“What do you do once you’ve achieved your dream?” was the question I posed to a classroom full of 7th and 8th grade boys. As we aspire to do great things, what happens when we push past the limits we unknowingly place on ourselves?
A couple months ago I was a part of a mentorship forum at Kipp Academy, a charter school in the Bronx. The goal of the forum was to encourage young students through various panel discussions and conversations.
I always find it interesting to watch the faces in the crowd of those I am speaking to, knowing that some will take what I say that day and apply it to their lives while others will embrace the message a little less enthusiastically, with their eyes closed. Without exception, my past experiences were visibly true that day.
With me was professional boxer and former world champion Peter Quillin, aka Kid Chocolate, a nickname that pays homage to his Cuban heritage. Throughout my time knowing Peter, he’s always expressed a desire to connect with the youth and tell his story. A dynamic fighter, with an equally impressive boxing record of 33 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw to show for it, Peter’s humility is a quality that separates him from fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr, who like Quillin is also native to Grand Rapids, MI.
Peter began explaining to us a predicament he found himself in while living with a friend in New York. He was given a key to the apartment he was staying at; however access to the building was another story altogether. When his friend couldn’t be reached and neighboring tenants wouldn’t permit access, he was forced to make other, less desirable, arrangements. The hospital bed ultimately became a refuge, Peter having to fake a sickness in order to rest for the night.
As he continued speaking, I understood that this was a defining moment in his life, one that would continue to motivate him as he trained to become the best in the world. It also made me reflect on my own time spent at the hospital.
I played in every game, every offense play excluding one, during my 10-year career in the National Football League, and yet I was never supposed to put on a pair of shoulder pads. As a child I had open heart surgery to repair a heart defect. As a result of that surgery, my cardiologist informed me that I would never have the ability to participate in contact sports.
Now at 9 years old I didn’t understand the implications of what that meant, but as I grew older it became more clear to me that I was handicapped. Frustrated by this fact, I sought validation. I needed to prove to myself and others that I was more capable than the limits that were being imposed on me. Football was going to provide that outlet, but I needed my mom and my doctor to agree with me. Five years had passed since my cardiologist informed me of my life sentence, and through unrelenting persistence I made my mother give me an ultimatum.
She informed me, “If the doctor says you can play football, you can play, but if he says no, then you have to drop this, never bring it up again.”
We met with the doctor, a new cardiologist, who reviewed my charts and concluded that my previous doctor had been overprotective and that he saw no reason why I shouldn’t play football. No restrictions.
I’ve come to the realization that the very thing that attempts to stymie your growth can actually push you further toward your dream. It afforded Peter the chance to become the WBO middleweight champion and for me a decade-long career in the NFL.
Figuring out what we need to do once we’ve achieved our dreams has far less to do with establishing a new career, but more to do with utilizing what we’ve learned in our lives in order to help others.
We impose limits on ourselves when we believe our value lies in the wins we’ve attained or only through accolades. Rather, true value is found in the lessons that we’ve learned as a result of the hard work and sacrifice that have been done in the pursuit of our very dreams.