Setting Arbitrary Athletic Goals
Recently a business partner of mine and mentor, Greg, opened up about some of what was going on in his life leading up to what he now does professionally. That has prompted some of the community that we are a part of to inquire about what led up to what I now do now. There is a lot of overlap in what Greg and I do, and he taught me the SEO skills I needed, but also a lot more. There are some parts of this story that are more public and some other pieces that haven’t been, but I have been sorting out what led me to join OMG Machines and specifically why I have chosen to pay as much attention to learning from David Mills as I have.
I realized that I was dangerous, nearly crazy, and that I hurt myself and others regularly. I was also a new dad, and I wouldn’t risk not figuring this stuff out.
Starting to Understand the Problem
The initial problem that became clear to me back in 2014 was that I had been operating on things in my life as far as goals, in an arbitrary way. Even so far back as wanting to be an athlete, vs any other career, it turned out that decision was mostly based on the family I grew up in. Then, because of that arbitrary goal, and how focused I was on it and how much I identified with it and how much meaning I placed in it; when that goal went away, I had literally no method of sorting out that frame and those associations. I didn’t even have language to talk about it, or even think about it. At 23, I dropped out of college, out of all society that I knew, and moved up to Alaska to work in a remote fly in fishing camp as a guide.
I didn’t leave school because it was hard, I just didn’t have any reason left to get credits and grades. It wasn’t that I was bad at school, it was quite the opposite. I understood that if I could spend less time on the school part AND ALSO not worry about eligibility, then I’d have an advantage over other athletes. Whatever resources I had could be spent on preparing to be a pro athlete.
I went about setting up most of my athletic situation like this. I also didn’t have as a goal to be a good player. I knew some good players didn’t become professionals. I wanted to play in the NFL. That was it. I didn’t care if I got a lot of stats in high school, because those wouldn’t help me at the next level of college. I had to go to college because the NFL wouldn’t take players who didn’t go to college, so my hand was forced to go to college.
I needed skills and ability, so I practiced developing those. In college, the same. I not only needed those skills and ability to play in the NFL, I also needed to exceed a threshold for size, speed, jumping ability and strength. They measure those in what they call a combine. So I spent much more time preparing those abilities than I did on trying to get more playing time, or worrying about how many balls were thrown my way.
There was one other distinction I understood as a wide receiver that helped me allocate my resources better than other folks. As a receiver your one job is to catch the ball. You hear that all the time if you watch a televised football game. On the surface, that seems pretty easy and straight-forward, but in practice a lot more comes up apart from catching the ball. Getting “open” and getting noticed by the quarterback and being familiar to the quarterback are all necessary to even get a ball thrown in your direction.
So after I learned how to catch a football, which is taught wrong all over the place, I then focused on playing against the top defensive backs to hone my skills of getting open. I worked before and after practice with quarterbacks who wanted to either warm up, warm down or just wanted to impress anyone watching with their arm skills.
Either way, allocating more resources to this extra work was something that I could do because I didn’t have to spend as much time or effort in school, because I’d learned it was about grades and not about learning or understanding school subjects. It was about a teacher assigned a grade.
When I understood that, and that those were actually the “rules” of school, that I wasn’t breaking any rules governing school, I was actually doing exactly what all the teachers and administrators needed me to do… then I was more free to put effort into my athletic career.
I’d like to say I understood all this back then. I did and I didn’t at the same time. I have an understanding of it now that is much more complete and transferrable, but at the time, it just looked to outsiders like I was “smart” and a “good athlete”. Those two things are particularly harmful to believe. Those beliefs completely cut off a large area of life and thinking that hold the keys to success. If you’re smart, you can get cut off from understanding you have incorrect beliefs and if you are a good athlete, you get cut off from understanding what you did to excel in your sport. The choices you made upstream of the hard work and perseverance and skill development.
The Power of Language
As I mentioned, I didn’t even really have language for this back then. The power of language became apparent to me when I’d attend camps or get to hear high level coaches and trainers speak about terms and concepts I’d never heard before. I’d listen to a defensive back coach working with college cornerbacks on keep their hips low so they could swivel and change direction. I didn’t know high school coaches teaching this, so when I encountered a defensive back who didn’t keep his hips low, I realized he couldn’t change direction quickly. That gave me an advantage I could press to win our battles on a field. It wasn’t just that I was bigger and stronger, but that I knew what to look for. Those sorts of things opened up to me. Being smart and a good athlete though, gave me pleasure, and also utterly restricted me from even seeing certain very important things. Those sank their way into my mind and became an invisible framework that bound me for decades.
My athletic career ended in Laramie, WY in 1998. Not on the field, but in a hospital room. I say that because after the surgeries on my leg to repair damage, I was able to run and jump nearly as well as I could before. I had to sit in that hospital bed with my foot turned around at a 90 degree angle to what it should have faced for about 36 hours while the infection in my body from a turf burn was cleared up.
It gave me a lot of time to think. I missed a good friend’s funeral, who a couple days earlier had died on the football field, no more 15 feet from me with a brain injury. This all coming a week or so after pro scouts attended some practices and talked to the players who caught their attention. It was a lot to sort out, but what I think I realized was that i didn’t know for sure that this sport career was all worth it anymore. The pain and injuries, sure, but just the whole commitment of it. The time, the focus. I didn’t drink alcohol or use any drugs, I didn’t really date or chase girls, I just built and built to this point where I really didn’t know anymore if that dream and goal of playing professionally was worth it.
Looking back, there is a lot more I realize. I realize I am glad I didn’t take even more hits to by head and concussions. I realize that I’m glad I can walk normally and that the surgeries were performed in a way that hasn’t required ongoing work. I also realize that while I was an athlete, I was nearly addicted to it. The level of commitment, focus, and all that are very close to the psychological issue of addiction. I really didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t an athlete. I was quiet and introverted. I didn’t have a college degree. I didn’t know how to approach girls. I could fix machines and build buildings, but those didn’t engulf me and help me understand who I actually was. As close to an identity as I maybe had was Christian, but even that got mixed around with churchy people and I knew all the repressed urges and guilt that seemed to define church christianity where I’d grown up didn’t fully match with me either.
So, I rehabbed my leg. I went to Alaska to be a fishing guide and dropped out of everything I knew. I was reckless. I went to grad school literally at the drop of a hat. I worked odd jobs ranging from law enforcement to substitute teacher to sales. I returned from my first day of being a park ranger on my first arrest for marijuana smoking fishermen, to a communal home for park employees that were smoking weed. Things just didn’t make sense.
For probably 15 years, I responded to opportunities without much thought. I’d almost “given up the game” of thinking much. I read a lot. I had framework or talent for remembering and regurgitating what other people came up with. I sought out thought leaders and gurus. I went to high powered university graduate schools. I’d do goal setting workshops and came away feeling juiced up but something down deep inside knew that the goals I’d just set were pretty arbitrary, and largely influenced by the pump up style inspiration that led up to the actual workshop. I made some money. Sometimes a lot. I didn’t plan well. I didn’t strategize much at all. I didn’t have much of a method for deciding what I was going to do and I kept looking. I seemed to rely on a confidence in being able to figure things out on the fly. Being flexible and being able to build relationships with people.
When a story would come up in conversation about me building a cabin and living off grid in Alaska, or that picture of me as the only guy on a bus full of Hawaiian Tropic bikini finalists in Vegas, or grad school at Harvard, people kind of reacted in a way that should have given me a clue about all this. Randomness, and cool-ness almost went hand in hand in those reactions. Sure some people would write me off as someone they might not want to do business with, but sure as hell wanted me at their next party as their recklessly talented and lucky friend who was still well spoken. I sort of assumed an identity based on that feedback. Not that I was going for it, but that I got a lot of it and it sort of shaped how I saw myself. While most of us make our minds up about what to do in an arbitrary way, I took it to an extreme for someone still within most guidelines for sanity and social norms and the feedback shaped how I saw myself. If I would have been paying attention to that distinction earlier, I may have dug myself less of a hole to get out of.
Luckily I got my utilities turned off when I was 37, on me, my daughter and a pregnant wife, and I went looking for a way to fix what was most apparently broken in my life; income. Even more luckily, I found what turned out to be much more than some new valuable skills with which to make money. I found the raw materials and methods of understanding success.
The founder of the company I bought training from had a lot of the answers I needed; David Mills. Those answers came in the form of questions, just like a big game of Jeopardy. How do you know what is true? How do you know what is important? What is good? Where does bad come from? You know, the things we all need to fully figure out in life before we can even hope to make good decisions, and yet there is literally no focus on answering these questions or even thinking about them properly in society or academia.
I want to save people from approaching life the way I did, for as long as I did. It’s taken me years to sort out a lot of bad ideas and bad thinking habits. Until you’ve got these methods and boundaries set up properly, there is a lot of junk that can creep in to your life. I understand now what led to much of the pain, loss, disappointment and such that I’ve experienced through major events in my life. People might say I made peace with events in my life, but it was much more than that. I still do screwy things, that are damaging, but at least now I know those come from bad thinking on my part and contradictions I’m holding in my mind. There is a great degree of peace, in general, that comes from that alone.
I’ve spent thousands of hours sorting through the material David Mills teaches in OMG Machines, and through the Law of Implication brand name. It has been worth every minute, and I don’t plan on stopping. I realize I spent way more time than that being influenced in other ways and the frameworks that were built earlier in life needed to be fully tested, and either dissolved or bolstered. That is where the work comes in. Not in listening and learning to regurgitate. That was the whole model that was academia, and it has taken a lot of work to get to where I currently am with sorting out those contradictions. As long as those contradictions exist, they will influence my decisions and even what I consider considering.
I’ve had to check myself a lot with how close I feel to somehow “finishing”. I have wanted to be done and wanted to “get it” and such. Pass this test and now be a PhD or some other such thing that is granted by peers or authorities. Hell I even considered finished my PhD in Psych as some way to feel like I was ready try and give back and talk and teach this sort of thing. It doesn’t work that way though. There have been times where I even caught myself remembering, nearly point by point, the arguments on a 3 hour webinar, so that I could assess how close I might be. The trap of learning and of having the right answers to questions you knew were coming.
There was such a strong goal and framework for learning that it has influenced how important it seemed to get rid of the bad ideas. Learning was learning, and I had been told I was good at learning and so therefore, learning must be good so that I could be good. What was hidden in that round and round, was that all learning seemed good, and dissolving bad ideas through understanding contradictions held only a very small place in my priorities and importance hierarchy. It kept slipping in and out, un-noticed as an invisible hand guiding my actions and focus. “Learn more”… Seeking and building understanding has some overlap with this distorted goal of learning, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of clarity.
Until I am inoculated from bad models, ideas and frameworks that are out there already in our minds… I’m still careful with the footholds I have. I’ve watched myself do things that didn’t line up with what I knew was true because I got caught up in other frameworks that seemed more important because they were presented well. Even after I began to see this, I have made poor decisions and spent resources recklessly.
Understanding marketing and conversion, I’m constantly amazed at how reliably or predictably our brains do things. Associating with frames and identity, how screwed up understanding importance typically is, how overconfident we are with the method of thinking most of us use most of the time is.
Every day I work on building understanding and getting rid of contradictions. I focus on bringing in healthy ideas and questions and I focus on detoxing my mind of contradictions it holds. It would be silly to really focus on much more than that. I know any number of the wrong beliefs I have could totally wipe out success. I have watched myself do this time and time again.
It scared me that a once world caliber athlete, who got through grad school courses at Harvard with little real effort and who made $30k per month in my 20s without the internet could still nullify it all because I held contradictions in my mind. The beautiful thing is, that I realize this is the thing to focus on. I get to spend the rest of my life building understanding and helping others to do the same.