When I was a teenager, there were few things I feared more....
Not because I hated doing my homework — because they were a reminder that I was not the person I aspired to be.
I've always been a dreamer. Thinking big, taking risks, and fear of the unknown have never been a problem for me.
My problem is getting my ability to keep up with my aspirations — and admitting the hard facts along the way.
Nowhere was this more apparent than when I moved to the US at 14.
IGNORING THE BRUTAL FACTS
I arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, at the agree of 14 with a dream of playing in the NFL. Like usual, nobody understood why I was doing it.
I was merely average on my Canadian team where the caliber of players doesn't even come close to America. On paper, I didn't have a hope of even getting playing time — let alone going pro.
To me, however, the choice was obvious — I would never make it to the NFL playing in Canada. So if I wanted to try, this was my only shot. Thus, I arrived with nothing but hopes and dreams...
Then I met reality. Otherwise known as "DJ Jones" a real future NFL player — who usually had a running start at me.
For those of you unfamiliar with high school football in the U.S., each school has a varsity and junior varsity team. The better players play on the varsity team...
I was on junior varsity. But I didn't start, I wasn't the backup, I was the backup’s backup!
My role on the team was to be a tackling dummy for the varsity team.
They needed players to practice against without worrying about injuring them. For the next two years, I was their guy.
So much for my dreams of the NFL...
At the end of the season, I had a tough decision.
Is it worth it to play again next year?
On paper, the decision didn't seem too hard:
- My best friend just quit.
- I had no realistic shot at a starting position.
- We just finished our second consecutive losing season and hadn't won the State Championship since 1983.
- I had a job, girlfriend, and college to prepare for.
The information was clear: "Quit!" But was I ready to give up on my purpose of me moving to the US in the first place? Was I just going to throw the last 2 years of pain out? Or did I have what it takes to prove that I can play with the best? It wasn't easy...but I decided to finish what I started. It was the best decision I've ever made.
Over the next year...
- I earned a spot on the team
- I started every game
- Our underdog team upset the state and won the championship
- And I learned the fundamental principle at the base of my philosophy toward life since
"Confront the Brutal Facts, Yet Never Lose Faith."
CONFRONT THE BRUTAL FACTS
This was not an easy principle for me to grasp.
Throughout high school, my denial of any facts that didn't match with my dreams led me to become a compulsive liar.
I lied to my parents... I lied to my friends... But mostly, I lied to myself.
At the root of my dishonesty was having these big dreams, not having the ability to reach them, yet refusing to give up.
I felt like I needed to constantly justify why I took huge risks and stuck with them.
Without good answers, I exaggerated, misled, or outright made up stories to justify my decisions. Lying became so habitual that I was halfway into a lie before I even realized what I was doing.
It was just a part of life — and it made me miserable. Nobody could trust me, and I couldn't trust them.
When you're lying to everyone, you believe everyone else is lying to you. This leads to a cycle of mistrust, lies... you get the picture.
Luckily, that started to change when I finally had face facts.
This was the first time I could not ignore the facts, If I wanted to reach my goal, I could no longer lie to myself.
Which is why the first fact I faced was...
BRUTAL FACT #1: Self-Awareness Is the First Step Toward Self-Improvement
Self-awareness is the most underrated aspect of working toward any goal. Simply being honest about how much I was exercising didn't allow me to cut corners anymore.
Similarly, rather than trying to defend my weaknesses, I started seeing them for what they were —- problems in need of a solution.
Some I could fix quickly, (like studying offensive formations) some would be much harder (like improving my speed). Being "okay" with my weaknesses started a fundamental shift in how I saw the world.
When I could admit I wasn't as strong or fast as my teammates, I realized that I had a big advantage over them in playing disciplined. I still wasn't the best player, but I was dependable and consistent.
That's what ultimately landed me the starting role. Most people do their best to ignore the hard truths of their situation because they believe it will lead to even scarier facts hidden underneath.
By thinking this way you will miss out on all of the positive things you'll find out about yourself or others in the process of owning up to your mistakes and learning from them.
If you have a brutal fact that you've been ignoring, ask yourself what positive findings may come from "pulling back the curtain."
BRUTAL FACT #2: Exaggerating Diminishes Your True Accomplishments.
When I held up the championship trophy after such a long, hard journey; I realized that by exaggerating, I disrespect the real hard choices that went into that achievement.
Exaggerating sends the message that "I don't believe I've accomplished enough in my life to be worthy of your approval, but maybe adding this on will make up for it."
If you're ever tempted to exaggerate, try to think about what you're hoping to achieve from doing so — why do you believe this person will like you more if you exaggerate rather than tell the truth?
Don't judge yourself for the answer, just clarify it.
You'll be surprised how effective this exercise is, and how silly your answers will sound.
BRUTAL FACT #3: The Only Truly Bad Decision Is One Made Out of Denial.
If you look back on the key decisions in your life, you'll notice there weren't many between a good and bad option. After all, in those cases, it's not much of a decision.
Instead, we face a never-ending series of compromises and tradeoffs from having many good options in one case, and many bad options in another.
Unfortunately, we all face choices that may hurt someone we love — like choosing to leave home in pursuit of a dream.
Or whether or not to give up on that dream when it feels like nothing is working out the way you hoped.
In these cases, there really is no "right" decision.
Maybe I would have been better off staying in Canada.
Maybe I would have discovered my passion for science and entrepreneurship if I didn't play my senior year.
The only decisions I regret are those where I lied to others, lied to myself, or simply ignored the facts I didn't want to hear.
Life is not a math exam. There are very few absolute answers. We all struggle with making the right decision — because none of us know what it is!
Some of your decisions may hurt people but that doesn't mean they're wrong, and you should feel guilt or regret.
More important than whether a decision might hurt someone is choosing to respect that person with the honest truth of the situation — especially if that person is you.
In those moments, you must become aware of the situation and ask yourself — are you being honest with the respect they deserve?
BRUTAL FACT #4: Never lose hope.
In November of my junior year of high school, things looked bleak.
Despite all my ambition, I was a terrible football player, on a mediocre team, and lied to myself and others in order to justify myself. I was completely miserable.
Looking back, though, I'm incredibly grateful that things were so bleak. Because it taught me that even if everything seems to be working against you, and your world seems hopeless...
You not only have the power to get back on your feet, but achieve far more than many thought possible.
To do so, however, you must be willing to confront the brutal facts.
Today, I see fear, anger, and hopelessness from people all over. But far more troubling is our unwillingness to face the brutal facts of our reality — both good and bad.
The world is changing — rapidly. Change scares us because it's unpredictable. We don't know how to act today to protect ourselves tomorrow.
This natural fear will be our default response if we aren't willing to ask, "why?" and confront each fact we find buried underneath.
If you look at the major changes over the last 50 years, you'll see that the changes aren't coming from multinational companies hell-bent on taking over the world.
They're coming from individuals who now have the power to open a laptop and access the knowledge, skills, communities and even funding necessary to pursue their purpose in life.
I am deeply grateful for all the individuals that pushed our society forward to help me do just that — and equally saddened to learn that more than twice as many 18-29 year olds are more frearful than hopeful for the future.
When we ignore the brutal facts, we never find the facts that will give us hope.
BRUTAL FACT #5: The Truth Needs Our Help.
I wrote this post because I wanted to share my struggle to confront the brutal facts — and how they set me free.
You would not be reading this article right now if I hadn't confronted the brutal facts, yet never lost faith.
- 10 years ago it was to play another year of football.
- 5 years ago it was to start my first restaurant marketing startup.
- 3 years ago it was realizing I was in the wrong industry.
- 2 years ago it was starting Willpowered.
- 1 year ago it was accepting the fact that at the age of 26 I had to move back in with my parents.
It's embarassing admitting that, but the truth is, I'm not ashamed of it. Last year I faced a difficult choice: quit, go part-time, or move back home.
It was difficult, but to me it was obvious: giving less than everything I have to something I truly believe in isn't an option.
As far as I'm concerned, quitting, going part-time, or any other derivative would be quitting on every person who has supported my work, and every other person who has found any kind of value in my work.
Today, I feel the same about the truth.
If I only gave you the "facts" that made me look smart and successful, then I would be quitting on the value that allows us to trust each other and work together to overcome the real problems ahead.
It's uncomfortable being vulnerable, but it's miserable being dishonest.
"You have to be the change you want to see in the world." — Gandhi
I firmly believe in Gandhi's words — because they're true.
Genuine change doesn't start with politicians, it doesn't start with inspirational speeches, it starts with a woman refusing to give into an injustice by giving up her seat on a bus.
Actions speak louder than words. In her action, Rosa Parks showed more strength than one can put into words.
My greatest fear is that we will forget facts like this. That we will judge people for what they say, not what they do, while we simply lay down and accept, "we live in a fact-free world now."
I won't do it.
Over the past 6 months, I've been building a platform with a big dream of bridging the gap between scientific fact and public understanding.
But I know if we're going to have a world of facts, honesty, and trust in one another, even my wildest dreams won't be enough to make it happen.
It will take the will of all of us to first and foremost be honest with the person we see in the mirror.