Looking back at how far he has come, Jacob Cline wrote a letter addressed to his younger self at the point when he was most uncertain about what direction his life would take. At the turning point when his life trajectory shifted, for the better, hitherto. He specifically chose the night before what would be his last job interview as he was unsure of his prospects and without aspirations higher than just getting a job in order to move out of his parents’ house. He had begun to feel the grip of hopelessness and that burden of thought tormented sleep from his eyes as he remembers:
You are lying in bed visually taking in your surroundings. You are living with your parents, at a crossroads in your life and you are wondering two things: how did it come to this and what next?
At one point, your life trajectory was directed toward hockey wunderkind but now at 25, you are looking around your parent’s basement, imbibing the sanctuary of your childhood trophies. These are all not just participation awards, most of these are winning trophies and medals and you begin to fill up with the pride of accomplishment as that winning nostalgia washes over you. But only for a second, as Mom will call in from the doorway at the top of the stairway to check up on you and make sure you had everything you needed for your interview tomorrow morning!
How you had come to this point is much less a wonder than it is a personal disappointment for you for having the potential that did not bear fruit. You failed to put in the requisite work to maintain yourself correctly with the progression of your career to stay on that projected path that all your ice hockey heroes seemed to have trod and you must now face the penalty. You lie there in the dark reminiscing:
You are almost 7 years old, and along with your sister, Natalie, and Mom are about to move north from Atlanta, GA, to Washington Township, NJ, to meet Dad who had moved up a year prior for work. To have the children acclimate to the relocation, Dad bought a Walkman CD player to accommodate Natalie’s proclivity to music and for you a pair of roller blades. Dad had seen boys, about your age, playing street hockey and thought since you had learned to roller skate with Mom at some skating rinks back in Atlanta it would be an easy transition and you would have a way to make friends in the neighborhood while having fun. Besides, the pair of roller blades is your 7th year birthday present!
What fun you had out there in the streets! However, your friends would mimic ice hockey announcers calling plays for their heroes as they attempted some “sweet” plays they had seen on tv while you, at the time, being fresh from the south had no one involved in ice hockey that particularly admired. In fact, you knew practically nothing about the sport in general. But it doesn’t take long for you to catch that bug. You soon became a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers as it was sort of the local team and your favorite player with the team at the time was Mark Recchi.
Remember when you were 10 and Dad used his work connections to get the two of you tickets to your very first, live and in person game? Your seats right behind the Flyers’ bench, and you received one of the game pucks! How cool was that? You won’t remember much else from that night except the fascination that the people you had actually watched on tv were very real and you could be one of them. You even got to meet the players on several occasions thereafter, at their training facilities.
Dad did it again and took you to a Blue Jays vs Thrashers game, and the memento from that night, a hat, now collector’s item, which still has the tag and sticker, would remain your prized possession to this day! Dad bought one for himself too. Such was the allure of ice hockey, but that could wait until later as you had not seen encountered any of your peers involved in it, nevertheless, it became a goal.
You worked at it and became so good at roller hockey that you played for the junior national team and was considered one of the top inline players in the country. But you are getting older, soon to go to college and there is no national roller hockey league so you now have to begin your transition into ice hockey. But the family relocated back to Georgia to accommodate Dad’s work promotion.
Dad talked to a college recruiter who recommended you be enrolled in junior ice hockey as colleges only recruited from there. They claimed to have never spoken to someone from Georgia, let alone someone interested in ice hockey from Georgia! The transition to ice hockey was challenging. Going from roller blades to skates was not as natural a progression as you thought. It was hard work. And now, living in Georgia and playing in a league in Canada and later Cincinnati, OH, meant lots of travel, often times as an unaccompanied minor, but your mind was made up, your goal was set and you would do what it takes to ensure college hockey. And you did so with great aplomb and received that scholarship!
You had worked so hard that the coaching staff told Dad your talent curve was slightly higher than the other recruits in the entire program. You were doing things with a much higher skill that you gradually became bored with routine drills at practice that you deemed elementary. Your intensity gradually dropped and Dad was no longer there to incentivize you to practice hard, regardless of the circumstance, with his meal after good practice reward for great effort or drive straight home after lackluster performances.
Your talents were still there when you graduated college but your complacency at practice meant although you stayed the path of your plans you barely stumbled over the line of consideration for a professional career. Then came your biggest challenge yet. When professional teams draft players, there is nothing but practice and exhibition games for them to select who moves up in the ranks into the “A squad” that get to represent its franchise during the season and get to be on tv, etc, you know, stardom and you got cut!
That is why you are lying here in your parents’ basement and thinking about the interview Mom had scheduled for you in the morning. You are skeptical about the prospect because while you understand Mom’s good intentions as a mother, she did just book you to be interview for the position for Redbull girl. You are not excited! Yes, your bad showing at practice had translated into poor preparation or the lack thereof, for everything else, so much so that Mom had to make your resumé and actually apply to jobs for you! Dad had set you up with a job you wouldn’t take because it was a forty-five-minute drive. Instead you had resorted to existential musings while you are stuck in the basement. You were turning into a philosopher with your theories on life.
What you do not know yet is that tomorrow won’t be like the recent days when you would wonder if you would be able to leave your parents’ nest one day. Tomorrow would be day one. The first day that would shape the rest of your life! You would return from this interview with two things that sparked the torch inside of you: The owner of the company, who did the interview himself, looked young, enthusiastic and very charismatic (and unbeknownst to you yet, would become one of your mentors) and his company dealt with information technology. You know information technology is the fastest growing sector in human civilization and already had a hankering for getting involved in any of its fields of endeavor, but to enjoy doing it as much as that young CEO did means you have to go back for the second interview. Could there really be this much passion outside hockey?
It would be easy to tell you at this point, given where you eventually end up, that the rest would be history, but trust me, even this journey had its twists. You would go in at entry level and have your sales ability tested. You would excel and be given the opportunity to travel with someone who has, in addition to sales, shown through discipline and management skills that he could run a small business. And you would learn with him how to set up a startup company that would endure and grow. Once you understood that process and showed that you can train people to handle that various facets of running a company, you would be given the same opportunity to be the sole proprietor of a brand new business. Exciting, right? Except the challenge now becomes coaching other people into the journey of success and at this point in your life, patience with people who did not see things from your perspective was not your forte and there would prove to be lots of challenges and frustrations to surmount in this journey.
You will build teams that won’t last and your passion over time would begin to drop. However, you will think of tonight and how you realized that your drop in practice intensity during your hockey career was the cause of your undoing and you will vow to work on your self-discipline because it is what keeps you on the course when the excitement fades from time to time. Hard work beats talent any day that talent doesn’t work hard enough! Natural ability is not enough. Besides, you get judged by how hard you work and how well you treat others. Therefore, you would persevere and ultimately go on to start your own companies.
You will grow your company and promote and help start companies nationwide with well-trained individuals who look to you for mentorship and consultation. During the ceremony of your promotion into national consultancy, you will look through the sea of faces in the audience and find your parents almost instantly! They would be easy to spot, beaming with pride, and Dad especially, calm as always, looking on tight lipped but exuding the confidence of ownership from that internal solace that accredits parents for being the fons et origo of their children’s success because, after all, they did make you! While Mom would barely be able to contain her emotions and would be fighting tears throughout the ceremony. Remember that look? It is the same she had when she arrived at the realization that you had a sense of responsibility. That day, she left you confused, when she had come to wish you goodnight and found you sewing up the tears in your hockey pads. It had just dawned on her why you had asked her to get you the sewing kit and that realization got her verklempt! She still gets choked up thinking about that night. But her proudest moments will come from watching your children!
Yes, this journey will take you to Chicago where you will meet your lovely wife, Sophia, the mother of your two precious little humans. Can you believe you will be a dad for the second time, eight years from now? And when you sit in a moment of tranquil to imbibe the peace and quiet, your mind will wonder back to this night when the air was heavy with uncertainty as you tossed and turned in bed, reminiscing.
Watching your infant daughter scurry around gleefully and throwing balls at you, as a practical joke then bursting out in a fit of cute giggles at your reaction will remind you of the time you discovered you had a sense of humor. The first time you actually felt satisfaction from a reaction to what you said because it arrested the attention of adults and turned them to you. Mom and Dad had taken you and Natalie to a lunch buffet and there you were handed a fork:
“My parents don’t let me handle anything sharper than a spoon!” you said in amazement, after a brief pause staring at the waitress to acknowledge that she really meant to give it to you and much to the hysterics of everyone within earshot. You loved that feeling. It even got you to break a smile tonight just remembering that. But before you go wishing that times could be that much simpler again, know that you will be using this ability to captivate audiences around the country, in full-to-capacity halls, talking about aspects of the new passion you are about to discover tomorrow!
And you will think about how your entire life, prior, was leading to your current success. When you did not play well with others as a child because they never quite fit the “strategy” of your games and hence, would resort to playing by yourself, to the point where your parents would wonder if you were a loner. These friends all went to schools around town and had jobs in the city that diminished their idea of success to having been at these jobs for many years, while you followed your gut, travelled thousands of miles from home because you did not want to feel l like you may be a burden to your parents. How different would your life have been if you just played nice and did like everybody else? Good question. You won’t get that answer after tomorrow’s interview but you would circle back to it several times, like when Mom and Dad are sitting at the kitchen table having after dinner desserts at your house while the kids have been put to bed and Sophia is your arm on the couch watching the Flyers on tv!
Ultimately you would arrive at the one conclusion that had been there all along but needed to be worked on in order to materialize. From the time you chose to do your own thing and made the tough decision to travel away from home and work hard to fulfil a vision, a dream, at which your parents supported you, you were already in the 6% of people who would lead and hire the other 94% of the work force. The entrepreneurs. You have always loved the flexibility to prioritize your schedule how you sit fit and make decisions and follow through with such passion that you would end up standing alone sometimes when others were not bought into your trend of thought. And you listen only to contributions to a subject matter you choose to tackle and are often willing to let things go with reason.
Therefore, young Jacob, do not fret about your future nor lament your different collection of attributes for those are the building blocks of an entrepreneur and a very good one at that. But that is why tomorrow is important. The first day of the rest of your life. Get excited!