3 Things I Learned From Terry Bradshaw

Last week I had the opportunity to meet Terry Bradshaw and hear him speak at a conference in Chicago. I didn't know much about him other than he is a former NFL star and is now a sports commentator. (Sports are not really my thing.)

Frequently at conferences, former athletes are brought in to do the keynote speeches. These speeches usually center around overcoming adversity, staying the course, or rising to the occasion, and then they start to lean towards a reading of accomplishments or a soft pitch for a new business venture to an overly caffeinated, starstruck audience.

But Mr. Bradshaw's was different. He spent the majority of his speech talking about his humble upbringing and family and how those remain the foundation of his life today. Of course, he shared a few celebrity-fueled anecdotes here and there, but overall, he seemed like a regular guy who happens to be on TV every week and raises mini-donkeys just because they make him happy. 

All the ingredients of the standard "Overcoming Adversity" speech were there: grows up poor, struggles academically, experiences heartache and death, but ultimately achieves massive success. It's not a new story, but he seemed to tell it in a new way. His focus on love and family--he returned to those two topics even when he seemingly tried to leave them--and his delivery made his story different. He smiled the entire time he spoke, and not just a "they're paying me to be here" smile, but a genuine, from-the-eyes smile. The gratitude he has for his life and the people in it was palpable.  

During his speech, I wrote down three things he said:

1. "Joy is unaffected, happiness is not."
There seem to be today endless resources providing suggestions for achieving happiness. That's not a goal of mine. I only want to be okay. Happiness comes and goes. It is unreliable and unsustainable. I like his idea that joy, however, is a state that can be maintained, that it is something that is created within us vs. something pulled into us from the outside. Sure, joy can ebb and flow, just like being okay can. Sometimes I feel like a three on the scale of okayness when I'd really rather be an eight, but I'm still okay. Joy doesn't have to look like happiness--it can look like okay, gratitude, acceptance, relief, fulfillment. The presence of joy, once uncovered, is constant with careful attention to its daily maintenance. 

2. "Shut the door, walk away."
Countless times in my life I have held onto friendships, relationships, beliefs, resentments, jobs, and so on longer than I should out of fear, obligation, or habit. There always comes a breaking point though, that day when suddenly the best and only idea is to, "Shut the door, walk away." I used to wear my pain like a badge of honor, "Look at how much I can endure!" Today, pain and discomfort act like my own personal warning system and let me know when I have veered too far off course. "Endure" is no longer my go-to approach to living life. I stay until I shouldn't any longer. 

3. "Tell yourself, 'Good journey. Right path. I'm proud of myself.'"
I get frustrated with myself at times because I think I should be doing more, working faster, pushing harder. I can see the end goal in my mind, or what I think the end goal should be, and I get annoyed by all the steps in the way. I'm inclined to want to skip the journey. But that's fortunately and unfortunately where all the action is. That's where the rubber meets the road, where we put effort in to get results (and not always the results we expect). And it's also the place where somedays we just get to give ourselves a pat on the back because we had the courage to show up on the path again when yesterday we said we couldn't do it one more day. It was a good reminder that willingness, focus, and time are just about all we need to make anything happen.