So for those of you who are football fans, or at least know of football, the name Deon Sanders might ring a bell. Now, Sanders in his prime was one of the most dominant defensive backs that played the game. His nickname was Prime Time and he always had these flashy interceptions, punt returns, and he always found a way to stand out. Now, the fans of the teams that he played for loved him, but the other fans couldn’t stand them. He was an energetic, polarizing, controversial player. In early 1995 his team, the San Francisco 49ers, defeated the Dallas Cowboys to make it to the Super Bowl. Ironically, earlier that day, me and my brother and some friends were in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after driving in from New York to watch the Steelers lose the AFC championship game and stunning fashion to the San Diego Chargers. And to this day as a fan, that was probably the most difficult defeat that I ever watched.
But going back to Sanders, he finally did it. He finally made the Super Bowl. And in that Super Bowl, which was in Miami, Florida Sanders and the 49ers demolished the San Diego Chargers by the score 49-26 and it wasn’t even that close. The game was over essentially from the beginning. And Sanders and the Niners had a lot of time that evening to think about the accomplishment that they just achieved. And time went on and Sanders won another Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys. And life continued and football went on. And to the outsider, looking in those moments appear to be those incredible moments of glory. Those nights with a career and a life is defined. And we’d imagine that when they’re old and gray and those days are faint, distant memories, that that’s what they look back on with absolute fondness of their glory years. So years later, after Sanders had retired, I had the opportunity to be on a shoot with Sanders and a reporter as they interviewed him about his career.
And that was one of the really cool perks about the job that I had, was to really get a behind the scenes look of what people that were really great at, what they did were like, and Sanders was no different. I was young enough to still see him as almost this larger than life type of figure and in time, the more that I did, the more that I realized these are just regular people. They’ve all had their own problems, but when you’re younger, you have a tendency to idolize some of these people. But what happened that day and the words that Sanders said during that interview truly allowed me to see things that I never thought I would have seen or heard. Things I’d never thought I would hear. And I remember as a fan watching that Super Bowl, but then in the conversation, Sanders talked about that night and he described that winning the super bowl was always his biggest dream.
It was the thing that he put up on a pedestal. It was the thing that he always wanted to accomplish and his life would be complete if he got there. That’s not word for word because I didn’t write any of this down, but that’s the essence of what I heard him say. And he went on to describe that night of January 29th, 1995 and he talks about how the Super Bowl ended and they went into the locker room and it was the big celebration and the trophy and everything that came with it and his memory of that, his memory of that night completely floored me. He wasn’t, when he was talking about it, he wasn’t looking at it with this fondness like you think you would. He described sadness and confusion and here’s why. His entire life, he built that moment up as the moment that he was trying to get to everything else was a means of getting to that point.
And then after all that work and all that time, it finally happened and he’s in the locker room and he’s won the Super Bowl and he’s holding the trophy and now he’s sitting there thinking about it and the words that came to his mind while he was sitting there was this, this is it? This is all it is? He was absolutely taken aback by how empty it all felt to him. He thought it would be this glorious confirmation of what he always thought it would be. And it turned out for him in his mind to be nothing like that. And what happened is it sent him on a downward spiral and Sanders who used to play for the Cincinnati Reds went back to Cincinnati in the off season. He talked about how he was so depressed that he actually drove to one of the bridges in Cincinnati and he seriously contemplated suicide and described it in a way of like almost an emptiness of success because he had built this thing up to be the be all end all of what his career and his life was to be.
And it turned out that it wasn’t. And Sanders was forced to leave that off season with some soul searching and to understand why he’s doing the things that he’s doing. He wound up coming back the next year, go into Dallas, winning another super Bowl, and if there are a lot of personal life issues turning his life around. But that interview had an impact on me because up until that point I had a lot of big goals and a lot of big dreams and I strive for them. I worked for them hard. I would get blinded by the end goal so often. And when I heard a story and I thought about his big goal was getting to him winning the Super Bowl and he accomplished it and it still felt empty. That was a real moment for me because I realized even though I have these big goals and these big dreams, I don’t think any of them were as big as what he was going for.
And he got there and he found that that wasn’t what he thought it was going to be. And I tell this story because it really helped me shape out my goals and dreams and how I go about them ever since I listened to him talk about that. And from that point on, essentially the big goal wasn’t what it used to be anymore because I knew that if my heart’s not the right spot and my life’s not in the right spot and I make it all about this achievement, that when I do get there, it’s going to be empty. And I know myself, I’m driven. I will probably get there if I want it. But knowing that you do all that work and mental, you think that’s it and you get there and it’s not, that’s demoralizing. So listening to Sanders that they, it really saved me from some pain.
It saved me from losing things in my life that I found valuable. Because if I didn’t learn these lessons along the way from people that had already done what I want to do, I would have really believed that my way was the right way and I would have went after it that way. And whatever it was, I’d sit there when I achieved that goal. And by making it the be all end all of everything that I wanted, I would have felt the emptiness that Sanders did. So what I learned and what I took from it was the goal is just another step in the journey. It is not the end. It’s what I would call a checkpoint along the way. So as those things have happened in my life, as the book’s been written and the business accomplishments have happened, none of it has overtaken me.
Because from around that point on, I never allowed it to be the be all end all. No, I’ve heard it said often that pain is the best teacher. And then I’ve heard other people say, no, that’s not true. Other people’s pain should be your best teacher. And this is a situation where Deion Sanders pain was a great teacher for me, which I hope can be a great teacher to you to make sure your life is kept in balance while you are going for these dreams and never to let one thing take over so intensely that when you do achieve it, that it’s empty on the inside. And I will be back with you tomorrow.