Of all the “defining moments” in my life that have helped shape who I am today, nothing was as significant and impactful for me as the story I’m about to tell you.
Following the crowd
My high school counselor looked concerned. “You’re a follower, Greg. You do just enough to get by with little to no ambition. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m worried about you. Tell me again where you’re going to school?”
“Western State,” I said.
“And what was it about Western that attracted you?” he said, anticipating what I was about to say next.
“I don’t know,” I sheepishly responded. “A bunch of guys from the soccer team are going...”
“You see Greg, that’s what I mean. You need to think about what you want to get out of the college experience. Do it for you, not for your friends.”
Okay, okay, I knew where he was going with the pep talk and all, but frankly I just didn’t care. You see, in my family, going to college was not an option, but a mandate. And as fortunate as I was to be in that position, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted from a college education, let alone a career. All I seemed to care about at that point in my life was having fun, meeting women and playing soccer. Nothing else really mattered.
My freshman and sophomore years
My high school counselor was right; I was a follower. I did whatever my buddies wanted to do and went wherever they wanted to go. It wasn’t long before a group of us on the soccer team bonded and formed a little social click. We went everywhere together and usually ended up each evening in one of our dorm rooms watching Johnny Carson, eating Ritz crackers, and drinking beer. Although we weren’t nerds per se, we were social misfits just the same. Needless to say, outside of soccer, hanging out, and going to parties, those first two years came and went as fast as it gets cold in Gunnison. And to no surprise of anyone who knew me, my GPA at the end of my sophomore year was a very unstable 2.0. And that was after taking all the easy classes.
And then the oddest thing happened.
Towards the end of sophomore year, the three captains of the women’s soccer team paid me a visit.
“We’ve got a favor to ask you,” said one of them.
“The answer is no,” I replied jokingly, still trying to figure out what they could possibly want with me.
“We want you to be our head soccer coach next year,” said one of the other women.
I immediately broke out laughing. “Now that’s funny,” I cried, while looking around to see if I could spot one of my buddies hiding behind a nearby tree. “Who put you up to this? Was it Jon? Alan? You guys are such a hoot.”
“We’re serious,” said the third captain. “We thought you’d be a good coach.”
“Me? Why me?” I replied, assuming their initial choices must have turned them down. “What about Dave or Alan? They are much better players than me.”
The women refused to back down and continued to make their case as to why I was their best choice. It really was impressive…that is if you were anyone but me. They were painting a picture of someone I didn’t know. Someone I didn’t think I could be. I was torn on so many levels.
“Can I think about it?” I said, hoping that maybe they’d eventually come to their senses and go in another direction.
They reluctantly agreed and went on their way, leaving me in a state of complete disarray. Why me? Why now? was all I could think. That night in the shower I recall looking up into the heavens and shouting these chilling words, “What do they see in me that I don’t?”
It was at that moment…that defining moment, that my life took a drastic turn.
The defining moment
I was perfectly ready to go into my third year of college just as I had my first two with little to no focus, hoping things would eventually figure themselves out. But that was before the request came to be the women’s soccer coach. Now all of a sudden I had to consider another pathway that previously wasn’t on the table. Could it be that these women are seeing something in me that I’m not seeing? I thought again and again. And if so, what? A leader? A coach? Someone who is at the front of the line instead of always hiding somewhere in the middle?
The defining moment for me wasn’t so much much the request to coach as it was the intense self-evaluation I went through as a result. It required a willingness on my part to see the world and my existence in it from a new perspective. A perspective that the three captains on the women’s soccer team had seen in me way before I had.
Over that summer I began to embrace my role as the head coach. Although in uncharted waters, I started planning the season, organizing the practices, and leading the team. It was exhilarating to step out from my shadow and become the person I was meant to be.
My junior and senior years
I liked being a leader and I thoroughly enjoyed coaching the women’s soccer team. In fact, I liked it so much that I also took on the role of being the men’s soccer coach as well. And that was just the beginning. During the next two years:
· I became a writer for the college newspaper.
· I started a Psychology & Sociology club on campus.
· I worked as a peer advisor assisting and mentoring freshmen students.
And get this…
· I was elected Student Body President and maintained a 3.95 GPA.
Talk about a turnaround. Who I was and who I became during my four years at Western was beyond transformational for me. And what’s more, these extracurricular experiences my last two years also led to lifelong relationships and mentoring from administrators like Stu Kaplan, former director of Student Activities, and Dave Berilla, former director of the Career Center. In fact, it was Dave who helped create a coordinator position for me with the Crested Butte Mountain Resort organization during my senior year and helped me get into Miami University with an expenses-paid graduate assistantship.
So what does it all mean?
It means that once I figured out who I was and who I wanted to be, I was able to step up and lead my life instead of letting everyone else lead it for me.
It means that the difference between a moment and a defining moment is not the moment itself, but what we do with the moment as a result.
It means that sometimes all it takes is a simple nudge, like the request to be the women’s soccer coach, for transformation to occur.
And finally, it means that as long as we can be lifelong students, defining moments will keep coming our way.
I am so grateful for that defining moment at the end of my sophomore year and the amazing series of events and experiences that resulted from it. And I’m equally grateful to Western State College (now Western State Colorado University) for creating a place where such a transformation can take place.