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 seemed to anticipate what I would 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.”
I knew where he was going with the pep talk, but I just didn’t care. In my family, going to college was not just an option, it was required. 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. At that point in my life, all I seemed to care about 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 clique. We went everywhere together and most evenings we wound up in one of our dorm rooms watching Johnny Carson, eating Ritz crackers, and drinking beer. Although we weren’t nerds, per se, you could hardly say we fit in. Outside of soccer, hanging out, and going to parties, my first two years came and went as fast as it gets cold in Gunnison. And to nobody’s surprise, 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. Toward 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 another.
All I could do is laugh. “Now that’s funny. Who put you up to this? Was it Jon? Alan? You ladies are such a hoot.”
“We’re serious,” said the third captain. “We thought you’d be a good coach.”
“Me? Why me?” I assumed their initial choices must have turned them down. “What about Dave or Alan? They are much better players than I am.”
The women refused to back down. They cited my organizational and leadership abilities, and how easy I was to work with. Their case was actually impressive—to anyone but me. They painted a picture of someone I didn’t recognize. Someone I didn’t think I could be. I was torn on so many levels.
“Can I think about it?” I said. I hoped that maybe they’d come to their senses and ask someone else.
They reluctantly agreed and went on their way, leaving me in a state of quandary. Why me? Why now? was all I could think. That night in the shower I recall looking up into the heavens and thinking, 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.
I was ready to go into my third year of college—just as I had entered my first two—with little focus and hoping things would eventually figure themselves out. But that was before the coaching request. Suddenly I had another path to consider. Could I step up and be someone who belongs at the front, leading, rather than hiding toward the back? Do I have what it takes to be a head coach? Do I even know what to do?
The defining moment for me wasn’t so much the request to coach as it was the intense self-evaluation that followed. I had to be willing to see the world, and my existence in it, from a new perspective. I had to see in myself what the three captains already had seen.
Over that summer I began to embrace my role as the head coach. I was in uncharted waters, but I started planning the season, organizing the practices, and, when the season began, leading the team. It was exhilarating to step out of the shadows and become the confident, supportive, and effective leader I was meant to be.
My Junior and Senior Years
To my initial surprise, I liked being in a leadership role and I thoroughly enjoyed being a coach. In fact, I liked it so much, that I also took on the additional role of co-coaching the men’s team. And that was just the beginning. During the next two years, I became a writer for the college newspaper, started a psychology club on campus, and worked as a peer advisor assisting and mentoring freshman students.
I discovered a side of me that had been dormant all my life. I was motivated to get involved, lead, and make a difference in the lives of others. What’s more, instead of selecting the easiest classes, as I did my first two years, I sought out the challenging professors so I could learn more. I also ran for student body president my senior year and won! By the time I graduated, I had raised my GPA from 2.0 to 2.95, getting all As and one B in four semesters.
Talk about a turnaround! I was transformed during my four years at Western. And those extracurricular experiences helped me land a full-ride graduate assistantship at Miami University.
Reflecting back on my college years, I am so grateful that the three captains of the women’s soccer team saw my potential and put their faith in me. It sparked a much needed defining moment that changed my life forever.
It’s amazing how a simple nudge can make such a difference.
-Greg “Geese” Giesen
* This story is from Geese’s new book, It’s All About Me.”