Growing up in the Greater Toronto area, playing hockey was a rite of passage; any Canadian that had any athletic ability and parents with reasonable disposable income was on the ice.
As the younger of two boys, I was roped into my older brother’s sports antics (a parent’s logistical solution for minimizing travel and keeping more than one child entertained). Since my hockey skills were limited to barely knowing how to skate, I started on one of the lower league teams.
The classic younger brother, I wanted to prove to myself, and to others, that I could get better. So, moving forward, I began a pattern of working hard- eventually improving enough to move up a level each year.
After my fifth year, I was playing at the highest level of hockey within Toronto. These players were considered some of the best in the country- and somehow I was among them. When you hit this prominent stage in hockey, you have to permanently select one of two important paths:
- The US Scholarship route = through the US college system
- The Ontario Junior A route = (where if successful) the team pay’s for your Canadian education
During this time, Sam McMaster was the General Manager of the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League and was generous with his time over the phone. Sam was one of the men who discovered a young Wayne Gretzky years earlier and eventually went on to become the General Manager of the LA Kings; to say that he carried a significant amount of influence was an understatement. McMaster made Sudbury feel like a good fit and they drafted me.
After being selected for a team, the next step was to attend a training camp to obtain more information and see firsthand how the team played. At these camps, amateurs were allowed 48 hours to observe; as long as you never set foot on the ice for any game, you were able to keep your scholarship route options open.
I chose to make a dedicated decision while I was attending camp with Sudbury- so I had 48 hours to pick a path. After my time was up, I ended up choosing the US Scholarship route. Despite the attention and support from Sudbury, I had scored well on the SATs and had maintained good grades at school- well enough that the scholarship route was a viable option for me.
In full retrospect, knowing how things eventually played out, I can confidently say my personal growth as an individual heavily culminated during this time. I came to own my individual path, regardless of where it ended and became wholly committed to putting in the effort on whatever task came my way.
Presently, I meet with many young people in their early 20’s who are looking to develop their careers. All of them are in the midst of their personal development, trying to forge their own path (whether they think they have it figured out or not).
Yet, I find that many have never taken the time to think through what they enjoy or at least attempted to go down a path far enough that they learn something even greater. Failure, or coming up against unexpected or unwanted results, often requires much more commitment and effort- a feat most people do not want to undergo.
How do you reach your dreams, let alone become a professional hockey player? Success in life requires many things, chief among them: talent, drive and a ton of luck. Many say to follow the mantra of, “Do what you love,” but I like Mark Cuban’s slightly modified advice on career planning, “Go into the path where you are willing to put the work in.”
Never committing to put the work in what you do is likely to be your greatest downfall. While I didn’t recognize it at the time, having this tough decision to make as a 15-year old kid was more of a gift than a curse.
What experiences have shaped you into the person you are today? What is your mantra in life?