“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
No Limbs, No Limits
The story of coach Rob Mendez is one of focus, determination, and courage. Last week at the annual ESPN’s ESPY awards, he received an award for overcoming great obstacles through perseverance and determination. What you may not know is that coach Mendez was born without arms or legs. Though confined to a wheelchair, Mendez did not allow his life to be limited by his condition. He found his purpose in coaching a high school football team.
Using the stylus in his mouth and a smartphone propped up by his specialized wheelchair coach Mendez drew plays that took his team to an 8-2 record, narrowly losing in the conference championship game.
Mendez left an indelible mark on the audience as he accepted the award. His life exemplifies the richness of living a life with purpose even when physical attributes are lacking. His story reminds us that when we live purpose-driven lives, we find focus, determination, and courage. Let’s flesh out each of these attributes in today’s post:
In his acceptance speech, Mendez said, “When you dedicate yourself to something and focus on what you can do, and not on what you can’t do, you can really go places in the world.” I wholeheartedly agree that dedication to purpose summons a laser-like focus in us.
But we live in a noisy world. The myriad of distractions we face tends to drift our focus away from living with intention. The good news is that we can strengthen our focus despite the daily torrent of distractions. Here’s how:
First, we must prune negative thoughts that corrode the engine of our thinking because we eventually become what we constantly think. Thoughts of jealousy and comparison are two big ones here. Social media has amplified these thoughts more than anything else. They bait us to live our lives off of someone else’s blueprint resulting in emptiness, frustration, and even depression. If coach Mendez compared himself to other coaches around, he would have remained a prisoner of comparison and through jealousy languished in misery. Author Bob Goff said it well, “We won’t be captivated by comparison, if we are captivated by purpose.”
Second, we must engage in portion control, which I learned from author Seth Godin. With the amount of information, we are exposed to on a daily basis mental obesity is a real possibility. Former Nobel Peace prize winner Herbert Simon is quoted as saying, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” Just as portion control is key to dieting in food, we must become selective of what information we expose ourselves to, when, how much, and how often we expose ourselves to it. By putting some level of restraints, we can strengthen our focus on our purpose. These restraints, which require bravery and self-control can be as simple as deciding how much time you will dedicate to surfing the web or checking social media and sticking to it.
Third, we must protect our time and values in light of our purpose and identity. Although we get a new 24 hours daily, time is a non-renewable resource. In reality, we cannot make or create time. We either use it or waste it. While time is fluid, our values must remain solid. We cannot control how fast or slow time moves but we can protect our use of it by syncing it to our values. As we gain clarity with our core values and priorities, our purpose and identity flourish. With consistency, we strengthen our focus on what matters. We take note of the things that fall outside the boundaries of our purpose and identity and protect our time from them.
Through focus and determination, we avoid the drift and nothing will divert us from our purpose as Abraham Lincoln once said.
While watching coach Mendez give his speech, his determination to live a purpose-driven life was evident. He seemed to know that what he did with his life was his gift back to God. By choosing not to wallow in self-pity and anger at the cards he had been dealt, Rob applies a whole lot of grit to his purpose. Determination is fighting for gender equality, racial non-discrimination, affordable housing, healthcare, and education, clean water for all, and ending poverty no matter the cost. It’s finding a way while others keep making excuses. It’s the due diligence given to a cause one believes in. Determination is an intrinsic energy level that combines thought and emotion. It is a fire deep within that says, “My strength does not come from my outward appearance but from my Creator.” And Mendez is not ashamed to profess his faith in Jesus Christ. Coach Mendez has taught me that when determination rises to the surface, conditions, labels, failures, regrets, and even mistakes don’t stand the chance of keeping anyone away from fulfilling their purpose.
As a football coach, Mendez has a cause that wakes him up each morning. He knows that there are young men who are looking to him for leadership. His purpose comes with the responsibility of not just coaching players but also raising up men who will contribute positively to society. What he is doing now will outlive him. This is the essence of purpose. And it requires a level of determination and courage to see it through no matter the obstacles one faces.
Coach Mendez’s rallying motto is, “Who says I can’t!” Yoked in that statement is defiance to any label that his condition might have put on him and the courage to overcome doubts and challenges that come his way.
Having a purpose doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride in life. In fact, I am convinced that living a life of purpose attracts challenges and even opposition. This is why many give up even though they were on the right track. Hence the need for courage. But what does courage look like? It’s Mendez coming back to coaching two days after falling off his wheelchair during practice and suffering severe facial injuries. It’s the effect that he has on his team when they see what he is willing to do and they ask themselves, “What are we willing to do?” Courage is allowing the world to see the real you as you aim to live your life on purpose no matter what life has dealt you. And yes, it is facing your fears with fiery faith and shouting back, “Who says I can’t!”
Final Thought: In a letter coach Mendez penned before he received his award, he said, “On the football field, with my team by my side, they didn’t see me as a man in a wheelchair. They saw their football coach, a man who believed in them, who taught them about the importance of school, family, and living your life the right way.” When we live life the right way, we live from the vantage point of purpose despite our conditions and challenges. And as we pursue our purpose with focus, determination, and courage, we make the world a better place by inspiring others to do the same. That’s the story of coach Rob Mendez. May it be yours as well.
Keep on Keeping on!