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Choose a Greater Perspective

Things don't happen to you. They happen for you.

—Ed Mylett

One of the biggest challenges in life is to see beyond the adversity that life throws at us from nearly the moment we start breathing. Having a greater sense of perspective and learning how to interpret and use adversity in a positive way will fundamentally improve your quality of life. Success is nearly impossible without this skill.

It's not like we can dodge bad things happening. Like death and taxes, adversity will always come at us one way or the other. As a center, I was used to adversity coming at me in a very physical, concrete way all the time (usually in the form of a defensive lineman directly engaging me in hand‐to‐hand combat)!

On the subject of adversity continually occurring in life, a great friend of mine, the University of Louisville FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director Chris Morgan, would always say, “In life, you're either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or heading into a storm.”

That's an interesting way to look at it, and if you think about it, it makes sense. When you're not in a storm, it's crucial to appreciate the good times and understand that at some point, you'll be heading into one. If you're in the midst of a storm, know that this moment will pass, and eventually, you'll be coming out of it. And if you're about to head into a storm, you must shore up your gifts and your strengths to establish a foundation under you to help prepare you to weather it. For me, that's faith, family, friends, and a positive mindset—the strong foundation that has supported me in some of my most difficult trials.

What exactly do I mean by a positive mindset? I would describe it as taking anything thrown at you and figuring out how to make it work for you. One person who excels in this area, and has taught me a lot about having a greater perspective, is my friend Ed Mylett.

Ed Mylett is an incredible guy—a business leader, an expert on peak performance, and one of the top global keynote speakers in the world. I admired Ed Mylett for a long time before I ever met him personally. He also has a terrific podcast, “The Ed Mylett Show,” which is the number 1 business podcast on iTunes.

Ed has a famous quote on perspective: “Things don't happen to you, they happen for you.” That is an extremely powerful way of looking at life, because with this perspective, everything happens for a reason. Another way of saying it is that whatever happens to you, it isn't God or the universe conspiring against you. It's actually conspiring for your benefit.

It can be tricky to see things this way, especially in the middle of a big transition when you might feel that there's nothing good about what's happening to you. When I had the privilege of having Ed as a guest on my podcast (Episode 68: Max Out Your Life with Ed Mylett), he gave me a compelling example from his personal life when he was growing up.

I said, “Okay, I got one for you. How did having an alcoholic father happen for you?'“ His dad was, I believe, 30 years sober before passing, but when he was growing up, he was a severe alcoholic. I was genuinely curious. I just wanted to know, “How did that happen for you?” I could think of some adversity I faced in my life, and I had a hard time imagining the upside of them. I'm sure you have something in your life that you feel the same way about.

Ed said that when he was a kid, he never knew which form of his father would walk through that front door. He had to learn how to read his father's face and emotions and body language the first few seconds he walked in and then adapted accordingly. From there, he learned how to “read” people based on his experience reading his dad.

Ed's experience reminded me of someone else. Famous author Malcolm Gladwell refers to a 10,000‐hour rule in his book Outliers. Gladwell says, “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness” (p. 40). In other words, if you spend 10,000 hours practicing nearly anything, I guarantee you'll be one of the best in the world at that skill.

So now, Ed has easily logged over 10,000 hours reading people very early in life, which enabled him to excel in podcasting, speaking, and selling and shine in the business world because he can read someone he's working with as well as he can read a crowd.

I thought it was incredible for him to talk about the takeaway he got from dealing with his father as a child. It was a way of taking something negative in his life and transmuting it into a skill that he could use to serve others. I thought, if he could feel this way about setbacks in his life, I could adopt his way of looking at some of the setbacks in mine.

What Ed was saying about things happening “for him” resonated because it felt familiar and right to me—I, too, have found the upside of so many events that would have completely derailed me if I let them.

I made a list and want to share with you how to find new ways of looking at the setbacks in your own life. It isn't a comprehensive list—I handpicked the ones from which I felt I learned the most.

Setback 1: Not Succeeding in Football Until Late in High School

I wasn't a starter on my high school varsity football team until my senior year. I don't know how many guys eventually ended up playing professional football with barely any experience from high school, but I'm probably one of the rare few. I'm sure many people thought I arrived way too late to the party to be considered seriously.

On its face, it looks to be a tremendous disadvantage going into college with so little experience. These other guys who had played a lot in high school were already thousands of hours ahead of me in terms of their experience, and that can be a little intimidating when you're starting out.

Positive Perspective 1: I Wasn't Hurt or Burned Out

For one, I was less banged up and injured than the other guys. I played with many guys in college—and obviously, a lot of them were four‐year starters on the varsity football team. I was only a one‐year starter, but the more years you play high‐level football, the more you're going to get banged up. That's just football.

I had never been hurt at all playing football up to that point in my life. And a lot of it was because I only played one season. When you haven't been hurt yet, there's fresh energy and optimism to your game, a certain kind of fearlessness. There's also zero burnout. Many people have been playing the same position their whole life, and they get a little burned out on football by the time they get to college. Not me. I poured all that into my newfound enthusiasm for the game, which translated into disciplined practice.

Positive Perspective 2: I Was Grateful and Coachable

Because I hadn't played offensive line for more than a year, I didn't have any preconceived ideas about “the right way” to play the game. I was too busy learning the basics and putting in everything I had into training to keep up with people more experienced than I was. Ego wasn't a factor—I hadn't played enough even to develop an ego about how I needed to play.

Plus, I was so grateful and appreciative of just being on the field! I had worked hard to get there, sacrificing basketball my junior year and training on a crazy level to put on 55 pounds. I would do everything and anything to not only stay but be considered one of the most valuable assets out there.

I also didn't have any bad habits. I didn't have time to develop any yet! So when I started playing center, I hadn't brought any bad habits to college with me. I purposely kept an open mind and wanted to learn the most effective ways to do my job on the team.

I was a sponge. I was incredibly coachable and listened to all the training and feedback my coach, trainers, and peers were giving me. With this frame of mind, I was able to create and reinforce positive habits.

My new positive habits paid off. I went from being a one‐year starter in high school with one scholarship offer to being a Freshman All‐American in college.

Setback 2: My Joe Theismann Leg Break

If you don't know what the Joe Theismann leg break is, let me give you some context. It's considered one of the most brutal moments ever televised in the NFL. In November 1985 the Redskins were playing against the Giants. Joe Theismann was the well‐respected quarterback for the Redskins. In the first quarter of the game, Theismann was attempting a pass when two Giants defenders rushed him from opposite sides. Theismann tried to evade but was tackled from behind by Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Theismann's leg snapped in two, with both bones below his knee poking through the skin. Some of the other players said they could hear the snapping sound from the sidelines. It was a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula. The entire incident was televised live on Monday Night Football, and everyone watching witnessed the horrifying experience. Lawrence Taylor, the player who tackled him, was the first to wave the medical staff onto the field.

Theismann eventually recovered six months later, training and doing rehabilitation to return to the Redskins. Unfortunately, his injured leg healed shorter than before the injury, which gave him a bit of a hobble. There was no way he could play football after that.

Interestingly, the incident made the left tackle position famous because people had to adapt to protect the blind side of the quarterback once they realized that Lawrence Taylor was wrecking quarterbacks (and Joe Theismann's career). Most quarterbacks are right‐handed, so they can't see the rushers coming off their left side as they drop back.

Theismann was as tough as they came and worked so hard to rehabilitate himself to playing condition, but, unfortunately, it wasn't enough. If a player ever gets the Theismann leg break, they know that it's terrible news. It's likely to be a career‐ending injury.

My unfortunate incident happened my rookie year in week 12. We were playing down in Jacksonville. It was in November, and I had started every game that season, and I started every game through college, so, I never really had been hurt before. I was playing through nicks and bumps and bruises a lot of times, maybe some sprains and strains, but I always could get back out on the field and play.

In the third quarter, a former teammate of mine from the University of Louisville, Montavious Stanley, dove for our quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. I was engaged and blocking my guy, and while I was in front of him, Montavious missed the quarterback and went through my left leg. I felt a sharp pain and immediately went down.

Because I had never been hurt before, I was unfamiliar with staying down on the ground after a play. It was the first time I ever did it, and so I actually tried to push myself up, and I heard Montavious start to cry—he was wailing once he realized that he broke my leg so severely.

I just laid there, and eventually, teammates and trainers helped put me on a cart. They put my leg in an air cast, put me in a cart, took me off the field, and went straight into an ambulance. Funny thing—I watched the YouTube video of my leg getting broken before going into the operating room. I watched it with the surgeons when they were trying to see what happened; the whole play was already on YouTube.

As far as broken bones went, this was pretty serious. I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. I was stuck down in Jacksonville for four days. I was able to fly back home to Buffalo only after about a week of being in the hospital there,

That was the first time I'd ever been seriously hurt before, and fighting back from that was a daily struggle. There were so many bad days along the way.

Positive Perspective 1: I Became Much Closer with My Girlfriend and Future Wife

Back then, Leslie and I had been dating about a year. She dropped out of school to move in with me and take care of me when I returned to Buffalo from Jacksonville. I can't even tell you how lucky I was to have her in my life. I got to experience her as a caregiver, and she was terrific at it. I'm not sure words can express how grateful I was for all the work she put into helping rehabilitate me. It was instrumental to my recovery.

When you're younger, you might start a relationship with a girl because she's pretty, and you keep dating her because she's fun and you get along with her. But when you marry a girl, you don't know what type of mom and wife she will be once kids come around.

I got to see Leslie's nurturing side, and she truly took care of me when I could do nothing for myself—including using the restroom. It was not ideal to have the girl you're dating to have to empty a urine jug every time you have to pee. It was inconvenient and maybe even embarrassing, but she had an “I got this” attitude.

I saw her in a new light early on in our relationship, which gave me a lot of assurance about who she was as a person. I proposed not long after because I knew I needed to marry this girl. She stuck by me at my worse and sacrificed everything to help me. It was one of the best and easiest decisions of my life.

Positive Perspective 2: I Proved to Myself That I Could Fight Back from Catastrophic Injury

The Theismann injury took me out of the rest of that first season. I put hard‐disciplined work into my rehabilitation because it was my goal to get back out on the football field for that second year. It was the injury that ended Joe Theismann's career—I didn't want it to finish mine.

It was a time in my life when I had to shore up my strongest gifts and put them to use. I would need to call on my competitive spirit and self‐discipline to give it my all in rehab. It's a strange feeling, putting so much effort and pain into doing something you have taken for granted nearly all your life: walking. You never realize how many things in your body have to be working in perfect order simply to get up and walk across the room.

I knew that the training room was where I would win the next few years of football battles. I wouldn't be able to do it unless I built the proper foundation now. I needed to give it all here in rehab and leave nothing on the table.

It was a long road back to recovery and battling through a rehab process for such a serious injury. For the first time in my life, I was able to prove to myself at that moment how much football meant to me by pushing through all the pain and long days in the training room.

When you go through something like that and come out the other side healed, it changes you. I had confidence that I could come back from significant injury, great adversity, and be stronger than ever. I proved to myself I could do it, and that's a fantastic thing that came out of that injury.

Positive Perspective 3: I Appreciated Being Pain‐Free and Felt the Joy of Playing at Such a High Level Again

I did finally make it back. It wasn't pretty at first. It's one thing to walk and run after recovering from the Theismann break. It's quite another to be playing football with other top athletes out there, running and blocking at peak capacity. There were many times when I was hobbling around the field, not really at my best. I played pretty crappy that year, honestly, worse than I ever envisioned myself playing in an NFL game.

Once I got back to moving and playing pain‐free, I truly appreciated being out there and running around and playing at a high level again. Without that injury, I may have taken for granted what an incredible blessing it is to play professional sports with some of the best in the world. I don't think I would have treasured it the same way had I never gotten hurt and gone through those really tough times of rehabbing my way back to the field.

Setback 3: My MCL Injury

In my fourth year, I tore my MCL during a game against Jacksonville that we won. The MCL is a ligament in the knee, similar to what had happened to me before with the ACL during my third year in the NFL, just not as severe.

I honestly just started examining everything in my life. I was exceptionally frustrated—I got hurt all four years to start my career with the Bills. I had played 49 consecutive games in Louisville and barely had a scratch. I started just analyzing everything. I thought, “I'm getting hurt every single season. Is God trying to tell me something? Am I training correctly? Am I not eating correctly?”

I knew I had to change something, starting with my perspective of how I could use this injury to get back on top.

Positive Perspective 1: By Taking Responsibility for the Conditions That Led to My Injury, I Could Empower Myself to Change It

Sometimes you have to divorce yourself from the emotions you're feeling from a setback and look at the valuable learning you can gain from it. Perhaps you've done something a certain way all your life, and now all of a sudden, it stops working. If you're getting uncomfortable feedback in the form of multiple setbacks, it's a good idea to look back at the basics. What can I switch up to improve the situation? What no longer works and why?

That was the “a‐ha” moment I got out of this injury—I had to take responsibility for it. There's a double‐edged sword to taking responsibility for what happens to you. But the wonderful part of it is that once you take responsibility for something, you have the power to change it.

So, I knew I had to change something. I just felt like something was off. So I switched up how I was training during the season. The NFL season is so long, and many people just try to maintain strength throughout the year. I think in trying just to maintain my strength, I was probably getting weaker, which led me to play weaker toward the end of the season.

After I completely changed my training strategy, I went on to start 52 straight games—the most consecutive games started for any active center in the NFL at the time.

Positive Perspective 2: I Had a Golden Opportunity to Demonstrate My Commitment to My Coaches and Teammates by Fighting Back

After I tore my MCL, there were only four games left in the regular season. I was heading into the final year of my rookie contract after this season, which was likely going to be my biggest payday as an NFL player.

At this point, we were eliminated from the playoffs, but that didn't matter to me. If I had gone on injured reserved (IR) and ended the season right there, everyone would have understood. I knew I was taking a risk by going out to play—I could potentially risk an even worse injury. We were not making the playoffs, so that wasn't at stake. Many people would have completely understood if I had just shut it down for the rest of the year.

I just didn't want to do it. I had been on IR for two out of three years of the start of my career. I wanted to fight back. But I also wanted to prove to the organization what I was all about. I wanted to show them that I was the kind of player willing to play through some pain, and if I was medically able to go out there and play, I wanted to prove to the Buffalo Bills' organization that I would do it whole‐heartedly.

That's precisely what I did. I felt like that was the right way to close out that season, and I think I earned a lot of respect from coaches and teammates going out there. I proved to them playing in those final two games that I was willing to go all out and put it all on the line. I proved it to myself, too.

Before the next season, the Bills ended up rewarding me with a contract that would create generational wealth for my family and me. It was an incredible reward and fantastic recognition for all the work. I was so profoundly grateful. I think part of the reason for the terms of that contract was me battling back from all of those injuries, but especially going out and playing those two meaningless games of the last season.

Is there an area in your life that you can push through some discomfort to show commitment to your work or your relationships? Going above and beyond for a period of time in your life can dramatically change the course of your life—even if your circumstances seem bleak at the time.

Setback 4: The Career‐Ending Neck Injury

In Chapter 1, I wrote about all I went through during the events surrounding that neck injury. With the passage of time and a reflection on my strengths, gifts, and family, I have been able to step back and see what had happened from a greater perspective.

Positive Perspective 1: I Ended My Football Career on a Career‐High Note

So many things went right that last season. We had finally broken the playoff drought, and I could leave on a high note. We came together with tremendous teamwork, leadership, and commitment from the whole organization. I could not have been happier with those results.

Positive Perspective 2: Our Family Was Financially Set

I signed a contract extension before the start of the season, which was very good for my family and me financially. We had just built our dream house in Louisville, which checked all the boxes for where we wanted to live and raise our kids. It's beautiful here—I love our home so much.

Positive Perspective 3: I Was Able to Spend More Time with My Family

Garrett was just born. I had this healthy son, and now I was able to spend a lot of time with him, my daughter, and my wife in an incredible environment. I always like to say, “God's timing is perfect,” and Garrett arriving when he did was a perfect example of that.

Not everyone has the blessing of spending so much time with their family. We are all growing in amazing ways together. I am grateful that I can be close to my wife and kids for this incredible next chapter in our lives.

Positive Perspective 4: I Can Take Care of My Body for the Long Term

I love football so much. I would have probably played until the wheels fell off, to the point where I was extremely broken. Maybe it was God's way of getting me out of the game yet still allowing me to be active. I can still play golf with my friends and do a little bit of wake surfing and some low‐impact activities, so I can still be physical without risking my neck at all.

My health journey is never finished. I'll talk further about my efforts to lose weight, my experiments with running, and my long‐term efforts to reverse the potential long‐term damage I have done through all my seasons in football in Chapter 6. The short version of the story is that I'm grateful to be on the right track and improve demonstrably in almost every way.

You're never too old to reverse course and start living in a more healthy, mindful way to increase your quality of life and longevity.

Positive Perspective 5: It Gave Me a Podcasting Platform and Story to Help Other People Transition

Possibly the reason so many people listen to my podcast is that I had this huge, life‐changing event—the career‐ending injury—right when I thought everything was going so perfectly. That season gave me a platform that has changed my life and allowed me to have an impact on others.

I always come back to, “How am I using my gifts to serve others?” If I can inform the listeners, if I can uplift them, if I can provide them some entertainment within their day, I can bring them a little bit more joy in their life. I know I'm serving them through this podcast and my broadcasts.

I've talked about how your biggest test becomes your testimony at that point in your life. Your testimony is your story of conversion that can inspire others. That was my biggest test. I just thought, “Well, here we go. God gave me this platform amidst all this adversity. Let's do something extremely powerful with it.”

Ways to Shift Your Perspective When You're Stuck

Therapists are known to say that you can't control the events that happen to you in life, but you can control how you react to them. I believe this is true.

I have another take on it—you can only control two things when major setbacks in life occur: what you pay attention to and what meaning you give it.

If I had paid attention to the wrong thing or assigned some meaning that it didn't need, I could have sunk myself in any of my setbacks. The most dramatic example—if I had made my career‐ending neck injury mean that I was useless or no longer had any contribution to make to society, then my life would have followed accordingly.

The Power of Gratitude

Another thing that helped me tremendously during that time, especially after the birth of my son, is that I took stock of my life and was grateful for everything I had.

It didn't mean I wasn't devastated that I couldn't play football anymore. It meant that I had a profound sense of gratitude for the things that I did have—my family, my faith, my incredible network of support, and the success I had accrued so far.

Author Jon Gordon said in “The Power of Thank You,” “It's actually physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time. When you are grateful, you flood your body and brain with emotions and endorphins that uplift and energize you rather than the stress hormones that drain you. Gratitude and appreciation are also essential for a healthy work environment.”

Gratitude is a practice you can work at every day. And you'll find the more you practice gratitude, the more you'll find yourself having things to be grateful for. Take stock of everything that's working, the fantastic people in your life, and all the things headed in the right direction.

Moving for Perspective

When you're still having a hard time seeing a different vantage point, I recommend shifting your attitude by moving your body or shifting your breathing.

There's a lot to be said about just changing your state through movement. Whether it's a run and a workout, hitting some golf balls, or doing anything physical. Maybe you can practice breathing exercises. There are many different techniques, but there's a lot of science behind using breathing to change your mental and emotional state.

Another great thing you can do is to literally go somewhere else and physically see a different perspective. If you are stuck in the same place all the time, it's challenging to think outside the four walls in which you have been spending all your time. Get out and literally change your perspective—see much more of the landscape. For some people, that means going to a lake, river, or ocean. Maybe you can take a drive and see a view from a higher place, like a hill or mountain. Perhaps it's just simply heading out into nature and listening to the silence or the noises in your natural environment.

Reach Out and Get Help from Others

You are not alone! Your elders, your family, your mentors, your colleagues, and friends—they have all fought and won battles you know nothing about. Talking to someone else is a great way to shift your perspective and start seeing alternatives you may have never considered before.

When you're in a tough spot in life, you'll be surprised at how much compassion those who are farther along on their journey can give you and what great wisdom they have to offer. They might have some tough advice to give you along the way. It's amazing, in those times when you're the most vulnerable about your struggles (whether it's how much pain you're in or a financial situation or a struggling relationship), how compassionate people can be.

You may also want to consider professional therapy, which, thankfully over the years, has become more socially acceptable in the mainstream. It's a great way of dealing with issues that you may feel are too big to handle yourself.

Consider That All the Trials You Face Make You Stronger and More Complete

One of my favorite Bible verses on this subject comes from James 1:2–4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

If you take the perspective that everything you face strengthens and prepares you for the future, it can lessen the sting of the situation you are dealing with in the present.

Key Takeaways

Let's reflect for a moment and think of the key takeaways we have so far:

  • “Things don't happen to you. They happen for you” (courtesy Ed Mylett).
  • Having a greater sense of perspective and learning how to interpret and use adversity in a positive way will fundamentally improve your quality of life.
  • Success is nearly impossible without seeing a greater perspective.
  • Practicing adopting a greater perspective makes you better at it. (Remember the 10,000‐hour rule!)
  • Great things can still come out of horrible circumstances.
  • Losing one thing often makes room for other things.
  • It's okay to feel bad about things that have happened.
  • You only have control of what you pay attention to and the meaning you give it.
  • Find ways to take stock and be grateful.
  • When stuck, get moving and breathe differently!
  • Take yourself out of your environment regularly to literally see a different perspective.
  • Reach out and get help from others.
  • Understand that all the trials you face makes you stronger.
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