Find the Right Room
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
“You need a Mentor, a Coach, a Cheerleader, and a Friend.”
“You cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life.
After graduating from high school in 1996, I spent the summer before leaving for college working full time for the storm and drainage department of a local town I live near and tgetting ready for my freshman season of college football.
The job was easy, wake up, get to work on time, have someone tell you what to do all day, and then go home. All I had to do was show up.
I was going to a small D-III school, but had a friend who was also going away to play college football, but he was going to a D-I school. He happened to be my best friend, so we trained every afternoon together after I got off of work.
At the beginning of the summer, we compared each of the workout programs our schools gave us to get ready and decided which one we would use. Since my school only send me the day when to show up, we decided to use the program that my friend’s school sent. It happened to be as thick as a phone book.
In the beginning, the workout program seemed excesses and at times not even possible to complete. The 1-2 hour workouts that involved weight training and track work were more grueling than the full 8 hours of manual labor I would put in during the day. There were days I would show up after work with a carefully scripted excuse as to why I couldn’t workout that day. My friend would never even let me finish talking before he called me a pussy and told me to change into my workout clothes. At times I thought he was a machine. He never backdown from any workout and never let his effort decline. He always went at 100% and I was always chasing him. I rarely caught him, but looking back, I know it raise my effort level to something I would have never or could have never achieved.
The summer ended and we both went away to our prospective colleges. I showed up to a series of physical tests that would show our coaches how we spent our summer. One that has always stuck with me was the first test, a mile run for time. Not necessarily a test you find at the NFL combine, but an initial showing of who worked over the summer and who sat on their coach. I hadn’t been running long distance, but I had spent my whole summer chasing someone faster than me over a series off 100, 200, 300, and 400m repeats. This lead me to starting my mile like I was shot out of a cannon. Not because I thought that was a good strategy for the 4 x 400m laps I had ahead of me, but because it’s what I was used to. Every time a run began, I had to run as fast as I could and find the guy in front of me and do my best to keep up.
Then I found him, a senior free safety who was going to be one of the team captains that year and was determined to set the standard for all others to follow. Problem was, he didn’t train with my D-I bound friend and was always the best person in his training group. After two laps, I think he was surprised that I had kept pace with him and I could feel him trying to push the pace periodically to see if I would drop back. As I didn’t drop off and we continued to lap the ones who didn’t do much running that summer, our pace became one that more resembled that of the college’s track team and not of two football players. As we came into the last 200m I could feel his tank had already run dry, but he wasn’t going to back down. After all, he was a senior and this was his team. We finished the last 100m in a dead sprint and unlike any summer workout, I finished a good 3-4 lengths ahead of him. As he finished and stumbled to the grassy area to collapse, I did everything in my power to stay conscious, but more importantly to stand upright and make my effort look like it was no big deal.
To say that that mile run sent a message, would be an understatement, but not just to my team and coaches, but to myself. I not only felt like I belonged, I felt like I could lead. I ended up starting my freshman year and transferring to a larger I-AA (when those existed) school for my sophomore year.
I learned 2 very important lessons that summer that continue to serve me today.
Another lesson that summer taught me came over time.
It is up to you to put the work in. It is up to you to find the Mentor, the Coach, the Cheerleader, the Friend. If you’re in the wrong room, it is up to you to get out. It is up to you to find a new room. No one is coming to do it for you. As my friend Conor McGregor once told me, “Decide what you want. Make a fucking plan and work on that shit EVERY SINGLE DAY.”
Eric Karls M.Ed.