Examine Your Gifts

Your talent is God's gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.

—Leo Buscaglia

When you find yourself down, disappointed that you've arrived at a place you never thought you’d be, it's easy to live in despair. Taking a look around, it can seem like everything is against you, and your luck has run out. My first instinct is to reach out to you and suggest that you're not starting from zero. Wherever you are in your life, you've merely reached a transition point, where you are moving from one way of life to the next. Choose to use your adversity to propel you upward.

You're here on earth with a full slate of natural gifts that you've used all your life, gifts that will continue to serve you as you get to the next step. If you're having a hard time imagining what those gifts are, it might be because you use them instinctively without thinking about them. Something else that often happens when you find yourself down is that you have trouble seeing your attributes and resources. You have more tools in your utility belt than you give yourself credit for. Trust me; I was exactly in the same boat.

When I hit my period of transition, between when my football career had abruptly ended and I had not yet found a new direction, I was experiencing a gap. It was a period of not knowing, and after years and years of rigid physical discipline, I was uncertain of what exactly I was supposed to do and where I was supposed to go. Though I had faith that I would find out, I didn't yet have the answers at my fingertips. It was just a lot of big questions.

I would wake up in the morning and think, “Okay, what the heck am I going to do next?” I meant that in two ways. One was the broad figurative sense, as in, “Where am I going with my life?” But I also meant it in the day‐by‐day sense, as in, “What the heck am I doing after breakfast?” Sometimes it was the smaller question that was hard to answer.

When I was training in the NFL, I had accounted for almost every minute of every day. What and when I ate, how often I worked out and when, and what weight I needed to be. I was on autopilot in a good way—every single thing that I did in my daily schedule was to help me be the best I could be at professional football. From that directive, my daily schedule trickled down to what I would be doing every minute of the day.

Well, I couldn't play football anymore.

So for me, the first step after asking myself what I was going to do next meant taking football out of the equation and taking a detailed look at who I was on a deep level. To answer that question, I had to begin with examining my gifts.

As luck would have it, I had started working with an executive coach months before my pivot point and forced retirement. If you've never worked with an executive coach, a good way of looking at it is someone similar to an athletic coach, but for your business and life goals. Someone to help you make the right plays in life, go over the metaphorical game tape, and give you feedback that will help you get to where you want to go. My coach's name is James McPartland, but to his high‐level clients and me, he just goes by “Mac.”

A teammate of mine was getting reinstated back in the NFL. As a condition, they wanted him to work with a therapist. Mac wasn't precisely a therapist. However, in terms of the impact he made on other people's lives, one could argue that he was an equivalent. I served as my teammate's accountability partner and “eyes on the ground” for Mac. So, Mac and I would talk once a month for maybe 20 minutes. I was basically confirming that my teammate was doing everything on the straight and narrow (he was).

I was a bit new to this, and I liked the results I saw from my teammate regarding his overall life improvement. I was curious about this whole coaching process.

So, I started professional executive coaching six months prior to my career ending, even though I didn't know it was about to end. I was glad I was working with him beforehand to help me get into the right mindset when my big transition did come.

One of the first things Mac asked me to do was to examine what my gifts were. He started with a list of questions to help me discover them. Now, these aren't the only questions you can ask yourself to start finding your gifts, but they are great questions. The first was basic and intuitive.

Question 1: What Are You Good at Naturally?

This question was tricky because I felt one of my most significant gifts was one I wasn't allowed to use anymore: my natural athletic ability and my God‐given shape and size. Now, I know some of that's developed through weight training and drills, but my little brother is 5'10” and 175 pounds. By contrast, I was gifted a body that could be an NFL center. I could be deadly on the field. If I couldn't use that body the way I've trained it, how could that translate into something else?

That was a great place to start. I've been a natural athlete for as long as I remember. I grew up in a huge neighborhood with tons of kids. I could probably ride my bike for a mile without ever running into a main road. We'd play roller hockey, basketball, whatever it was, and we got after it. Even as a kid, I wanted to win, no matter what I was playing. We developed skills and a competitive spirit that I sometimes worry my kids won't get, growing up in a smaller neighborhood without many young kids.

And there was one of my gifts right there: a competitive spirit. Even if you took away all of my athletic ability, even if I were in a wheelchair, I would still have that natural competitiveness. I always want to be the best at whatever I'm doing, which pushes me and can serve me no matter what career path I choose from here on out. If I pick up something new that I think is worthwhile, I always want to learn faster and excel.

Question 2: What Have You Learned to Do Well?

This question is my personal variation on the first question that Mac asked me. Sometimes we learn to be very good at something that started as a natural knack or talent and honed it into something special.

I've always felt I was a good communicator. But it was my training in football that took that skill from good to great. When you're a center, a lot of what you do is communicating to the other players in real time. So much happens very quickly.

Sometimes I found myself in third‐and‐long situations—the defense was moving, and I had to give everybody on offense blocking assignments to counteract these experienced genius defensive coordinators' plans. It's not easy, either, because sometimes you've seen the plays, or something similar, only on film, but they're actually going to run another defensive scheme in disguise, which confuses you. So, I would be trying to get everyone on the same page in about 10 seconds, and I would still have to do my job of snapping the football and then start blocking an elite defender.

As a long‐tenured veteran for the Bills, I was communicating as a mouthpiece for the organization and for the players on my team. You have to be good at getting the right message across. The last thing you want to do is embarrass the team or say something that just wasn't accurate. You also want to do much more than that; you want to inspire and represent the best of what your team has to offer.

Playing in the NFL also forces you to get used to answering questions in front of a camera. Whether it is after practice or games, you must make yourself available to the media to answer questions. If you don't do this, it can result in a fine (remember Marshawn Lynch at the Super Bowl media day famously saying, “I'm only here so I don't get fined.”). I would always try to be insightful for those media sessions because I understood that even if I wasn't in the mood for it that day, those media members have a job to do and should be treated with respect, especially because most were always so supportive of and respectful to me.

Those times in front of a camera were sharpening my craft of communication, even if I didn't recognize it as such at the moment.

To build on my gifts, I chose to start by getting into sports broadcasting and producing my own podcast. I could leverage my communication skills to adapt to those mediums quickly, and each of those paths had so many more gifts and resources to offer me down the road. There was still a tremendous learning curve—learning the art of a conversation for a podcast interview is very different from doing a radio interview or a sideline interview. They are all related but still distinct skills. Each of the various disciplines took practice and dedicated learning, like any other skill.

Question 3: What Do People Who Love You Say Your Gifts Are?

Mac made a point of asking me this question.

Sometimes your gifts are obvious to everyone but yourself. The people who love you and know you the best are keenly aware of your qualities and attributes, and your life partner can sometimes shine a light on any areas that you may not be clear on. Somehow, it's easier to get it when someone else can see it in you. It seems like proof or confirmation.

My wife, Leslie, and I were doing a couple's Bible study with Dave and Beth Stone, whom you can hear from on my podcast. We were at their house, and we were doing an exercise in which we were looking at spiritual gifts. As part of the exercise, we had to write down what all those gifts were that we saw in our partner. I thought maybe Leslie would write down joy or faithfulness. But she surprised me. She wrote self‐discipline. That didn't seem like an awe‐inspiring “gift” at first.

Then I started thinking about it and realized that self‐discipline had served me well my whole life and was primarily responsible for my football career, even more so than my natural athletic ability.

Self‐discipline is a commitment—a daily sacrifice, steps that you do every single day. It's not a one‐time thing. When I was a junior in high school, I wasn't first string on our varsity football team. I was a backup tight end and hadn't made the switch to the offensive line yet, where I would excel later. I considered myself more of a basketball player at the time. We had this “Practice Player of the Day” jersey, and whoever practiced the hardest and had the best practice overall would get to wear that jersey the next practice.

In basketball, I was probably a hard worker, but I wasn't that hard of a worker. At that point, you never would have looked around the high school and said, “Eric Wood is the hardest worker we have.” But things were about to change.

Now, my senior year, I wanted that “Practice Player of the Day” jersey every single day. And I committed to it. I wanted it at a gut level because when the college coaches came around to recruit people for basketball or football, I'd have a different color jersey throughout that entire basketball season. I kept it the whole year! After every practice, we voted on who got the “Practice Player the Day” jersey, and it wasn't purely the points (or else I may have never got it). A lot of it was the effort, and I kept at the entire season because I said, “I can't let someone else have this on if Louisville shows up tomorrow, or if the University of Cincinnati, or whoever it may be, walks in the door. I've got to have it on.”

Well, after months and months of pushing yourself to the limit, you become accustomed to that level of practice. You become conditioned to that, and then it became uncomfortable for me not to be the hardest worker. That began a lifetime of doubling down and trying to outwork everyone else on the field to excel. (There's that competitive spirit again.) While at Louisville, I would win the award for the hardest worker in the off‐season, and I would win it again playing in the NFL for the Bills. You can't control everything in sports, but you can control your effort and your discipline.

I wasn't a starter on varsity football until my senior year in high school—that year, I played both basketball and football. I got some good advice to put on some weight to play on the offensive line and move from the tight end position. So, I put on 55 pounds. I didn't play basketball my junior year of high school to put on weight for football. I feel at times in our lives we have to give up “good things” for “great things,” even if we love them. I wouldn't have been able to put on the weight for football if I had played basketball my junior year, and that made an enormous impact on my life, despite the fact that I truly missed playing basketball that year.

That self‐discipline kept serving me. When I went to the University of Louisville, I set our strength and conditioning record with “Big House” Joe Kenn; he was the only strength coach ever to be the national strength coach of the year in the NFL and college. I broke his all‐time conditioning record at 300 pounds.

My little brother Evan never got to walk. So how was I ever going to complain about running? I would take that mindset to it.

So, I'm going to give it my all. I'm never going to be late. I'm always going to be prepared. I am going to show up ready to roll. If you come in with that mentality every day, you get results over the weeks and years. That part of you almost goes on autopilot. I'm going to cover more about how to stack good habits in Chapter 7.

It's incredible what happened five years later. I redshirted my first year at Louisville. I spent four and a half years there and then ended up a first‐round draft pick for the Buffalo Bills. I received some excellent advice when I got there. Someone said, “Watch the undrafted free agents work. They better never outwork you if you want to be the best. You have to outwork every undrafted free agent, and then you can put that first‐round draft pick title beside you.” I took that to heart and followed his advice.

It's wonderful what conscious, consistent effort through self‐discipline can bring.

Question 4: What Are You Resisting?

Mac likes this question in particular because it can unearth some things that are just under the surface. When we resist certain things, it can be a clue where our head is, and that can tell us where we need to go. Sometimes what we resist is a gift we have to offer the world.

At the beginning of my forced retirement, I like to think I took the right attitude. I didn't feel like I was resisting anything. I felt like I was doing the opposite—just totally accepting and trusting that God had a plan for me. I knew God would give me hope and a future and that my next thing would be my best thing.

The only catch was I thought it would happen a lot sooner. I was still without a clear next thing on my plate just yet. Suddenly, I had questions about what my purpose was and what my daily purpose would look like. Well, now I was trying to be the best … at what, exactly? Spiritually, I knew I had a solid foundation. I just didn't know where or what I was going to build.

I wish I had a better name for what happened to me next. I call it “Who gives a crap” mode for lack of a better phrase. For the first time in my life, it didn't really matter. If I wasn't a center anymore, what's the worst that could happen if I didn't work out? If I had a healthy meal, it really didn't matter. If I sat on the couch and watched TV, it didn't really matter. None of those would hurt my football performance because there was no more football.

So, I kept thinking, “who gives a crap?” There's no one measuring this. Sure, there were metrics, but it just didn't really matter. And I say this from a humble place—the game of football blessed me with a financial circumstance that most of the work I was doing didn't affect our lifestyle that much. We didn't spend a ton of money while I was playing. We live in Louisville, Kentucky. We could maintain this lifestyle whether I went out and compete super hard at business or not.

It was less depression and more anxiety, because I think, deep down, I'm always striving to beat that yesterday version of myself. I'm rarely down in the dumps. But this time I was down. For the first time in my life, I didn't have structure and order. I didn't have accountability, built‐in goal orientation, or a built‐in community. I had no apparent tribe.

“Who gives a crap” mode is a hazardous spot. I talked about this recently on a podcast, and it seems to have struck a chord. I had four former NFL guys reach out to me immediately on Instagram and said, “Dude, you hit that right on the money.” I think that we all feel like we had our identities ripped out.

What I eventually came to realize is that it's not about me. I finally snapped out of it and realized that God had given me gifts to serve and encourage others. He has also given me gifts to support and lead my family—and what am I doing? I'm modeling to a young boy every day how a man should act. I model to my daughter the man I eventually want her to be with. I serve my wife and uplift her. I want to show up every day 100% for them. They are everything to me.

By concentrating on what I thought I lost, I was resisting an opportunity to serve and encourage those around me. I was resisting one of my most considerable gifts: my efforts to put everything in my day toward benefiting the closest people in my life and my efforts to amplify my ability to serve others a hundredfold through my platforms. The better I get at this kind of work, the more people I can reach. I just had to remember—it's not about me!

Especially through these times of COVID, so many people are waking up to the awareness that “man, that vision I thought I had isn't quite as clear anymore.” If you feel that way, I would like to encourage you. We've all been given gifts in our lives. If you know what your gifts are, start giving them away! Start using them for other people. If you don't know what your gifts are, remember question 3, and ask someone who cares about you. They'll be quick to tell you because other people can see the gifts in you. It will be obvious to them.

Serve your spouse, your parents, your families, and try to have an impact on people for the best. Spread as much joy as you can and watch the positivity fill up your life. Once you get outside yourself, it's a game‐changer. The instant you start using your gifts to serve other people, your whole life and the lives of those you care about will completely change.

If your goals are to make more money, that's okay! Kyle Wilson once said, “If you want to be successful, bring value to the public. If you want to be wealthy, bring value to valuable people.”

Who can you bring value to using the gifts that God has given you? Who are the most “valuable” people to you? Find out how you can serve those individuals, and you will start to find value in your own life, and the ancillary benefit could be a tremendous amount of success coming your way.

Honestly, you have to get outside of yourself first.

Adversity Is a Gift

Mac likes to say that “adversity is a gift.” Part of what he means is that many of our supposed setbacks can help us change our perspective—which is one of the best ways to help us grow. Our setbacks can teach us so much about ourselves and give us another opportunity to share our gifts with others.

It certainly isn't easy, though. Adversity seems like the enemy because so often it changes things you feel are essential to you. If doctors could have miraculously healed my injury and I had been able to continue playing football, I would have taken that opportunity in a heartbeat. But would that actually have been better for my family and me?

Looking at it now from a different perspective, I'm not so sure. I could have been injured worse, perhaps even paralyzed. Or maybe I would have had a long, illustrious career, and it still would have eventually ended. You can't play football forever. And if you're lucky enough to be still playing into middle age, you're at risk for all kinds of long‐term side effects from potential head injuries and wrecking your body for years. Being on the offensive line is brutal, and more than a few times, I'd felt like I've been run over by a freight train.

Potential concerns about my health aside, I also wouldn't have met some of the most incredible people in my life. I've received guidance from some of the best of humanity: spiritual leaders, masters of self‐development, business tycoons, fellow athletes, and musical artists. I am humbled by what they have taught me and how they have expanded my life and perspective tremendously.

Highly regarded performance coach and keynote speaker Jordan Montgomery said, “God often packages our preparation as pain.” We must realize that if we can examine the pain that we are suffering or have suffered in life, that oftentimes it's those moments that are preparing us for our what's next moment. That trauma will be the fuel or the experience that you need to be able to serve others.

When you are in the middle of a setback, your perspective is everything to not let it tank you. In Chapter 3, I'll talk about how to look at things in a way that is useful and can benefit you when adversity strikes. No matter how long your list of personal misfortunes (trust me, I had a very long list of personal disasters), you will find something valuable you can learn from and be grateful for.

Key Takeaways

Let's step back a bit and look at what we've covered so far:

  • You have a full slate of natural gifts that you've used all your life.
  • Your gifts will continue to serve you as you get to the next step.
  • If you don't know what some of your gifts are, ask the following questions:
    1. What are you good at naturally?
    2. What have you learned to do well?
    3. What do people who love you say your gifts are?
    4. What are you resisting?
  • Using your gifts to serve others and affect their lives will lift you up and make you more successful as well.
  • Adversity is a gift that can reveal more of your other gifts.
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