid’s odds were slim. I knew that, the dealer knew that, everyone at the table knew that. But The Kid chose not to believe it. He leaned back, cracked a smirk, and looked at me as he said, “The cards are the cards,” assuring the dealer that he was confident in his decision. The dealer pulled a final card out of the deck and slid it to The Kid. “Facedown!” my teammate urged, hoping to build up the suspense of the moment. The dealer slid the unknown card beneath the two fours. The cards were indeed the cards, and nothing at this point could change the result: $40,000 was on the line. I was as nervous as if it were my money, but The Kid seemed unfazed.
Imagine the confidence you’d need to keep cool during something like this. If The Kid was sweating, no one noticed. Everything in his demeanor oozed swagger. No stress, no anxiety, no doubt. He trusted his gut and wasn’t afraid. As I studied his cool demeanor, I realized that the most stressful times in our lives often occur before the cards are even flipped. We’ve calculated our odds and it feels like we have no chance. We worry, we fret, we panic. We don’t know what’s coming next, so we break. We abort. We run away before the game plays out. But that night at the casino, I learned that life doesn’t have to be so logical. Even in the face of stacked odds, you can own the moment. You can be confident even when you don’t know what comes next, or when you fear the worst comes next because of what logic tells you. You can take risks and trust that it’s going to be okay.
I recently spoke with a friend who was going through a major transition. In many ways, he was waiting for his cards to be flipped. He was scared, confused, even a bit intimidated by the unknown that awaited him as he approached a new life stage. He was changing jobs and didn’t know what the future held. I reminded him about a truth that I had learned that day at the casino: when uncertainty hits, go with it. You have an opportunity, in whatever you do, to create. To be different. To not be concerned about the calculations or the odds. To be illogical enough to believe that you can do something that’s never been done.
The dealer flipped the other house card over. It was a ten of hearts. The Kid’s hope was all but lost. The dealer now had a value of eighteen to The Kid’s eight. And while The Kid still had his own card to turn over, only one would give him victory. Four cards would yield a draw and the final seven cards would net a loss of the average annual salary in America. To put it plainly, there was roughly a 7 percent chance that The Kid would win, a 31 percent chance The Kid would tie, and a 62 percent chance that The Kid’s pockets would be a lot lighter. I gently placed my hand on The Kid’s shoulder, preparing to comfort him for what would surely be a significant loss.
The Kid looked up at the dealer and signaled him permission to flip the final card. The room was silent, each person on the edge of their seat. The dealer flipped The Kid’s card over, slowly but with intent. It was the moment of truth. The last play of the game. A final opportunity. I braced myself. The card hit the table, followed shortly by my jaw. The crowd erupted. The Kid had done it. He’d drawn the one card he’d needed to win, an ace, giving him a total value of nineteen. Strangers reached across the table high-fiving each other. I was screaming in excitement and people were hugging me as if I had been the one to win. The Kid, however, ignored all the gestures around him. He just looked at me, nodded his head ever so slightly, and gave me a wink.
We collected our chips and headed to the cashier. The Kid could hardly hold on to each of the five-thousand-dollar pieces of plastic. As I waited in line for him to cash out, I gently mumbled a question that I couldn’t shake: “You know you only had a seven percent chance to win the hand, right?”
He paused briefly, still dismayed at my lack of belief. He then sighed and responded, “Acho … sometimes you’re too smart for your own good.”
While life is no game of blackjack, we all have a choice to make. Will we take a chance on our dreams regardless of their supposed success rate? Will we show up to the table? Will we go for it all and live the life we deserve, or will we let logic deter us from our greatness?
In my darkest days after being let go from the Philadelphia Eagles, I almost let logic swallow me. I loved football. I’d worked hard at it. Everyone around me told me that playing in the NFL was the opportunity of a lifetime—was my opportunity of a lifetime. It was hard to stop pursuing the dream that I felt I was best suited for, but that door was slammed in my face. I was forced to find another way forward, the alternative being to continue expending my energy ramming into the door simply because it was what I was supposed to do.
So I turned away from the door. I believed in my heart of hearts that there was something more for me. More to my story, like there is more to yours. I just needed to be brave enough to create it. To believe that when the card was flipped, I would still be okay.
* * *
I always knew I wanted to communicate. I love helping people see the best in themselves and bringing out the best in me as well. I wanted to refine my skills as a speaker, so after each day of training, I went home, took a shower, and began the task of calling everyone I knew to see what opportunities were out there. A few months later, I found myself on the set of the Longhorn Network, a college football TV station that covered any and all things related to the University of Texas, my alma mater.
Illogical decision number one was leaving the NFL before the final nail was in the coffin. Imagine that—retiring from the game of football, my first job, when I was twenty-five. I was still young enough that I could have waited longer, prepared more, hoped for that dream to stay alive. Instead, I was going into the unknown.
Illogical decision number two was believing I could succeed on the Longhorn Network. My seat was fixed between two heroes of the state of Texas, with Heisman Trophies to their names along with entire fields and restaurants that bore their appellation. They had both played in the NFL much longer than me, and had achieved more collegiate accolades than I could have ever imagined. Still, I saw an opportunity. I knew that I would have to work harder than ever before, but I was ready for a new challenge.
Week in and week out, I trained, but this time for something different. I watched recordings of the best analysts on TV and took notes on their different styles. I studied the work of other effective communicators and orators, implementing things that I liked from their skill sets into mine. Whether it was a rapper, a musician, a business leader, or a media mogul, I found valuable lessons in all of them. I was willing to learn from anyone. I even learned from Taylor Swift. I love music, but I’m not much of a concertgoer. Big crowds just aren’t my thing. But I’ve been to one life-changing concert in my life. I’m not obsessed with Taylor Swift’s music and truly we couldn’t be more different—I am a black man who played pro sports and she is a white woman specializing in country and pop music—but I am enthralled by her genius. When I was offered free tickets to see her show at the Philadelphia Eagles stadium in her home state of Pennsylvania, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a little uncomfortable—I knew I didn’t necessarily fit the mold of her average fan, but I was eager to see her perform. Upon arrival, everyone was given a wristband. I had no idea what the wristbands were for as they were clear, made of plastic, and seemingly useless. However, one hour into the concert, my mind was blown. As Taylor began to perform her Grammy-winning song “Bad Blood,” the entire stadium lit up red and white. It was then that I realized the value of the wristbands: they allowed us to be her co-performers. She has found a way to captivate the hearts of millions around the world and to make her fans feel like more than just spectators. I learned that day that it’s not enough to entertain a crowd, but that you have to engage them as well. You too can discover new ideas from those who look different, sound different, and work completely different jobs than you. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
* * *
Those two years at Longhorn Network were a grind. I traveled nonstop while many of my peers continued to play professionally. They were on practice fields, I was on planes. They were on primetime TV, I was on public transportation. I worked in four different cities, at three different stations, six days a week. If I wasn’t working, I was traveling to work. If I wasn’t traveling to work, I was thinking about work. I was dreaming, planning, plotting ways I could earn my keep—ways I could keep on creating. Success, my friends, doesn’t come overnight, however you define it.
After two years of a schedule so brutal I woke up in hotel rooms confused as to what city I was in, I was asked to join ESPN, the network referred to as “the worldwide leader in sports.” I was set to be the youngest national football analyst to grace the platform. I obliged. By this point, I knew not to take a conventional measure of success like a job promotion to mean I’d made it—that I could stop thinking outside the box about what I wanted to do and what I wanted my life to be.
Everything I had learned during my four years in the NFL translated to my new career. The mental and physical toughness, the resilience, the determination—all of the traits I refined while playing professional football were paying off in a different way. My illogical decision to leave the NFL and dive into broadcasting, young and untested, was beginning to make perfect sense for me. Step by step I got more comfortable with the uncertainty. I befriended the unknown. I tried new things and allowed my creativity to flow freely. Did I make a mistake every now and then? Of course, and I promise you will too. But I was no longer afraid to fail. Why? Because I’d lived through failure and now I could sit with the uncertainty before the card was flipped. I realized while I waited to see if my gamble paid off or not that failure is simply an opportunity to try something new.
And my gamble did pay off, because I was able to sit in the uncertainty and walk down an illogical path not knowing what was at the end. Another couple of years later, I was hosting my own show, on a new network, every day of the week. Shortly thereafter, I found myself on the phone with Oprah Winfrey and in chairs across from Matthew McConaughey, Roger Goodell, and an entire city’s police department. Then I was on the New York Times bestseller list and giving a speech after winning an Emmy award. But these are all stories for later. The upshot is that the millions of viewers I’ve been able to connect with, and the countless important—and uncomfortable—conversations I’ve been able to have, all began with my willingness to be illogical. To leave the game, and then to change it. This, my friends, is my vision for you.
* * *
You may not think you’re ready to be illogical. I agree. We’re never ready. Much like having a child, being a spouse, and even starting a new business or going back to school, you’re never really ready. But when it’s time, it’s time. And now, my friends, it’s time.
It starts with your mind. We each have a beautiful mind. An ability to believe. The freedom to think for ourselves. To form a new opinion about our future.
What’s next? After what we all have comes what only you have. Your skills, your passions, your intrinsic gifts, your ideas. You may not be an athlete or a public speaker just as I’m not a graceful dancer or a math whiz. The point is that comparisons are irrelevant. We’re all worth believing in. Albert Einstein said it best: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So, let’s start with two key beliefs as we embark on our illogical path: You are as ready as you will ever be, and in your own unique way, you are a genius. Maybe not in the traditional sense based on some aptitude test you have twelve minutes to take, but you are exceptionally skilled at something. Let’s go on a journey and discover it together.
Once you’ve decided what you’re willing to be illogical about—the deep-down stuff in you that’s worth believing in, no matter what—there will be a lot of hard work. And probably a lot of failure. (But remember, we’ve redefined failure as opportunity.) What you need to know from the start is that you—right now, you as you’re reading this—don’t need to be any smarter, or more qualified, or any of those terms of convention. You are enough just as you are. You don’t follow your calling because you’re qualified. You qualify by following your calling. Believe that you can create something beautiful. Something magnificent. Something majestic for the world to see. Being illogical means having the courage to believe that you—yes, you—have everything you’ve ever needed to do what you were put on this earth to do.
Logic limits, and you were meant to fly.
Logically, the Wright brothers weren’t supposed to invent an object that could fly through the air while carrying people in it. Logically, Steve Jobs was not supposed to create a device that could simultaneously act as a camera, music player, phone, and much more. Logically, Martin Luther King Jr. was not supposed to believe that he could stand in the gap and speak up against America’s biggest sin.
It’s time to become illogical and push the limits on what life has to offer. Look at that unflipped card as an invitation to something better. Let’s defy logic, together.
Take the chance. Life is short and tomorrow is not promised. Do not live a half-filled life leaving yourself to wonder, “What if?” Just go do it.
The greatest reward comes after the greatest risk. There’s a saying in the casino: “Scared money don’t make no money.” Meaning, if you want to win big, you have to bet big. The same principle exists in life. When you’re illogical enough to believe you can do the impossible, the future will be uncertain, but the reward will be great.
Logic limits. Sometimes you’ve got to throw reason to the wind. It’s not reasonable to think that man could ascend to the moon. It’s not reasonable to think a device you can fit in your palm would allow you to communicate with people all over the world. But it wasn’t reason that made those things possible. It was a dream followed by belief. Don’t let logic limit your life.
* * *
Failure is simply an opportunity to TRY SOMETHING NEW.
* * *
2 Childlike Faith
It takes a very long time to become young.
I had just finished a workout and was sitting in my car, scrolling through social media. Part of me was trying to recover from the lift, part of me was checking to see what I had missed during my two-hour “get right” session. As I was seated, a car pulled up next to me. My trainer had come back from his lunch break and brought his daughter along. He didn’t see me, but I saw him. He went to the back seat of the car, opened the door, and helped his five-year-old hop out of the vehicle. The kid was excited. A chance to go to work with her dad, a chance to see something new. In her excitement, she began to dash toward the workout facility. Before she could put her third step on the ground, her dad yelled, “Wait, there may be a car coming!” The girl immediately halted. There was no car. My trainer was just performing his parental duties and warning his daughter out of an abundance of caution.
It was an interesting interaction. The child didn’t consider any potential danger around her. She didn’t consider obstacles or threats that could get in her way. She just sprinted toward her desired destination. That moment nearly brought me to tears. It reminded me of the freedom that many children live with. Freedom from fear, trepidation, regret, or constantly wondering “What if?”
As children, we have a superpower: the ability to dream the impossible and move without fear of the consequences. But as we grow older and experience hardship, fear, and the expectations and prejudices of the world, this superpower dissipates. By the time we reach adolescence, this birthright is often completely gone. We become logical.
I’m confident that if you’re reading this book, then you are over the age of five, but we all have a lesson to learn. A lesson about belief, a lesson about the childlike faith that little girl had as she rushed toward what she wanted.
* * *
I was recently at Altitude Trampoline Park with my friends and their young children. I waltzed into this theme park and immediately felt out of place because I was about twenty years older and two hundred pounds heavier than the average eight-year-old sprinting around the area in jubilation. At first, I sat there and took in the sights. Some kids were playing ping-pong on the tables near the entrance and others were playing air hockey, sending pucks everywhere, but the majority were on the trampolines. Kids were flying through the air, one backflip after another. A young girl even did a double backflip in the air—I swear she’s the next Simone Biles.
As I sat there with my jaw hung low, a boy named Chase invited me over to his trampoline. He greeted me with a smile and said, “Hey, mister, you want to try?”
I responded, “Oh no, you have your fun!”
But Chase was not taking no for an answer. He replied, “Come on, man, don’t be scared.”
Now picture me, roughly six foot two, 240 pounds, being egged on by this child who was barely four feet tall. I said to Chase, “Of course I’m not scared! Let me put my shoes away and I’ll be right back!” I stashed my shoes at the cubbies and as I walked back toward Chase, I whispered under my breath, “He must not know who he just challenged. I’m a former NFL linebacker. Scared?! Me? Heck no. He doesn’t know who he’s talking to.” Back at the trampoline, I was surprised to find a crowd of ten or so children awaiting me. I guessed Chase had summoned his friends to witness what was to come.
I parted the sea of children and took my place in the middle of the trampoline as the crowd hovered around me.
“Do a backflip!” they yelled. “We want to see you do a backflip.”
I snickered. “Oh, that’s it! Okay, I’ll show y’all youngsters how it’s done.” There was only one problem—I hadn’t done a backflip in roughly twenty years, since I was around Chase’s age. I began to spring up and down in the air, gaining height as I tried to build up confidence. I told the children to count to three and on three I would do it.
“Wait, wait, wait! Y’all are counting too fast!” I yelled before they got to three.
The children collectively shook their heads in annoyance and proceeded again. “One … two…”
“WAIT! WAIT!” I stopped them again. “My socks are too slick; I don’t have enough traction.”
A girl jeered from the crowd, “Stop being scared, I’ll show you how it’s done!” She walked up to the trampoline, took her place in front of me, and before I could blink, had done a flip as quick as it was graceful. She turned around, looked up into my eyes, and said, “See, easy. Your turn.”
As she stepped off the trampoline, I began springing up and down again, building my confidence. The children did not count this time; it was simply assumed I would go when I was ready. There was one problem—I was never going to be ready. What if I freak out in the air and can’t stick the landing? What if I embarrass myself in front of all these kids? They’ll laugh me all the way out the front door. These thoughts clouded my mind as I stalled, bouncing up and down. These thoughts stopped me.
The freedom I possessed as a child had matured into fear. I had become too calculated, too reasonable, too … logical. There was no way that I could propel my 240-pound frame backward through the air and land back on my feet. Yeah, that wasn’t happening. Or at least, I had convinced myself there was no way I was strong enough or coordinated enough, but those were lies. I had worked out five days a week for the previous fifteen years and played professional sports—strength and coordination weren’t the problem. The real problem: I wasn’t bold enough. I had all the ability in the world, I had all the skills to execute the task, but I was missing the main ingredient. I had no faith, I had no belief. I was the exact thing that Chase and the other children warned me not to be: I was scared.
The longer you and I are on Earth, the more we focus on what we can’t do as opposed to what we can do. When logic tells us that taking a risk means failure, the thing that’s holding us back isn’t our ability, it’s our fear. Our fear that following the illogical path isn’t safe, even if living a life that isn’t true to ourselves is ultimately worse than taking a chance. Remember, you have the creative genius, the mental ability, or the physical talent necessary. You just need the courage. You don’t need anyone to count to three for you and you don’t need a group of spectators (trust me, it’s nerve-racking). Everything you need to achieve your dreams you already possess. You just have to change your attitude in life because your attitude determines your altitude.
Take a moment and think about your fears. The areas that give you pause. The jumps you’ve been too afraid to take. Think about the hesitancy that you feel when it’s time for you to make the leap. Maybe it’s a job change. Maybe it’s a relationship that’s evolving. Maybe it’s a dream that has been tucked away deep in the recesses of your mind. You see, this is not just a me issue or a you issue. It’s a we issue.
Maybe you’ve been hurt before. Maybe you’ve had your dreams shot down by people who know you well, or by those who don’t know you at all. Remember this: Someone may know where you’re from, but they have no idea where you’re going, especially when you start to believe the impossible, when you start having childlike faith. Your faith is a muscle. It grows stronger every time you choose to believe the unbelievable. It expands when you refuse to let logic be your limiting factor. Your faith increases as you continue to make leaps in your life. Even if the leap opposes your logic, in fact especially if it does, it is worth it. Your dream is just around the corner, your freedom is just around the bend. Take the jump. Have faith.
Of course, childlike faith doesn’t mean you don’t have fears, it means you choose not to let your fears stop you from taking a leap. It means you talk openly about your fears with the ones who love you most. You share your fears with a close friend or a loved one, and if you’re a person of religious faith, you share them with God. Conventional thinking tells us that when we move cities, change zip codes, switch schools, or shake something up, we lose something. It tells us that when we start afresh, things won’t work out. But what we lose by not doing these things are the dreams that need to be fed and nourished if we are going to live full lives. Stop believing conventional thinking and start listening to your dreams, not your fears. Learn from the young people around us who take the world in with wonder and who are constantly looking to expand and move forward instead of holding back.
The naysayers are both outside and inside, and it’s hard to fight them—to fight for what you believe in even when you don’t always believe it. When I was making my transition out of football, I had one desire. To do something that had never been done before. To create something that had never been created. To build something that hadn’t been built. My journey started with that illogical desire and continued with childlike faith. Faith that I could achieve the unreasonable; that I could do the unthinkable. Heck, that I could write a book. I showed up, I did what was in front of me, and I listened not to the doubters, but to the little kid inside of me; the one who always believed. The work was hard, the nights were long, the struggle was real. But it was worth it. Every minute of it.
I ended up returning to the trampoline park a different day. This time, alone, it took me several tries. They were not all pretty, but I finally made the jump. I even stuck the landing. What I was so afraid of never took place. I’m learning to live in the moment and not be afraid of the things that haven’t happened yet. Why? Because if I don’t there’s a chance that they never will.
Sit with your fears, then do it. A child lives, breathes, and moves without fear of the consequences. Logical adults often weigh the legitimate consequences of anything we do. The only life worth living is a life not confined by this fear.
Focus on what you can do, not what you think you cannot do.
Stop weighing the pros and cons and just believe. Children just believe, they don’t overcomplicate things. My coach always used the phrase, “Paralysis by analysis.” Don’t overthink, just believe, and thus achieve.
* * *
You just have to change your attitude in life because YOUR ATTITUDE DETERMINES YOUR ALTITUDE.
* * *
3 Don’t Forget Your Earmuffs
The year 2019 was the most chaotic year of my life. Particularly the fall. Austin, Texas, was my official home, but I really would’ve considered myself a nomad. I spent Sunday to Wednesday in Austin, but every Wednesday I would board a 12:00 p.m. flight to New York City. As soon as I would land, my producer would call me, and we would discuss the rundown for the next day’s 8:00 a.m. sports show. This call would last for an hour, long enough for me to get in a car and fight the hellacious traffic until I arrived at my hotel. By the time I was settled, it would be 7:00 p.m., giving me just enough time to grab dinner and iron my clothes before that 4:50 a.m. alarm. (Quick life hack: if you’re ever too lazy to iron that nice dress or new suit, just hang it up in the bathroom and let the steam from the shower do the work for you.) After Thursday’s 8:00 a.m. sports show concluded, I would take a car to Bristol, Connecticut, where I would work Friday and Saturday before ultimately catching a 6:00 a.m. flight back to Austin on Sunday morning. Three different cities, three different states, all within three days. It was chaos.
Nothing brought me greater joy than heading to that airport to go back to Austin Sunday morning, but one November evening, I had to detour. It was a Saturday night and my friend, Tobe Nwigwe, was in town. If you know a thing or two about Nigerians, you know we typically like to stick together and support each other. So rather than head to my much-desired bed after work, I took a car back to New York City.
Tobe is a Nigerian American rapper who was performing at an intimate venue in Manhattan. As I would soon learn, “intimate” and “rap music” are two things that should never mix. I arrived at the concert about an hour early and was escorted backstage to where he and his wife, “Fat” (his affectionate nickname for her, having nothing to do with her size) were rehearsing. Fat, also a rapper, had a toddler at the time, so as she held her baby in one hand, she perused her phone in the other to double-check that she was nailing all her lyrics. “It’s show time!” the stage manager yelled as he barged into the room. Everyone grabbed hands to pray in the direction of Tobe. After we bowed our heads and said “Amen,” Tobe and Fat proceeded to the stage. I hung back and made my way to a VIP section on the floor.
If you’ve ever been to a concert, there’s nothing like being on the floor right in front of the stage—it’s like you’re performing with the artist. There’s only one small issue with that much proximity.… THE MUSIC IS SO LOUD YOU HAVE TO TALK LIKE THIS JUST TO MAKE SURE THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU CAN HEAR! I think I just strained my vocal cords writing that.
The music was so loud, from the subwoofers set in the walls to the speakers on the stage, my ears rang for days after. I stayed for about seven songs, but I needed to leave the concert early because after an hour of being oversaturated by beats, my head was starting to ache on rhythm. I also had to make sure I could catch the redeye back to Austin. Tobe is my friend and all, but remember, my king-size mattress awaited me in my Austin home.
As I was squeezing past clustered bodies toward the exit, I saw a mother holding a child who couldn’t have been more than two years old. The child was sound asleep as her mother bobbed left and right clearly feeling the beats from the stage and screaming each of the lyrics as if she were the star of the show. I thought to myself, “How in the world is this child asleep in the midst of all this noise?” I had to find out.
I moved away from the exit and closer toward the mother and child. I figured that at the very least, I could ask the mother for the secret potion that would cause one to rest in that kind of noise. But as I got closer, everything started to make sense. The child was wearing large black earmuffs tucked underneath her hair. She was as calm as could be in the middle of one of the loudest concerts I have ever attended because although there was chaos around her, she was blocking it all out. She decided to put her earmuffs on—or at least someone put them on for her. As I enviously looked on, my ears already starting to ring, I couldn’t help but extrapolate this situation to the rest of life.
My lesson that day was: don’t forget your earmuffs.
Sometimes our worlds are filled with so much noise that we can’t find our way forward. We can’t hear our own voice because a million others are screaming what we should do. Logic’s voice is especially loud. We need to learn to put on our metaphorical earmuffs so we can walk through the crowd with peace and trust in our own voice. Like the ringing in my ears, that lesson stuck with me for days. In fact, it has not left me even now (the ear ringing is blessedly gone) and it’s one I would learn to lean on a few months later when I was met with more noise than I could have ever imagined.
* * *
It was minutes before the biggest moment of my career. I was getting ready to record the first-ever episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, the show that would ultimately change my life and lead me to connecting with Oprah. I had arrived at the studio for my 11:00 a.m. call time. I reached out to open the door when all of a sudden, my phone vibrated. I was so on edge about the big day that the sudden vibrations sent my nerves out of control. The text message I received was from a black friend and colleague at ESPN. I had run the idea of the show by her days before, back when the title was Questions White People Have (I know, I like the final title better, too). I was met with a little hesitancy, but ultimately, she listened to my heart and offered me some advice in the moment.
The text got straight to the point: “I know I mentioned this already, but maybe hold off on your ‘White People Ask Questions’—I don’t think that’s the way.”
Truly, it was too late. I quickly typed a response back. “If you got another way, let me know as soon as possible? I’m going to move how God leads, but I will keep you updated.” There was no turning back now—I had rented a room, hired a videographer, and spent hours preparing to tackle one of America’s biggest issues: racism. Yet my friend texted me this message four minutes before I was supposed to record. It sent me spiraling into a roller coaster of doubt. “What if I fail? What if I embarrass myself?” I thought. Those same fear-based questions I had while stuck on the trampoline were beginning to creep in again, but this wasn’t just a backflip.
Admittedly, I was frustrated. I didn’t understand why a close friend of mine would cast doubt on something that I felt called to do. She wasn’t involved, so it didn’t make sense to me why she cared so much about my plans, and why she was so against them. I continued to question myself, but time was running out. I had a decision to make. Either listen to her doubts, or put my earmuffs on. After a few minutes of internal deliberation, I chose the latter. I texted my friend back again and told her we could discuss over the phone after I finished recording. Minutes later, I sat down in my chair, opened my mouth, and let the words flow out. Eighty million views across social media platforms and a number-one New York Times bestselling book later, I’m glad I made that decision. I’m glad I put my earmuffs on.
When you are called to do something great, either by someone else or by your own internal yearning, there are always plenty of skeptics. Skeptics may pop up in the form of haters or they might be well-meaning friends who disagree, like my friend. Regardless, your calling is your calling. It’s not a conference call. Only you know that pure passion that burns within you. Only you know how many hours you’ve laid awake at night just thinking, “What if? What if I start that business? What if I pursue that relationship? What if I move to that city?” The “what-ifs” are endless, but so, too, is the noise. It’s hard to shut it out, to make the decision to put on your earmuffs, but without them we can never truly listen to ourselves and find our truest path. That is why it is imperative you put on your earmuffs. Your earmuffs don’t keep the doubt from existing, they keep the external noise from impacting your existence.
When I made the decision to ignore my friend’s cautionary text message, I did what I believed to be right. Was it illogical? Absolutely. I was a former NFL player turned sports analyst about to sit in an all-white room talking to myself on camera about one of the most divisive and important topics in the country. I was putting myself smack dab in the center of our nation’s biggest source of tension. By being illogical, I made a decision to disregard the doubt. A decision to believe. A decision to chase my dream. Who would have thought that by chasing an illogical dream I would be able to influence people for the better?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek the counsel of others, but we can learn to choose when to engage and when to put our heads down and move forward. My favorite example of this is Apple’s latest earphones, the AirPods Pro. They come with a nifty new noise cancellation feature. The AirPods Pro allow you to fully cancel all of the sound around you to the point where you can’t even hear yourself speak. You can only hear whatever sound you’ve decided to play through your earphones. The noise cancellation is handy, but what I find even more impressive is a different feature called the transparency function. At the press of a button, noise cancellation is turned off. This allows you to hear enough outside noise to engage in a conversation with someone while still listening to your music. You now have complete control of the noise you let in, and also control of when you want to silence outside noise. Not all noise is bad noise. Not everyone who challenges your ideas or your ability is doubting you—some of their feedback can be constructive. Understand when you need to completely block out the noise or when it’s beneficial to engage in constructive dialogue. Sometimes learning to put on your earmuffs is as simple as acknowledging the criticism in your mind but not letting it overwhelm you or change your course. Almost like saying, “Hey, I see you, but stay over there.” Each time the noise gets quieter and quieter, and your earmuffs get stronger as you get stronger. If we are aware but not overwhelmed, sometimes we can even let something good slip in.
Before Uncomfortable Conversations, I had already received my fair share of criticism on social media. Whether they were Twitter bots or human beings, people didn’t always like what I had to say. Threats and hateful, hurtful remarks had been thrown at me long before my videos went viral. I knew I was speaking truth and mastering my craft, but as I got better, the comments got worse. Still, I stayed the course. When I first began posting videos tackling issues of race, the hate I received intensified. That’s how I knew I was close. I didn’t back down; I refused to run away. Breath by breath, the doubters’ sting began to dissipate. I blocked out that noise and it set me free.
A year later, I was under fire again, but this time for a different issue. Being targeted on social media is similar to being the brunt of the jokes in your favorite group chat, except the jokes never end, the chat is limitless, and whoever wants to join has free access. It’s like being the candy-filled piñata at a child’s birthday—first the kids take a few swings, but eventually the adults pick up the bat and swing until they break you.
I was under attack for my comments on America upholding its suspension of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who tested positive for marijuana and was kept out of the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo. “A rule is a rule,” I said. “Competing under the influence of THC [the active compound found in marijuana] may be okay for the Olympic sprinter who runs in a straight line, but what about the javelin thrower?” I wasn’t sure why this comment was garnering so much hate, but after roughly ten thousand different individuals scorned me across multiple platforms, I decided to do some research. Full transparency: I’ve never smoked weed. So I am ignorant of the impact from a personal level, and I also was not fully aware of the history of racism around marijuana. The social media hate was loud and it was layered. Many people just wanted to attack me because it’s easy to do when you can remain relatively anonymous. But amidst all the noise, there was a doctor named Benecia Williams who made a comment of her own. Her message to me was simple: “Look up Harry Anslinger.” I had my earmuffs on but I decided to let this through. She and I began to engage, and it turned out she is a double-board-certified physician who specializes in rehabilitation. She is a huge advocate of the positive impact CBD (a non-psychoactive drug found in the cannabis plant) can have on one’s health.
I followed her request and started looking up Harry Anslinger. It turns out he was the first head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In the 1930s, Anslinger pushed to have marijuana outlawed in America, but for many wrong reasons. He was once quoted as saying, “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” He also said, “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, results from marijuana usage. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.” Anslinger created what was called the “gore files,” roughly two hundred accounts of the most heinous sexually and physically violent crimes committed in the country. He would alter these files and attribute the crimes to the usage of marijuana. That is how he pushed the fear of marijuana from the state level to the national level. He ultimately used these files to convince Congress to pass the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, outlawing the use of marijuana.
The only reason I learned all of this information and grew intellectually was because I was willing to let some positive noise in. Among the thousands of disparaging comments I blocked out, there was absolutely something worth listening to—one comment that made me better informed and strengthened me as a person, instead of tearing me down as noise often does.
* * *
But another question remains: What happens when you’re the one who’s doubting yourself? What happens when the doubts won’t go away? At that moment, it’s time to sign an eviction notice. Here’s what I mean: Many people will try to guide you, convince you, doubt you, or direct you. Their opinions and thoughts of you may have made their way deep into the crevices of your mind and heart and seemingly set up camp there. They’re cozy. Nuzzled in and comfortably living inside of you in spaces that, quite frankly, are not meant for them. How and when they arrived was their fault. But now, it’s time to take control of the situation. It’s time to kick them out. The fear has been living rent-free and the bills are past due. It’s time for some new friends, new opinions, and new beliefs about yourself.
My friend’s cautionary text message may have been rooted in fear. Maybe she was afraid that I wasn’t ready for the ridicule, the comments, the weight my words would carry. Whatever her reasons, I had to put my earmuffs on. As you begin your own journey of being illogical, remember: Not everyone is going to cheer you on. Even fewer people are going to want to see you succeed. They may be insecure, frustrated, or even confused. That’s okay. Be illogical and go for it anyway. Your dream is not meant to be hidden.
The thing that sets people apart in life is what they actually believe about themselves. Deep down in their heart of hearts, in the depths of their soul. Do you believe that you can change the world? Do you believe you can do something that’s never been done before? Do you believe that you can free yourself from logic’s limits and start living life differently? Do you believe that you can live a life free from fear of failure? Many times, when we hear questions like these, they’re asked with cynicism, as if considering such things is a waste of time and energy—that you’d have to be foolish to believe in something so unbelievable. Hear me when I say this: I want you to be dumb enough to believe.
I actually believed I could change the world with one video. I actually believed I was the perfect person to tackle race-related issues in America and around the world. I still do. I believe that I was made for this moment. Why? Because I have been preparing for it my whole life. The night before the first filming, I made a phone call. I called my brother, Sam, and made a statement that I still believe to this day.
“Bro,” I began, “I don’t know how to explain it, but I think I was made for this moment. My upbringing, my relationships, my background, and my life experiences. I don’t know anyone better suited to answer some of these questions from our white brothers and sisters than me. Something has to be done, and I think I’m the person to do it.”
I had a feeling. I believed … and sure, some would call me dumb for believing, but what if I hadn’t gone forward anyway? I don’t want to imagine everything I would have missed out on for the sake of staying in my lane, thinking logically, and leaving this important work to someone else. I was crazy enough to believe. Are you?
* * *
About a year later, I went to another one of Tobe’s concerts. This time, I came prepared. I had some bright yellow earmuffs to match my banana-colored jacket. But I wasn’t the only one. Tobe’s daughter was there as well—with her own earmuffs on. Just a bit older, she was nuzzled quietly in her mother’s arms. When I saw her, I asked Fat if I could carry her. She said yes. So I picked up the child and rocked her to sleep in the midst of a loud rap concert.
Don’t listen to the haters. Don’t let others’ doubts limit your achievement.
Not all noise is bad noise. Activate your transparency function and let the good in to refine you while keeping out the bad.
Sign the eviction notice. Kick out your own internal negative thoughts whenever they arise.
* * *
YOUR CALLING IS YOUR CALLING. It’s not a conference call.
* * *
4 Keep on Dreaming
In the end, reconciliation is a spiritual process, which requires more than just a legal framework. It has to happen in the hearts and minds of people.
What happens when you can’t put on your earmuffs? When the words of the doubters are too loud and get in anyway? The answer is found in the story of Joseph.
Joseph was a dreamer. The second youngest of twelve siblings, he was hands down his father’s favorite child. Joseph’s dad even made him a custom colorful coat—think limited edition Chanel or the freshest Jordans—to show how much he loved him. He was the golden boy, but he had a peculiar talent. A talent that would save his life, but also put him in grave danger.
One night, Joseph had a dream that all of his brothers and his dad were bowing down to him. He shared that dream with his brothers. They were livid. (Quick aside, if you ever have a dream that your siblings are bowing down to you, you should probably keep that one to yourself.) Shortly after, Joseph had another dream. This time he dreamed that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to him, as well.
Joseph’s older brothers were sick of their father’s favoritism and tired of their baby brother’s dreams, so they decided to get rid of him. They sold him into Egyptian slavery and sent him off to Egypt. Joseph ended up in an Egyptian prison, where he became known for his ability to interpret dreams. He wowed the other inmates, and they remembered him even after they were released.
Twelve years passed when Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had two dreams that no one could interpret. In fact, he was so disturbed by the dreams that he summoned all of Egypt’s magicians and their wise men to see if they could make sense of them. No luck. Now, what Pharaoh wants, Pharaoh gets. So while the magicians and wise men did not have the ability to interpret the dreams, they believed there had to be someone who could. One day, one of the king’s aides remembered Joseph from years prior when he’d been in prison with him. Joseph was summoned from prison to the king’s court, interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, and, as a reward, was made second in command over all of Egypt. Pharaoh went as far as to say, “Only in the throne will I be greater than you” (Genesis 41:40).
Think about that for a second. Joseph, whose dreams caused his brothers to despise him, so much so that they left him for dead, also led him to being second in command over the most powerful country of the time. This story, this lesson, stops me in my tracks every time I read it. Remember, along your journey toward being illogical, people will doubt you, ridicule you, gossip about you, and maybe even leave you in an emotional ditch. We try to put on our earmuffs, but sometimes it’s too much. Just know it will all come full circle. The same things that people despised you for will lead you to your destiny.
The very thing that people, his own brothers included, hated him for was the same thing that placed Joseph second in command. When people shun you in life for your dreams, just keep on dreaming.
When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he told the king that the dream meant the land of Egypt would face seven years of harvest followed by seven years of famine. The king took heed of Joseph’s words and immediately began to store up and ration all the grain, allocating it daily in preparation for the years to come. Neighboring countries and communities were dependent upon Egypt, so the king had to plan accordingly. One day, Joseph’s brothers left the town where they were living, a town experiencing great famine, and went to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph was now the governor of the land and was the one in charge of selling grain to foreigners who came to purchase it from Egypt. I’m sure you can tell where this story is going. As Joseph’s brothers came forward, he recognized them, but they did not recognize him. It had been twelve years, and the customs of Egypt at the time likely called for Joseph to have a shaved head. As they drew near to Joseph, Egyptian royalty, they bowed their heads to the ground. In that moment, Joseph’s dream from years before came true. His brothers had no idea who he was—they probably thought their brother was still in slavery or dead somewhere. He wasn’t. Joseph was about to bless his brothers, the same brothers who punished him. After his brothers retook their positions standing upright, they purchased the grain and were sent on their way back home. But as they arrived home, they realized that not only did they have the grain they went to purchase, but Joseph had also put the money they were supposed to use to purchase the grain back in their sacks.
* * *
Before I created my video series I had already envisioned a book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. I felt as though the spoken word has sizzle, but the written word has substance. The only problem was that I didn’t know anything about writing books, so I reached out to my literary agent. I expressed my idea, how I wanted each chapter to start off with a question that was then answered throughout the chapter. How I wanted the book to be conversational; I wanted to talk with the reader, not at the reader. I poured out my idea with excitement, but the excitement wasn’t reciprocated. I was met with comments about the market being too saturated and ears not being very keen on this type of subject matter. I was disheartened. I had a calling and I believed the world was ready to listen. I had a decision to make: listen to the experts, or go with the command of my calling. Well, by now you know which decision I made.
I’ll be honest, even after the book was published I was still bitter. I harbored resentment that people had doubted me, that people hadn’t believed in me. But then I remembered Joseph. After you’ve made the illogical decision, you’ll likely have a moment when you think back on those who doubted you. Make sure you think of them fondly, because everything happened as it was supposed to. It always does. That relationship that ended, that business partner that abandoned you, that bank that would not give you a loan, it happened exactly how it needed to happen. It will all work out for your good.
* * *
Before Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, before the views, before the likes, before The Bachelor, my dream was to make art. I wanted to do something that’s never been done before. I would come early, stay late, wear my earmuffs, and jump out of boats (more on this in future chapters). People thought I was crazy, but the dam broke and I started using my “it,” (more on finding and using your “it” in chapter 15). I could feel myself in the zone. Maximizing my potential and leaving the world better for it. I was still at ESPN and was hoping to grow at the worldwide television leader. And then I met a roadblock. As I was negotiating for an increased role with the company, one of the decision makers looked me in the eye and told me that what I was trying to do couldn’t be done. She told me that I wasn’t a big enough name. So I left, and went to a company that allowed me more space to grow. I made an illogical decision. Then, weeks later, my platform did grow; far bigger than any show or network could have ever expected. They thought that the sky was the limit. I knew that logic was. So I made an illogical decision and bet on myself. I took a risk.
After Joseph became second in command, a famine hit and there would be limited food in the land. His brothers, who figured he was dead by then, traveled to Egypt to get food for their family. They ran into Joseph but again, they didn’t recognize him. It had been over twenty years since they sold him into slavery. Joseph recognized them instantly, and though he could have harbored hate in his heart, he forgave them and gave them food to eat and a place to stay. Even when they don’t believe in your dreams, bless them anyway.
I’m not mad at the executive at ESPN. I have no qualms about my book agent, nor the colleague who said that Uncomfortable Conversations was a bad idea. I have no issues with anyone who has been limited by logic. I actually wrote this book for them. Regardless of what you’ve experienced in life, I can tell you this much. Where you’re going is greater than where you’ve been. I wrote this book for you. For all those who feel like there must be something more. If you’ve ever felt like there must be something more, that’s because there is. If you’ve ever felt limited by life, that probably means you have been, but those days are over. You no longer need to cling to a faint hope—you have all the steps to take action. I’ve heard a definition of “faith” described as: “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” Faith is only necessary as long as there is doubt, but eventually your faith will be your eyes. You no longer need to have faith that your dreams, hopes, and ambitions will come true. You have all the tools to make them come true and let your faith become your eyes. You no longer have to imagine a life without failure; just go live one. Anyone who has ever felt limited by life. For people who once believed that they could change the world, then stopped believing. That’s why I do what I do. I didn’t choose Uncomfortable Conversations; Uncomfortable Conversations chose me. My preparation, desire to make an impact, and belief that anything is possible as long as you believe was what prepared me for my moment. You’re not too smart for own good, but you have been limiting yourself with logic. My intention is to unlock your potential, and to rid you of the bitterness and hate before they take root in you. But I had to learn not to harbor hate the hard way.
I was a junior in high school and could not have been more excited to receive my first offer to play football at the University of Texas. The premier school in the state and a top school in the nation, Texas was big. And my high school was small. And small schools sometimes keep people from dreaming.
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I was walking out of science class when he said it. “Hey, Emmanuel,” this professor began, “are you sure you want to go to Texas? I don’t think you’re going to survive there. It’s too big, and you’re from a small school. You’ll probably get lost in the shuffle. Why don’t you reconsider?” Maybe this teacher was having a bad day or maybe he just genuinely disliked me (I didn’t like him very much after that either), but those words hurt. And I carried them with me. I couldn’t wait to prove him wrong. But even after I achieved success in both college and the NFL, I was still angry. I would come back to campus just to ignore him. I would make sure to call him out during interviews. Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning that there’s something else beneath it that we truly feel. The thing beneath anger for me was sadness. I was sad that this person close to me would be so negative; would doubt me without even giving me a chance. Sadness led to anger, and anger hate. But then I remembered a quote about love and hatred from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I resolved to love and forgive this man, and everyone else who didn’t believe. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t best of friends afterward, but that hate fell off of my heart and I was free to be me. Free to serve all, not just some. And that freedom is what allowed my light to shine.
I don’t know what you’ve been through in life, but hatred and resentment are never the answer. They never were. When you start being illogical and proving doubters wrong, don’t say, “I told you so,” just smile and say, “Thank you. Thank you for making me uncomfortable. Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for the doubt. Thank you for helping me devote my life to proving you wrong.” As illogical as it sounds, doubters can be great motivators. Maybe these naysayers just need somebody to show them that the impossible can be done. That they can be free, too. And who knows, there may just be a famine in town and you might end up as second in command with the power to help.
Joseph had a dream, literally. But you too will have a dream for your life. Dreams of where you want to go, what you want to do, what you want to accomplish. You’ve probably already experienced this already, but some will despise you simply because of your dreams. Your ambition will cause their envy. Your success will lead to their hate. Those in your corner and those closest to you will doubt or discourage you. But hear me when I say this. Just keep on dreaming. Eventually everything they doubted will be in high demand. Their hate will turn into high praise. And what they envied you for, you will excel in.
When people shun you in life for your dreams, keep on dreaming. When we release ourselves of logic, it may seem like we’re traveling further from our destination, but like the boomerang, everything comes full circle. I went from going to detention for talking to being asked to speak to Fortune 500 companies. Your gifts will eventually make room for you. As an adolescent I was far from the brightest student at my elite college preparatory school, St. Mark’s. I graduated toward the bottom of the class and I often got sent to detention for talking too much. So you’ll understand how ironic I found it when I received a call to deliver the opening convocation speech for St. Mark’s. I’ve also won two Emmys for the talking that I do. The very thing I got punished for doing years earlier, I was now being asked to do; I was being rewarded for it. Joseph had a similar story and I trust you will, too.
Don’t blame the haters. Our brains are prewired with fear sensors. They help protect us from danger, but also limit us from achieving the impossible. Not everyone will have the same passion or fervor for greatness that you carry. Don’t blame them. Bitterness can erode your soul.
Don’t harbor hate. One of my biggest struggles in life is navigating the pain of my past. Those who doubted me, questioned me, and downright wished ill toward me. We all know those people who never wanted you to succeed, and in fact did everything within their power to keep you from succeeding. Maybe it was a coach, teacher, friend, or even parent. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that resentment was only having adverse effects on my life. I learned not to harbor hate.
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WHERE YOU’RE GOING IS GREATER than where you’ve been.
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5 I Might Be Crazy
In 2013, I had just been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles from the Browns. Trades in the NFL are rare and though I was a bit surprised, I was happy to be leaving Cleveland. The franchise had been struggling for nearly two decades with no sign of getting better. After a losing record and a gruesome injury (I tore a ligament in my knee), I got the call that I was headed to a new city, with a new coach and a new opportunity. I was going to Philly.
It was late May when I walked up the steps of the Eagles’ facility to meet the special teams coach, Dave Fipp. I wanted to get some extra film study in with him, but I had also learned the tricks of the NFL. If you want to make the roster as someone in my position who is low in the pecking order, the special teams coach better become your best friend.
While sitting with the coach reviewing practice tape, I glanced to the right and noticed what appeared to be an updated depth chart. A depth chart is a list of every player on the roster in order of their importance, based on position. When my eyes saw the label “Linebackers,” I worked down the list of names to find my own. Except I never did. I scanned the list again—nothing. The coach was still talking me through corrections but I was no longer able to pay attention. I sat there trying to play it cool. I finally found my name under a small label at the bottom of the board that read “Cut.” Cut is a term used in the NFL for when a team is going to release, fire, or relieve you of your duties, rendering you jobless. My name was on that list along with three other individuals. Four names, three letters, two options: believe it or don’t.
I dismissed myself from the meeting and didn’t bother to offer an explanation. I needed a minute, desperate for solitude to gather my thoughts and pray. After pacing back and forth down the hall, I realized there was one place I could go to be alone. You guessed it—I made a beeline to the bathroom. Ducking into the far stall, I locked the door and got down on one knee to pray. Not the most sanitary thing I’ve ever done, but the thought of being cut by a team that had just traded for me would drive any young man crazy. I knew what my eyes had seen, that I was to be released, but I refused to believe—and more important, accept—it. I was on hands and knees in a full plea to God that somehow things would turn. After all, regardless of what the chart said about my future, I was still currently employed. Mid-prayer, I cracked an eye open to see pants folding around someone’s feet in the stall next to me and realized I was no longer by myself. I knelt there with tears in my eyes, with a stranger in the stall next to me, feeling completely alone. It was then I thought to myself, “I might be crazy.”
I’m going to level with you. Full transparency. There will be a moment on your illogical journey toward truth when you say to yourself, “What the heck am I doing?” Or more likely, “I might be crazy!” Let me be the first to tell you that that feeling is okay. I’m pretty sure the person who first thought, “Ya know, we should go to space,” probably thought shortly thereafter, “Eh, maybe not, that’s crazy.” The moment you think to yourself, “I might be crazy,” is the first checkpoint on your path to accomplishing greatness. When you have that moment, don’t lean into your doubt. Let it propel you to the reality that you are about to do something great. Your “I might be crazy” moment may come when you start to empty your bank account to pursue the business that will change your life. It may come when you end that five-year relationship that everyone—including you—thought would result in marriage. It may come when you sell your possessions and move overseas to help people in need. Whatever it is, it’s coming. Embrace it.
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In 2007, the iPhone was released. But first, Steve Jobs had a vision. You see, he had this idea—a crazy idea, may I add—that we could hold in our hand a device that would act as a telephone, camera, music player, and GPS system all in one. When Jobs decided to create the iPhone, many thought it was a ridiculous idea and that he had no business trying to revolutionize anything. That things were fine the way they were and that his product wouldn’t work. Most doubted, but others believed. He was one of the believers. His belief was so strong that he transferred that same belief to his employees, the people who moved house and home to follow him, the people who worked harder than they ever had before to help him accomplish his vision. Bob Iger, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Company, had heard of Jobs’s idea to create a device that could hold music and videos and partnered with him to find ways to deliver more Disney content to the masses. Who wouldn’t want more Mickey Mouse in their life?
Fifteen years after an “I might be crazy” moment could have ended it all, the dream Jobs wouldn’t let go of has led to more than 1 billion sales worldwide. (The iPhone is the most purchased phone in history and has completely changed the way the world works. All because one man believed and did it anyway.)
Jobs didn’t keep his faith to himself; he spread it. When you’re unwaveringly illogical, others catch on and start to be illogical with you. Your “I might be crazy” moment is a minor speed bump to keep you honest. Realistically, it’s there to slow you down, but you don’t drive up to a speed bump, look at it, then turn around and go in the other direction. You plow over the speed bump because you have somewhere to be or, if you’re like me, you check to see if there are any cars coming and you go around it—got to make sure I keep the shocks on my car protected. Your “I might be crazy” moment is a sign that you’re alive. Remember that what you’re trying to accomplish isn’t normal, and that your brain will try to remind you of the limitations it has adopted from society over time. Ignore them. Believe in yourself, and eventually people will begin to believe in you, too.
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Exactly two weeks after my bathroom stall moment, I was still on the roster but two of the players on that list were already gone and the third was cut that day. He had gone early to the team barbecue and texted me the news when he found out. I didn’t know what to do. This was our last team bonding event before we went away for a quick summer break and then came back for training camp. What was supposed to be a fun get-together was now fair game for my release. I went anyway. Full of fear but determined, I showed up, checked in with my coaches, did my mingling duties, and left.
My phone never rang. I wasn’t released.
Those weeks were two of the most difficult weeks of my life. Though I was working and believing, the burden of the unknown still weighed on me heavily. It got worse when I saw my teammates get cut. With each call, with each decision, my perceived reality became that much more real. The day I walked into that meeting room and saw the depth chart, I had been tempted to call the other players and tell them what I had seen. But that wasn’t my job, and I didn’t want them to experience the pain I was experiencing. My job—my only job—was to believe the unbelievable. To put hope in the unseen.
The cards hadn’t been flipped; the decision hadn’t been rendered. I decided to walk by faith, not by sight. I decided to hope, even when hope didn’t seem like an option. I went on to make the team and start the majority of games that year.
On any given day, we make judgments about ourselves and our situations based on what we see and believe. Then, we default to logic. We fall back on what’s comfortable. We want things to get better immediately, and if they don’t, we lose hope. But the fact is, things may get worse before they get better. Even if they do, believe anyway. Dreams aren’t linear. People will be cut, your doubts will seem more real, your fears may even grow. Stay the course. Your own journey will not be easy, but I promise you: It will be worth it. Worth the time, the friendships, the risk. Logic limits. There is more to be seen. Your journey is not over. It’s just beginning.
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A few months later, I found myself back in Coach Fipp’s office, this time to game plan for our season opener against Detroit. I looked up at the depth chart and saw my name right where it belonged, underneath the “Captains” header. After playing well on defense and helping lead our team to a strong season, I was starting on special teams and many of my fellow players looked to me for leadership. I would be voted First Team All-Pro, Special Teams—the best at my position in the entirety of the NFL—by Pro Football Focus.
What I came to realize from the first meeting to the next, from one moment to another, was that I wasn’t actually crazy.
You see, when you say a phrase like, “I might be crazy,” you have to remember “might” is the operative word. I was perfectly sane, but I was dangerously illogical.
I played three more seasons for the Eagles. And though I left the team before they won their first Super Bowl, I was a part of the core that built the culture there. I taught people how to be illogical. To challenge the status quo. Teammates, coaches, and staff began living life illogically without fear of failure. They believed that they, with a first-time head coach, a second-year quarterback, and no Super Bowl wins, could triumph in the most celebrated game in all of sport. They believed that a backup quarterback, a man who had been cut many times before, could lead them to a championship after their starter got hurt. People called us crazy, but we were just illogical.
My whole life has been full of “I might be crazy” moments. Making the team, going from cut to captain, having uncomfortable conversations, and hosting my own television show—all before the age of thirty. When you’re illogical, you’ll have your “I might be crazy” moment too, but it’s just a moment. A speed bump you are meant to cross. Yes, you might be crazy, but you also might not be. You might be perfectly sane, perfectly in your right mind, perfectly illogical.
Believe yourself, not your eyes. When you’re illogical, sometimes you literally can’t believe your eyes. Through weeks of tirelessly working and believing, I reversed the reality of the word “cut” that I’d read and kept my spot on the team.
Get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. I promise, when you believe in the impossible, you will end up in some very peculiar situations and surroundings. When I found myself in the bathroom stall of an NFL facility, I did not freak out. I sat down, took my backpack off, and I got comfortable. Only then did the path forward become clear.
“Crazy” is a speed bump, not a roadblock. When you find yourself stuck in a mess, keep inching forward. Slowing down can allow you to see the best way forward, but don’t stop.
When things get grim, hope. As each player on the cut list was released, things began to look even more grim for me. But I continued to cling to even the slightest possibility I would make it through. Along your journey, when trying to achieve the unthinkable, it will get worse before it gets better. Hope anyway.
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The moment you think to yourself, “I MIGHT BE CRAZY,” is the first checkpoint on your path to accomplishing greatness.
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6 The Battle Line
When the Philistine arose and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.
—1 SAMUEL 17:48
Most people have heard the story of David and Goliath, but allow me to remind you. David was a young Israelite boy, the youngest of all his siblings. His daily life consisted of herding sheep and playing a musical instrument called a lyre for the king. Insert Goliath, a Philistine giant who stood nine feet, nine inches tall, a smidge below a basketball hoop. And boy, did he have the confidence and attitude to match his size. He had a vulgar mouth and talked more trash than the drunk frat guy who is always looking to get into a fight.
Goliath was set to fight one Israelite in a winner-take-all battle. Think of it like a UFC championship fight, but without a referee to stop the match from becoming deadly. Rather than win a championship belt, the loser’s nation would become slaves to the winner’s. This was going to be a monumental matchup. The only issue? All of Israel’s soldiers backed down. I would too if a nine-foot-nine, trash-talking frat guy—I mean, Goliath—challenged me. But then there was David.
A shepherd, David was a warrior at heart. Without realizing it, he had been preparing for this battle his whole life. His duties as a shepherd meant he hunted animals who stole sheep from the flock, killing lions and bears if they tried to kill him first.
Being a shepherd was seen as a mundane job. Taking care of sheep didn’t require the skill or courage necessary to go to war—anyone could do it. Or so people thought. As the youngest of his brothers and neither tall nor physically intimidating, David was relegated to this role. His family figured that he was best suited to staying at home watching the sheep, while his older, more “courageous” brothers joined the men in Israel’s army.
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Quick aside, there will be times when people look down on you for one reason or another, maybe because of your size, your stature, your age, your race, your gender, or your beliefs. Don’t listen to them. Maybe you don’t like where you are in life right now, but it may be exactly where you’ve needed to be in order to prepare you and catapult you toward your destiny. Work hard at the job in front of you. Put the time in. Be the best shepherd that the world has ever seen. Refine your skills. Tend to your sheep. Other shepherds may be asleep, thinking that this idle time is a waste of time. Don’t worry about them. Fight lions. Master your craft.
No matter where you’re at, people may look down upon you. They may devalue you or underestimate your ability. Let them. It’s not your job to explain to them why they’re wrong. Your job is to show up, each and every day. To face the giants in your life, even when everyone else is afraid.
An entire army was afraid of a nine-foot-nine giant. But David wasn’t. David showed up to battle by accident. He was at home with his pops, watching the sheep. But with three sons fighting in the war, David’s father, Jesse, grew concerned. He asked David to go check on his brothers and deliver them some food. (I guess Uber Eats isn’t all that new.) As soon as David made it to the front lines, he heard Goliath’s shouts of arrogance. The giant was taunting the Israelites, asking who would be brave enough to battle him. No one was willing to face him. Except David.
In combat, a battle line is a line defining the positions of opposing groups. It’s where ownership is taken and it can dictate the fate of what is to come. When you’re illogical, you first have to win the war within your own mind. You have to defeat the negative thoughts and trust that it will work out even when it looks ugly. You have to believe you can defeat the giant. Remember that you already have all the necessary tools to be the greatest version of yourself. This is your moment. If you want to win the war, you have to face your battles head-on. Now, you just have to step up to the battle line.
After some of the best trash talk that would surely be censored on today’s television, David was ready to fight Goliath. Remember, whoever won this battle would save their people from slavery. Whoever lost would put their people into subjugation. I can hear it now: “Let’s get ready to ruuuuuumble!” David wasted no time.
“Then it happened when the Philistine rose and came and drew near to meet David, that David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine in his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.” (1 Samuel 17:48–53). The battle was won and the enemy was defeated, all because David wasn’t afraid to approach the line head-on.
The most important part is that “David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.” Okay, y’all, picture this. The nine-foot-nine giant, the biggest bully in all the land, starts sprinting toward you. What’s your move? Let me tell you what I’m not doing—I’m not charging directly at him. I’m turning around, dropping all my belongings, and running in the other direction while screaming for help and simultaneously trying to hail a taxi. But not David. He ran toward the battle line—toward the opponent. This is how illogical you and I need to be, because this kind of illogical courage is what it will take to slay the Goliaths in our lives. Whether people or your own doubts and insecurities, meet your Goliaths head-on and win that war at the battle line.
For many of us, our Goliath is quite literally our fear, or the fear other people impose on us. We all have different fears. But don’t let other people’s fears become your own. I’ll say it again: do not let other people’s fears become your own. For example, mortuusequusphobia is the fear of ketchup. I swear it’s a real thing. When I was in the fifth grade, I went to my close friend John’s house. We were chilling around the table eating a burger when all of a sudden, he ran behind the couch screaming. His older brother, George, was in high school and had just walked inside and hurled something our way. I didn’t flinch; whatever he chucked seemed harmless. As the object landed on the table, I confirmed my suspicions. It was harmless. At least to me it was. It was a plastic ketchup packet. I picked it up and looked at it, and wondered what in the world had sent John sprinting away.