Soon after I turned 18 years old, my parents drove me from my hometown of Mobile, Alabama, and dropped me off at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi , where I was set to attend college and play football. Before he left, my dad turned to me and said, “Hey, listen, we helped you get this far in life, but you have to go figure it out from here.” After watching my parents drive out of sight, I went to my dorm room, sat down on the plastic mattress, started to stare at the wall, and asked myself, “how am I going to get through this?”
I soon attended my first practice and thought I was a decent high school athlete who had not been beaten on a football field in a long, long time. In fact, I had forgotten what it felt like to get whipped. But at Millsaps, as I would soon find out, everyone on the team had been a pretty good high school athlete. Needless to say, in my first practice, I got whipped. I’ll never forget how the head coach of the team watched it all unfold and then told me on the very first day of practice “Jubenville … I’m gonna send you back to Mobile in a pine box.” Those words ring as clear in my mind today as they did when they were first uttered more than two decades ago.
So here I am, I’m 18 years old, hundreds of miles from home, I just got whipped on the football field, and when I go to my first college class, the teacher assigns 300 pages of reading on the first day. At this point, I’m thinking ‘where did I go wrong here?’
Paralyzed with fear, I did what any 18-year-old, lost boy whose dad had just essentially told him to grow a pair would do. I called my mom. Because your mom is the only person in the world that you can call at that point in your life.
My mom patiently listened as I explained everything that was going wrong. When I finally stopped, she paused for a moment, and then she simply said ‘listen, son. You’re going to be okay. Now don’t call back until you have a little bit of success.’ And then hung up the phone.
I can tell you that at that moment in my life, I had never felt so alone. But somehow, from that ground zero in my life, I eventually pulled myself up and tried to find that little bit of success my mom was talking about.
About three or four lonely weeks later, I eventually made a B- on history test and had that little success. I immediately called my mom and told her about my grade. Her reply? “Good,” she said, “that’s what we were looking for … now go get a little bit more and a little bit more and I assure you that you are going to be OK.
Like moms tend to be, she was right. All I needed was that first taste of success so I could understand how to have more of it. Because success is a cumulative thing. Success tends to lead to more success. But you will never have that first success until you get your head straight and start believing that you too can have it.
Business philosopher Jim Rohn once famously said that success is not something that is meant to be pursued, but rather, meant to be attracted. How do you attract it? I believe the answer to that question is embedded in my favorite quote. It comes from American author Henry David Thoreau, who wrote: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with uncommon success in common hours.”
Thoreau’s quote is a reflection of my life. And the reality is my experience at Millsaps prepared me for to coach and teach on an ever-increasing stage. And whether I’m teaching, consulting, writing, it was each unique experience that prepared me for the special moments I have today. What moment you ask? Winston Churchill said this about that moment. “To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment; that moment, when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted for his talents. What a tragedy, if that moment finds him unprepared, or unqualified, for the work which would be his finest hour.”
I hope today you can go find that little bit of success.