When Erik Proulx has trouble moving forward as a business owner, he remembers the advice of his line coach back in his high school football games.
I was an above average football player in high school. All State honorable mention for offensive and defensive tackle for Division 1 high school in NH. At 6’0 and 215 lbs, I relied more on speed than size. But when I tried to walk-on at the University of New Hampshire, there was no way I could play in the trenches with the 275 lb+ linemen of a 1AA college. It meant that if I wanted to keep playing football, I had to change positions.
It also meant that I had to change my body. I lifted weights like a madman and ate and ate and ate in the dining hall next to the Williamson dorm. I added about 15 lbs and improved my high school 40-yard dash time from 4.9 to 4.69 seconds.
I guess it was one of my first attempts at reinvention.
So I walked on as a fullback. But thing about moving from lineman to fullback is that it’s a completely new language and skill set. Almost nothing I had learned in high school applied to this new position. The reads, the sequences in play calling . . . everything was different.
For instance, when my high school quarterback called a 42 DIVE, I only had to worry about the second number in that sequence. It meant I had to block the defender away from the 2 hole. Simple.
But as a college fullback, it meant I WAS the 4 back, and I had to get the hand-off from the quarterback and run THROUGH the 2 hole.
The result for me was that I completely lost my instincts and confidence for the game, I spent the entire spring season getting yelled at by the coaches. “You’re gonna hurt someone out there, Proulx!” Or, “Look at the size of you! Why are you so timid?”
It was like I had never played before. And in a sense, I hadn’t. This was a completely new game to me now.
Spring football in college is capped off with the annual blue-grey game, where the offense scrimmages the defense. It’s meaningless in the NCAA rankings, but it does determine your place on the team for the coming fall season. Having spent the entire spring making one mistake after another, I knew there was no chance I would be invited to camp in the summer. All I could do was study the playbook and try not to hurt anyone when my number was called in the spring season finale.
The night before the game, I couldn’t sleep. I was so scared I was going to fuck up and that my utter incompetence would be on display to all my friends who came out to support me.
Then I remembered a simple piece of advice my high school line coach gave me as a sophomore, right about when I was having the same trouble as a lineman. He said, “When in doubt, just hit someone.” If I didn’t know my assignment, if my brain was lost in a haze of numbers and audibles, just locate the nearest off-colored jersey and knock the snot out of him.
The one similarity between being an offensive lineman and a fullback is that you need to be a great blocker. Only, if you do it right, it’s way more fun as a fullback because you can get a full head of steam on you before you make contact.
So I went into the blue-grey game in the spring of 1990 with a singular mentality. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, just hit somebody.”
And boy, did I. Everything just clicked. The studying I had done the night before and this newfound spirit of aggression freed me up to just play without overthinking every down. On one tailback sweep, I hit a defensive back so hard that he left his feet and landed on his back. I saw the running backs coach jumping up and down on the sideline screaming, “There it is, Proulx! Yeah!!!” For as long as I was in the game, I just hit someone. I even ran the ball through the correct hole and caught a pass for a first down.
It was the most fun I had not just in college, but in the 6 or so years I had played the game.
Just hit someone.
So why am I rehashing my sports glory days in a business section? Well, it occurred to me that in my own career and path of business ownership, I am stuck in a similar state of paralysis lately, the same way I was as a college walk-on who had never played fullback before.
I have no idea what I am doing as a small business owner. Things like mapping out a plan for the new year and developing a marketing strategy freeze me up. Write a business plan? How do I do that? Do I need to? A small business bank loan? What if I’m denied? How do I pitch funders for “Lemonade: Detroit”? What do I do? How do I apply for grants?
So rather than figure things out, I leave everything half-written, half-executed, and half-assed.
And the same goes for my directing career. While I am learning as I go, there are all kinds of skills I could be developing but haven’t yet. Why? Because I’m afraid I don’t know what I’m doing. I keep going back to the well of what I know without challenging myself, doing the same things over and over like a short-circuiting robot.
Reinvention is scary. There’s no road map for change. There are no wise mentors knocking on my door who are begging to help me. If I want long term success, I have to walk these unmarked trails and be willing to make a few wrong turns along the way. I have to have, as Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett calls, the “Heart of a Beginner.”
But walk I must. And when I’m unsure of which way to go…
Just hit someone.
This post was originally published on Erik’s blog Please Feed The Animals.
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