Dear Younger Me: Home is Where You Make It
You know what you want to do, you just need the focus to chase it relentlessly and unapologetically.
Dear Younger Me,
You’re 17 years old. You have the best years of your life on the horizon and a wide world with all of its wonder to explore. I know you’re worried about picking where to go to college and what to study, because you know it will set the path for as much of your life as you can see right now.
You’re looking at computer science programs, chemistry programs, music education programs, marketing programs, the whole nine yards. But deep down, you know there’s one thing that you have loved your entire life: sports. Hold on to that forever.
Stop. Pause for a moment, think about what you’re doing. What do you REALLY want to do for your career?
You know what you want to do, you just need the focus to chase it relentlessly and unapologetically. Here’s what you need to help along the way:
A SENSE OF HOME
Buffalo, New York. There’s not a whole ton going on for the major pro sports teams. The Sabres are looking for direction after letting their co-captains walk away in ’07. You’re wondering when the Bills will get back to the playoffs after that blunder against Pittsburgh’s third-stringers in the ’04 regular-season finale. Willie Parker? Really?
Likewise, it’s tough to see the direction of the city and region as a whole, and I know that’s why you want to get as far away for college as possible. Not so far away that you can’t ever come home, but far enough away that you can say you’re not in Western New York. Binghamton sounds pretty good right about now.
But what if I told you that you would end college with not one, but two degrees from local schools? And those degrees would get you to a job in college athletics that, in its current form, didn’t even exist when you’re looking at college right now?
Buffalo’s making a big comeback right now too! You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you nearly every single news outlet that talks about comeback cities in the US mentions Buffalo. The University at Buffalo that you didn’t want to go to because it was right next to where you grew up playing hockey? It’s not doing so bad either.
You love your hometown a whole lot. Rather than running away when things aren’t great, think more about staying and being a part of the upcoming resurgence.
The state of your hometown might change, but your hometown will always be your hometown. If you really want to, you can make something special happen.
LEARNING, NOT LOSING
You know what loss means in the context of sports. I mean come on, your first two concrete sports memories are No Goal and the Music City Miracle!
Well hey, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
After you figure out that you want to work in sports, you’ll get your first internship in sports with your childhood hockey team, writing content for the Buffalo Sabres website — during two of, if not the worst seasons in franchise history! They’re going to lose a lot of games and get two of the highest picks in the draft.
But you also get to write and cover the Buffalo Bandits lacrosse team, and they win a lot of games with the best fans in the league at their backs, and they — gasp — MAKE THE PLAYOFFS! But wait: two straight seasons, they’ll lose to their archrival from Rochester in the postseason.
Think that was fun? You’ll start your collegiate career working with the hockey team from your alma mater, Niagara University. Not only are they going to go through two tough years, they’ll get knocked out of the playoffs by their archrival too!
As coaches often say, there’s winning, and then there’s learning. You’ll get really good at using game notes to fill a recap after a loss. The more losses start to pile up, the more important it becomes that you are ready when you become the underdog that rises up.
But losing goes beyond the playing field. You’re going to learn to be the person in life that picks up others in their time of need, the one that carries on when those you care about need you the most. When the task at hand needs to get done, you’ll be the one to do it.
Whatever you end up doing with your professional life, make sure you do it with intent and be present wherever you are. Give your all to whatever is most important in a given moment, and you won’t regret it. If the situation is right, life will return the favor 10 times over. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s not the right fit, but you did everything that you could control.
Look at how many times you’re changing your mind now about what you want to study in college. You’ll get a job in sports, and you’ll love it every single day, but there’s lessons to be learned every day that will extend beyond the industry.
Oh also…coffee. Get used to it. Nobody in the sports business calls you up and asks you to meet over a pop.