What is Next…first 3 chapters

Etched inside the 2017 Canadian Lacrosse Championship ring proudly displayed on my dresser is the inscription, “What is Next”.   The very slogan that has propelled a team to a National Championship, has humbled me and taught me about life, love, teamwork, fear, failure and fighting for your dream;

One shift at a time.

CHAPTER 1

What is Next

Muttered under my breath in the midst of turmoil, these three simple words, “What is Next”, had typically struck a negative chord with me over my recent years. They summoned a sense of dread that whatever could happen next may be a further heaping of punishment, potentially worse than whatever negative experience I had already encountered.  It felt like a recurring case of cosmic irony that each time once those exasperated words left my lips, more bad news would inevitably follow close behind And despite being so keenly aware of the potential risk associated with uttering this phrasewithout fail, when faced with a new dautingsituation, the words would incredulously flow out uncensored once again, an exasperated,

“What….Is….NEXT?!”

Like Oliver Twist asking for another bowl of oatmeal, I seemed to be unintentionally asking the universe for another heaping bowl of steaming misery.     

Maybe you have experienced a situation like that before in your life, or perhaps you have good luck and haven’t found yourself in the face of scenarios where asking, “What is Next” strikes a deep piercing fear.  Regardless, this book is a chance for me to share my own story about a change of perspective, inspired by a Championship Ring, that has brought these dreaded words new meaning. 

I am learning that the fear of “what is next” can be the roadblock between you and the start of something great.  It could be what stops you from finishing that project you’ve been working so hard on.  It could be what gets in the way of starting a new relationship or strengthening an old one.  There are so many situations in life where focusing on the fear of what is next becomes crippling and ultimately paralyzes us with doubt from making a move, and later fills us with regret at the thoughts of what could have been.  What happens if we look instead at what is next as an opportunity to better focus our present? To engage in a situation that will ultimately lead us a step forward and not back as we previously feared? 

The thought of a book urging you to boldly explore “what is next” may feel like a horror genre and to you, perhaps, a graphic novel of nightmare status.  Obviously, fear is a natural human emotion, a common response to the vast uncertainties of the future.  For some of us, anxiety was further ingrained in us as young people, and became a conditioned response, holding us hostage in our “comfort zone”, never able to explore our full potential.  I can understand, as it was how I, myself, lived for years.

When I think of the lessons I learned and continue to learn during this difficult season of my life, I keep getting pulled into the concept of What is Next.  Watching the Peterborough Lakers focus on step-by-step development and growth lead to the eventual Mann Cup championship (at the time I am writing this, we have actually won three championships in a row!), I witnessed that although their ultimate goal was the eventual championship, the primary goal was the current game.  The coach would then take each game and simplify every aspect into a series of smaller goals to focus on accomplishing first.  Their success in each game came from their focus on every period, down to the minute details of each shift.  Watching the transformation that took place in the team, and the momentum that built with the accomplishment of the minor tasks leading to the conquering of previously unsurmountable hurdles, I have noticed significant parallels we can draw from the team’s path to the Championship to integrate for success in our everyday lives.  Success doesn’t come easy.  We didn’t win every game; there were some losses, there were some injuries, and every game was a battle.  Everyday brought a different challenge and small changes were necessary to make.  Everyday will be a struggle, everyday choices are made that will either push us further towards our goal or they will take us a step backLife becomes an exercise in adaptability with focus.

As we begin to unpack and tackle the steps in the “What is Next” process I want to be clear that it is not a magic mantra that will make all our worries in life disappear.   By no means do I believe that following my process will allow you to live a struggle-free life or a perfectly smooth road in business.  I offer no promise that if you follow my process, you will have a seven-figure income in no time.  In fact, my own journey is far from over. I am still in the midst of implementing this process myself.  I want to be honest, real and authentic, and won’t pretend to be anything that I am not.   So, I won’t be flaunting an Instagram post of me beside a new luxury car, or a vacation beach house in the South Pacific.  Rather, you may see me post a picture of my Kia Forte parked outside a Starbucks, or on the bed of tow truck as my brakes have seized. 

Although the words may not be a magic mantra to instant prosperity, I believe that focusing on What is Next will positively change my perspective, and yours.  I have no doubt that a new way of viewing every aspect of life- entrepreneurship, goal setting, mentorship, teamwork, coffee, conversation, even relationships- will give us the necessary tools to negotiate and navigate through difficult situations, all for a less problematic journey. 

My hope and prayer for this book is to help encourage and lead young entrepreneurs with realistic tools and an honest portrayal of growth that is unlike most self-help and business-help books on the market.   This manuscript was designed with my own kids in mind.  They are my “why”, the reason I continue to strive to live a better life. I want to leave them with a piece of me and share my story so that as they get older, they can look at, put the suggestions into practice, and avoid the pain their dad went through.  It is a guide for all of us to integrate; suggestions on a way to live that will take a journey from despair to hope.

Chapter 2

Why I need this book in my life

My job as Head Athletic Trainer with the Lakers consists of getting the athletes ready for the game, then watching the game intently from the bench to be ready to attend to any injuries that may occur on the floor.  It is easy to get drawn into the intensity of the plays from my close vantage point alongside the players; sometimes I take my role a step further and will  interject my own encouragement for the guys, or vocalize my displeasure for the biased officiating that seems to take place at most home games (in my opinion anyway!).   It’s true, I may have been told on a few occasions to settle a little, but as you can imagine, I am invested in this team and these players have become like my brothers!

Two hours before every game, I am there ready to roll with a coffee and various forms of athletic tape.  The usual suspects will stroll in, take a seat on my treatment table, and the process of casting their weak or damaged joints or muscles will begin in preparation for the game.  In the sport of lacrosse, the ankletends to be the most common joint in the body that needs a little extra external support.  I cannot begin to calculate how many ankles I have taped in my career as an Athletic Trainer.  It has become almost second nature, and if challenged, could likely complete a sexy closed Gibney application with my eyes closed!

The application said tape is done in a complex pattern with several ankle locks, stirrups and figure eights, and reverse sixes using varying degrees of rigid tapes, thereby securing the joint in a particular position.  This temporary “casting” serves as a short-term solution to limit instability and help protect the previously damaged or weak ankle from rolling if it encounters a compromising position during the action. This ensures each player I tape feels confident and comfortable to perform at 100% for the span of the game without any mental or physical hesitation that their ankles are at risk. This part of the job is incredibly rewarding.  When a player who may not be able to play otherwise, is able to contribute to the teams success and knowing I played a role in that, brings a certain amount of silent pride.

On the flip side, the frustration of being a therapist is having the knowledge that with a little bit of rehabilitation and strengthening, the physical act of temporarily taping an ankle, wrist, elbow, etcetera, would not be required. If the athlete were able to take the time to rehabilitate properly with a series of progressive strengthening exercises, in most cases it would be possible for them to play without the external “band-aid” of tape, which doesn’t actually fix the problem, but merely acts as a temporary sense of stability.   In my job I seek to work with my athletes to provide both short and long term solutions to enable them to become their strongest whole and strive for peak performance every time they step on the field of play.

I’m a fixer. Insert sarcastic gasp of shock and surprise!

My entire life has been built around my need and desire to help others. In my career, my family, and my day-to-day interactions with others, I am constantly looking for ways to help fix. Whether it is with a coffee and conversation, a simple hug, or a text to a friend, it brings me joy to help. In my career, I work diligently and with a sense of honour that my clients trust me with their health, and I try to do everything I can within my scope to ensure they get the best possible care and attention they deserve. It is my goal to help fix whatever problem or impairment they have brought to me to deal with. This desire to fix everything has brought a great sense of accomplishment, joy and satisfaction in many ways as I helped others and yet, it has also brought so much destructive and negative emotion into the last several years of my life. Trying desperately to fix all things in my life, all at once, even things falling well beyond the scope of my ability or knowledge base- to fix my marriage, to fix my debt, to fix my addiction, my anxiety and my depression, seemed to instead continually bury me deeper and deeper into a grave of further turmoil.

When I consider the last few years, I have tried to fix my problems.  I’ve tried to fix my high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, with medications. I’ve tried to fix my addiction with self help books, strategies and counseling. However, the fixes I was trying were merely solving a temporary symptomatic response. It can seem quick and can give a false sense of security, but the fix does not provide a solution that will create change long-term.

I know this too well. I have slid back into my depression, addiction on a few occasions because my attempted fixes weren’t addressing the root cause of the symptoms. It is the same way when a client presents limitations and impairments due to pain and dysfunction. Treating the symptoms might result in temporary relief, but until we unveil and begin to treat the root cause of their dysfunction, the symptoms will continue to return…and that is frustrating for everyone.  Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to mental, emotional and physical health, symptomatic relief is important, but it must correctly address the injury and have a plan in effect to carry over from temporary fix to long-term rehabilitation.

I began attending counselling in a personal attempt to do just that.  As I sat in my counselor’s office, we talked about setting goals of small change.  He/she suggested taking a step back from trying to come up with a “fix”  to solve the seemingly daunting and insurmountable issues I was dealing with;  to instead try to focus on implementing small daily tasks that invoke a change in order to begin to see small steps forward in my healing journey.  The concept of healing versus fixing struck a chord with me. There is a big difference between the two and we often confuse the notion that our deep hurts and scars can be “fixed” when in fact, we need to “heal” to become whole.  What a revelation that was – I won’t heal if I’m simply trying to fix.

Healing is long and healing is difficult. There is a vulnerability and openness that comes with the healing process that is uncomfortable and often embarrassing. It involves a deep dive into the dark places that we have avoided, in order to unpack and uncover the root of our symptoms. It means facing the broken relationships, acknowledging the past traumas, recognizing the hurt and the pain, and finding ways in which to let the negative experiences and/or mistakes that have been made, rest in the past and no longer affect your present. This is not easy, it takes work.

I continue to work on this concept of true healing, personally.  I have the tendency to become easily overwhelmed when there is too much to do, the problems become too complex, and I can’t seem to figure out how to create an effective fix. When this happens, I sink into a negative narrative and allow the helplessness and hopelessness to invade my thoughts and nothing gets done. I had been trying to fix everything instead of facing the demons preventing me from healing.  For me, the shift in mindset to make small daily changes as opposed to taking a big picture, all at once approach to dealing with life’s obstacles, is allowing me the opportunity to slowly begin to heal.  It has not been easy.  During the editing process of this book, I had to take some time away for self care and rest.  I again became overwhelmed with the heaviness of my situation and fell into a deep, negative, emotional spiral that could have very easily landed me in a hospital bed.  Fortunately, a counselor recognized the demons I was fighting and was able to make suggestions to curve my narrative and change my trajectory. 

This decision to alter focus, take a different approach and focus on small changes towards true healing speaks into the concept of living with the attitude of “What is Next”.  Travelling a long distance cannot be completed in one step, the road may seem incredibly long and daunting, but the journey can only start with a small step forward in the right direction.   I have begun identifying my goals; I know that I want to be debt free.  I know I want to break the cycle of my destructive mental health patterns.  I know that I want happy, healthy and fulfilling relationship.  I no longer want to be a slave to my situations, and want to one day be eventually healed.

Knowing these things, I began writing these goals down in a journal.  The first step was to acknowledge that there is a place I need to get to; a destination at the end of this journey where I will hopefully find peace and an absence of this current suffering.  From there, I began to unpack those goals, asking how small adjustments in everyday life can lead me to put one foot in front of the other, each step leading me closer to my goals. Some were as simple as waking a little earlier in the morning, finding time in the week to be physically active, creating space to sit, be still, write, read or listen to inspiring content.  There were long term goals set out, but the daily changes began to affect the attitude to accomplish the next step.  To ask What is Next , without becoming overwhelmed.  Taking the past into consideration, learning from what needs to change, writing them down and taking that small step forward.     This is where my journey is now. I am in the process of figuring out what is next and where I need to go from here. I will continue to have days where I will have taken a step backwards, but I will consistently ask the question of what is next? What can I learn from the process that will enable my healing to continue to take place.

For now though, I will leave the band-aid on my soul as I find the path towards healing. It is going to take a long time, but I will choose to heal, not just fix.

Chapter 3

Lacrosse and Life Lessons

Etched in permanent marker on the tape of several lacrosse sticks, across the back of several helmets, players and fans decorated their multiple social media accounts with one simple word – “WIN”. This was the ultimate goal of the 2017 Peterborough Lakers Lacrosse season. This is the Lacrosse Team I call my family from May to September for the past nine seasons. Every season is a privilege being Head Athletic Trainer for this incredible group of gentlemen I call brothers, yet this particular 2017 season was one that would forever change my outlook on life. It is one I will not soon forget; one that has taught me about myself, and has also shaped a new approach to my life and business.

To give some context, at the beginning of the 2017 season, I had just begun the unfortunate process of a marriage separation, a twenty-year relationship that was potentially ending. This was the most damaging, incredibly heartbreaking and difficult time of my life to date, especially as it also involved the lives of our five beautiful children. As I struggled to understand how to navigate my current severed relationship and searched to find the new ‘normal’ that came with it, I was consistently fumbling through my day to day in a depressive, dark, angry and frustrating time. While coping with emotions of my crippling home-life situation, I also had a business I was struggling to maintain. The distraction and stress of my home relationship was seeping outward into all parts of my life, causing an eventual collapse of everything I had built for the previous fourteen years. It felt like being on the receiving end of a punch from Andrew Suitor, arguably the toughest guy in professional lacrosse (and one of the nicest most genuine guys I’ve ever worked with). Stumbling around, seeing stars, and not even sure which way is up, knowing the importance of continuing forward, but just not finding the proper footing. I would try to bounce back up, but it felt as though the world was spinning, rendering me discombobulated. Even the smallest tasks were becoming daunting, and the personal punches just kept coming.

Exhausted, I could do nothing but wait for the next inevitably devastating blow. On several occasions three familiar words crept into my conscious, and I could hear my dejected voice mutter, “What is Next?”. There was no answer, but the cold echo of my defeated tone. Days became incredibly long; nights were filled with questions and sleeplessness, and being newly separated and alone just complicated my thoughts, creating anxiety and depression I had never experienced before. I found little joy in my job and in the business I created. I was miserable in every sense of the word, and I’m sure those I rubbed shoulders with (literally and figuratively, being a registered massage therapist) found my presence a dark, depressing cloud to be around. I began to turn to alcohol and gambling to distract myself from, thoughts of suicide were very real and frequent. This served only to further complicate and deepen the pain and suffering I was experiencing. Aside from the days I had my children, with a limited custody agreement in place, there was only one other bright spot in my week, a small window of time that I could escape the implosion of my world. This was the time I spent with my brothers on the Peterborough Lakers Lacrosse team. For the most part, the players and coaches were unaware of my personal situation, so for a few hours once or twice a week, being around them was an escape from my reality. It was a place I felt validated, appreciated and wanted for my expertise and the job that I did. I was able to focus strictly on the players and the game. I can honestly say that I owe a great deal of my survival to this team for providing me that reprieve. Most of them will never know, which is why these pages are not only dedicated to my children, who save my life and give me a reason to wake every morning, but it is also dedicated to the men of Lakers Lacrosse, who set an example of what it means to fight when you are down.

How did the 2017 season of lacrosse lead to a change in my entire perspective? How did I pull from it life changing principles and a new approach to life, business and relationships from a game? Being the Son of a Pastor, I have observed, learned and inherited the ability to find the metaphors hidden in the mundane or meaningless. Like a Jedi master can summon the force to lift a spaceship out of a swamp with one of the world’s, nay Galaxy’s, oldest and most motivational little green men on his back, I could probably find some deep life lesson in why anything wrapped with bacon seems to suddenly become appealing to the pickiest of eaters. Now to the Coaching Staff’s credit (Mike, Bobby, Tracey & Paul), the lesson I learned wasn’t hard to latch onto. Again, to the Team, it was about the game of lacrosse, but to me it carried a weight that I could not shake. It also helped that we went on to win the Mann Cup Canadian National Championship! In fact, we have since won our third championship in a row and are pursuing a four-peat this coming season. This simply illuminates the importance of a “What is Next” approach and how dominant this mentality can be!

During the first round of the 2017 Major Series Lacrosse playoffs, our team began to struggle. We entered the playoffs with a 17-1 record as the top ranked Team in the League, and the one most expected to bring home the coveted Canadian Championship. The coaching staff had spent the previous five years unable to win the Mann Cup; we had been to the finals, but fell short. Therefore, the team, staff and executives went through some changes and had rebuilt for this particular season, acquiring some of the top names in the game to join our quest for the Cup. In most sports, you would expect some loss of support from the fans when a dynasty organization like the Peterborough Lakers goes through a five-season drought, but with the most dedicated small town fanbase and a sold out arena every game, this didn’t happen to the Lakers. There is something you need to understand about lacrosse in Canada. Peterborough Ontario has produced (and continues to produce) some of the World’s top lacrosse players; Shawn Evans, John Grant Jr., Tracey Kelusky, Zach and Josh Currier, Cory Vitarelli, Jake Withers, to name a few, all born and raised in Peterborough. Just Google “Peterborough Lacrosse”, and be ready to be amazed at the pedigree produced in such a small town.

Back to the game… We were facing a third-place team that finished the season at 7-9, and continuing to play the way we began the series would have sent us to the golf course much earlier than expected with a disappointing end to a successful regular season. It was clear that players were over-confident and selfish in their own ability, not trusting or respecting each other, those who were not over confident were simply not trusting in their own abilities. They were playing as individuals, and they certainly were not relying on following their Coaches experience and wisdom.

A recurring theme throughout the following pages will be the concept of trust. I have already alluded to the Team’s lack of trust in themselves, each other, and the coaching staff, which lead to a disastrous start to the playoffs. Why is trust so important to business or personal growth? A lack of trust will breed fear. When the ability to trust is damaged, whether due to relational breakdown, physical or mental hurt, or selfish, prideful motivation; so enters fear. Fear reduces our capacity to fully engage in meaningful, true, real relationships. In the context of sport, we begin to play for ourselves, unable to rely on the ability and the strengths of others around us. Trust is also a two-way street. One can not expect to be trustworthy without experiencing the opportunity to trust in others also. In this young(ish), novice authors opinion, this concept is the root of many relational breakdowns and tension between parties. When trust is broken for whatever reason, there is a fear that enters the relationship which causes future hesitation in placing trust. This fuels a breeding ground for misunderstanding, misinterpretation and damaging assumptions that can create a toxic wasteland of hurt and a cycle that is near impossible to break.

Evident during this surprisingly difficult first-round series, the Coaching Staff and Team Captains met behind closed doors and decided that the team could not win if they continued to play with a lack of trust and cohesiveness. Recognizing the downward spiral the team was falling into, the Coaches rallied the Team and organization with a challenge to focus on the word ‘WIN’. The word was significant not only for its eventual champion conquest, but for two acronyms which were devised to focus the Team’s attention to come together to play as a unit.

WIN

The word meant more than the Webster’s dictionary definition of “to finish first in a race, contest or the like”. Whatever Is Necessary’ and ‘What Is Next’ became the mantra during each locker room speech, every time-out chat, written on the shaft of most sticks, and echoed by team members throughout each possession. It even travelled to the inevitable social media hashtag, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, MySpace, and Facebook with pictures rallying a team and a city of over eighty thousand strong Lakers fans. Our little hub of Peterborough Ontario, a city with a population just north of eighty thousand1 , was a buzz about the Lakers and their quest for the Mann Cup and lacrosse supremacy. In a world where social media is king and all the kids speak in hashtags; #WIN was everywhere.

What did it mean for the game?

The focus of #WIN for our team was to do what you as a player needed to do, five minutes at a time; one shift at a time. Trusting your teammates, trusting yourself, and trusting the coaches for five minutes or for one shift at a time. Not allowing fear or doubt to enter the picture. After five minutes had past, ‘what is next’ could be heard loud from each offensive and defensive coach. From my little perch on the back corner of the Lakers bench, I watched this mantra unfold and begin to change the determination and focus of the players and team.

It was quite remarkable to be honest. A goosebump activating, chills inducing Movie Moment.

I have never been a part of anything in sport so significantly brilliant and awe inspiring as watching a team completely change its focus. They began to trust; fear was gone and there was no doubt in the ability of those next to them. However, the most surprising of all, and possibly the most meaningful, was that the strategy didn’t change, the ultimate goal didn’t change, set plays the team had used from game one of the season were the same, positions remained the same, the only thing that changed was where and what the team was focused on and the attitude in which they approached each shift. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the team began to win despite not changing their approach to the game itself, but that they began to win when their individual focus changed from long-term to short-term series of goals throughout the journey toward their ultimate goal. This change was so evident to me, that I wondered if it could be implemented in my current life; from my business, my current relationships, my finances, to my life in general?? Could a hashtag really hold such powerful, life altering wisdom? I decided at that point that I would begin to adapt the “What Is Next” mentality into my own situation and my own struggling version of life’s game. I haven’t won anything yet or haven’t come close to the successes I dreamed of when I opened my business, but could this be the way I can find satisfaction or fulfillment in the daily grind pursuing whatever it is I’m chasing?

1 http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/dp-pd/prof/details/page.cfm?Lang=E&Geo1=POPC&Code1=0636&Geo2=PR&Code2=35&Data=Count&SearchText=Peterborough&SearchType=Begins&SearchPR=01&B1=All

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