There’s a brilliant song by Brad Paisley called, Letter to Me, where he takes listeners on a journey of writing a letter to his younger self. It’s a beautiful concept. If you could turn back the hands of time and have a conversation with your high school self, what would you say? What wisdom would you impart to a younger you? Would you redeem certain regrets? Would you repair relationships? What words would you retract?
Now we all know that we can’t go back and talk to our younger selves, but in an odd way, I had that opportunity last week when I was asked to speak to the New Hanover High School football team as part of homecoming. As I returned to my alma mater, I found myself in a challenging spot. My usual audience consists of business people, charity organizations or peer groups. But here I was standing in front of sixty high school boys.
As I wrestled with what I wanted to say, my mind flashed back to sixteen years ago.
The Regrets of the Past
As a sophomore at New Hanover High School, I was focused on playing baseball—and only baseball. However, our head coach was accused of rules violation and a long, drawn out school board hearing ensued. As a result, our high school baseball team was prohibited from off-season workouts. At the time, I hadn’t considered playing another sport, but I was approached by an assistant football coach who said, “Why don’t you come try out for the football team?”
I had never played organized football before, but I wanted to stay in shape and I was always up for a challenge, so I gave it a shot. A few weeks later, I was named the starting tight end on the varsity football team. In the Fall of 1997, under the lights at Legion Stadium, I wore number 82 and joined my teammates as we represented our school. However, after a disappointing season for the team and a developing love for basketball, I quit playing football. After one season, I hung up my shoulder pads and helmet and never played again.
I can honestly say that I didn’t miss football back then, but now I would love to go back and play. Whether you want to believe it or not, the regrets of the past are real. But the truth is, you are living tomorrow’s past today. So you better pay attention.
Stand and Deliver
My eyes locked with the young men in front of me. In my mind, I was still one of them, energized for another Friday night. But today, I was just another adult.
I started my talk, “You’re probably looking at me thinking, ‘Who is this guy and what does he have to say that’s going to help me? And why’s he wearing that stupid bowtie?'”
I could hear a low chuckle. I told them the quick story of why I wear a bowtie and followed it with this:
“Gentlemen, I tell you that because I want you to know that everything you do defines who you are. Every single thing you do matters. The way you dress, the way you speak, the way you practice, the way you play, they way you act, it all matters in who you are becoming. Every snap, every down, they all have an impact on the outcome of the game.”
I could see the yeah, I’ve heard that before in their eyes.
Suspecting their response, I had a plan. Before our meeting, I asked the coach for my old jersey. I grabbed it and held it up to the team as I told them the story about my high school football experience. And I told them, “Tonight you guys will do something that I would love to go back and do, but I can’t. Now, I sit in the stands and watch in awe as you guys get to do something that I can only experience in my memories.”
Their attention shifted as they thought about what I was saying.
“Gentlemen, there will be a time when you put on this jersey for the last time. That is why tonight and every night you must play with passion and wear your jersey well. But, remember, there has to be more to life than football. And everything you do today is shaping you into the person you will become.”
I finished with my best Denzel Washington impression as coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans. They laughed and we all grabbed a quick picture.
Wear Your Jersey Well
This opportunity to stand and deliver before this great group of young men was truly humbling. Not only did it stretch me, but it forced me to remember to wear my own jersey well.
Everything we do in life matters. Every thought we think, every decision we make is shaping who we are becoming. The field of play may have changed, but the opportunity hasn’t. Each of us have the incredible privilege to suit up and step onto the field of life every day. We must not take that for granted because there will come a day when you and I will no longer have that privilege.
You’re right. We can’t go back and talk to our younger selves. But we can apply that same wisdom to the moments that are before us today. We are constantly creating our future. Will that be a future laced with regret?
The great news is that we get to decide.
So, in your job, in your marriage, in your family, and in your relationships, remember to wear your jersey well.