You find out a lot about a person when you ask, 'What are you willing to give up to better yourself?' When I was growing up, over and over again I had to make the choice to either go work out or go hang out. And always, I chose working out, even though I was often ridiculed by my buddies, who said, 'Oh, man, why didn't you go? You don't need to practice that much, man. You're just wasting your time.' I told them I was willing to give up partying to get to where I wanted to go. And that was to become a professional football player.
I knew from the time I was eight years old that that was what I was going to do. I watched whatever team was playing on Sunday, and I said, 'That's it. I'm going to play football on TV.' Nobody believed me, of course, but I knew what I was going to do. 'I am getting on that TV,' I told my buddies. 'That's what I'm going to be. I'm going to be a professional football player.'
Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to have found something I was passionate about at such an early age. For some people, it takes an entire lifetime. But as an 8-year-old, I figured out my life's work. To a lot of people it sounded stupid. But I said, 'Don't worry. I'm going to college, I'm getting a scholarship, and I'm going to play pro football.' And then I set about preparing myself to do that.
I knew that to get there, I had to sacrifice the parties and the wild life that was trying to lure us all. This was the 1960s, remember, a time when a lot of kids my age were experimenting with drugs and alcohol and a lot of wild ideas about what was right and what was wrong. We had some heady things to think about: The Vietnam War was escalating, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and we put a man on the moon. A lot of kids were questioning a lot of things, and many rebelled against the system. To many, drugs and alcohol were a way of processing it all, or just a way to ignore it all.
To me, well, I didn't think an athlete should drink or smoke, and because I was going to be a professional athlete, I didn't. And I was ridiculed routinely. I'd get, 'Oh, are you a narc? You working for the school?'
I was shunned by a lot of people who couldn't understand what I was trying to do. At times it was rough. Peer pressure at that age is intense, no matter what it is you're fighting.
'I'm getting on that TV,' I told them. 'I'm going to be a pro football player.'
I knew that was what I was doing. And I also knew that whatever I had to do to prepare myself, I was willing to do it. And I knew I had to do it right then, during those years. If I wasn't good enough to make it, it wasn't going to be because I didn't work hard enough to prepare myself. I wasn't going to have that excuse. I've heard that excuse way too much from guys who were pretty good athletes but didn't go on; they got into trouble-jail, drugs, drink, all the vices got to them. Some of them were better than me athletically, but they weren't strong enough mentally.
Later, after I'd gotten where I said I was going, they all said, 'Well, you were lucky.' I wasn't lucky. I wasn't lucky to graduate from high school and get a scholarship to Cal and make it as an undrafted free agent. It wasn't luck. It was everything I gave up that other guys wouldn't. They couldn't see it back then; when they were going to Fifth Avenue, I had already made a turn and I was gone. Now, I wasn't perfect and I got close to that edge sometimes, but I always knew when I was getting too close to that edge, and I'd say, 'I got to go.' That, to me, was a blessing. The only luck I had was that I found out what I wanted to do in life early.
There's always something that needs to go for a person to find success. You want to lose weight? Give up chocolate, or that extra hour of sleep to go to the gym or take a walk. If it's something that's really worth succeeding at, you'll find out what it is that will keep you from reaching that goal. In business, it might be taking a year off to go back to school. You don't want to lose that year of income, give up that way of life, but you know you need that MBA if you're ever going to be running that company. So you scale back, you give up the extras-the meals out on the town, the pay-per-view movies, or that trip you always take during the summer-and you go to school.
Identifying what you have to sacrifice isn't always that clear. Sometimes you think you've already sacrificed so much and still that goal seems far off. That's when you go back over what you've been doing, what you've given up and what you haven't, and make adjustments. Sometimes the sacrifice doesn't seem right or fair. Working at a job far away from your family certainly fits into that category. But when you've spent three months looking for work around home and the only opportunity that presents itself is 3000 miles away, you take it so that you can continue to feed and support your family. It's a sacrifice, yes, but it's one that you should take pride in because you found success in what your goal was, taking care of things financially at home, and hopefully the person you're married to and your kids understand why you're doing it. If they don't, then you've got to talk to them and make them understand.
It was tough when I got the Jets job because it meant that Lia and I had to leave Tampa, Florida, where we had spent the last few years watching our son, Marcus, play football. It had been great to zip over to the high school when he had a home game to see him play. But I knew I'd have to sacrifice watching his games in order to reach my goal of becoming a head coach in the NFL. Lia knew it, Marcus knew it, and while none of us really liked the sacrifice, we all understood it was what I had to do, for all of us.
Real success never comes without some kind of sacrifice. The challenge is to identify it and act.