In my last blog entry, I wrote a little about one of my goals for this year, and that’s my goal of becoming a better me.
That process has continued through the last few months, and it’s been awesome. It's kind of funny how, when you decide to make changes, you make progress and then you become stagnant. Then you start looking around, and you make some more progress. So it's been pretty cool to actually see, in these last six months, how far I've come.
Some things that I had planned on doing, I have not gotten to. I still have to start those Spanish lessons. But it's still amazing to be able to reflect on it and see that I’ve accomplished a lot, and still know that I can get better in a lot of areas. It's pretty cool. I'm enjoying it to say the least.
As many people have seen in the pictures I’ve posted, yes, I cut off my locks. I had my locks — I never referred to them as dreadlocks — for 15 years, and for quite some time, I had wanted to let them go. I found myself being confined by what I assumed my image was, and I had to come to realize that my locks didn’t define me. I made the locks; they didn't make me. So letting them go and starting fresh was a matter of just redefining myself, and taking another step toward becoming a better me in 2015.
Most people probably want to know what my outlook is on the coming season, and what may or may not happen.
I appreciate the support I’ve received from fans who want to see me continue my career. My mindset has not changed. I still love the game. I still want to play the game, but I will stick to the pact that I made with myself from the beginning. If I am going to play, it has to make sense for me. It has to be for the right situation, the right opportunity and the right team.
In the meantime, I'm still training. My routine has not changed as far as that goes. My commitment and the rigor of my regimen has not changed. It’s been important to me to remain consistent in that through this offseason. I took that bit of advice a long time ago from my teammate Isaac Bruce. He was always someone who stayed in tip top shape throughout his career, and he always reminded me, "The older you get, never get out of shape. Ever."
Luckily, I heeded that message. Nothing has changed for me.
I've been working out since February, once I got back from Central America. Every month, my trainer gives me a new regimen of training. Right now, it consists of working out upper body and lower body. I'm in the weight room two days a week, and then I’m running out on the track or on the field three days a week. Because it's that time. If I was with a team right now, I would be getting ready for training camp. So I’m just sticking to it as if I'm with a team right now, and not a free agent.
I will say: It’s felt good to actually be in one place for the whole offseason, here at my home in Las Vegas. To have that familiarity with neighbors, and see family members consistently instead of feeling rushed to try and spread myself thin with the little time I usually have here, it's been very relaxing.
It's been really good for my kids to be able to spend time here as well. One of the most gratifying experiences of this offseason is that I've been able to be so hands on with my children. I’ve had the opportunity to be their personal chauffeur, their cook and their teacher, and just see the different challenges that I take for granted during the football season.
It's the small things that I didn't really appreciate, the things that at their age I probably hated, but you see as a parent how special those moments are. Being able to sit there, prepare breakfast or lunch and talk to them about what's going on in their day, or sitting there and having them read to me for 30 minutes, working on reading comprehension or on writing with my kindergartner. I'm really savoring those experiences.
I’ve been doing several speaking engagements over the course of this offseason, aimed at encouraging young athletes and students. I participated in a great event through Nike with some youth baseball players at the College World Series in Omaha. I also spoke to a group of about 200 of the top students in the Clark County School District here in Las Vegas. But no matter if I’m talking with young people in an athletic setting or in a school setting, my message stays consistently the same, and that’s to always encourage them to continue their education as far as they can, and as far as they're willing to go.
I’ve always been proud to speak to kids about the importance of education. It’s something I’ve done throughout my career. But now that I have kids of my own who are at that age where their education is becoming more and more important, I have a different perspective as a parent. As a result of that, my message has changed a bit over the years. My kids are privileged and fortunate enough to have lot of things in life that not all kids do. Outside of material things, they have two loving parents who are going to look out for their best interests. Sadly, that's not always the case. So I like to use the platform that I have to encourage students not only to stay in school and get good grades, but to let them know that people here in the community care about them, and want the best for them.
With student athletes in particular, I talk to them about having a Plan B. As a young athlete, you’re encouraged to dream big. I was in that position before, and I remember it well. Dreaming big is important. But I always share with them that I was also a good student. I got good grades in high school; I was on the Dean’s List in college. You don’t have to be a "dumb athlete." That shouldn’t apply to you. There’s no reason to feed into that stereotype. So I coach these young athletes to continue to dream, but also to further pursue education.
Education is so vital, and you can’t take it for granted. It’s something that can’t be taken from you. The things that you learn, you will carry with you all of your life. So I let them know that when they become successful and live out their dreams, not to forget the number of teachers and mentors around the community who have helped them, and pushed them to be better. You want them to pass that forward to the next generation after them, so I also encourage all of them to be active in their communities from a young age.
I've been fortunate enough, since high school and from college on, that I've been able to do something I love, get an education from it, and also provide and make a living from it as well. I think it’s important when you’re in that position with that opportunity that you give back, but it only works if you’re genuine about it. If it’s in your heart, it's only right to leverage that platform that you are on to help others. For me, it’s helping to spread the message of education. My foundation continues to sponsor after school programs here in Las Vegas in an effort to give kids options to find extra tutelage and mentorship, especially if they're having problems in school.
But maybe for someone else, that’s not what’s in their heart. So I encourage them to find whatever it is they care dearly about, and use their platform for that. I think the connection I make with these students only works because they feel the sincerity when I visit with them, when I talk to them and when I share my stories with them.
The visit to the College World Series was really neat. I've been to Nebraska quite a few times now, and visited Omaha before. But I’d never actually been to the College World Series event until this year. There's a lot of excitement and a lot of school spirit there, and it’s unique. It was another way to see Nebraska in a way that I hadn't had a chance to, and it was very pleasant.
I do enjoy baseball, and anyone who knows me knows I’m very passionate about Oregon State University athletics. Back in 2006 and 2007, the Beavers won back to back College World Series championships. That’s when I really started following the tournament, but I’d never been to Omaha to see it. Nike had an event there and I’m really good friends with Ndamukong Suh, who has roots in Nebraska, so he reached out to me about coming out for it.
It was a cool synergy that allowed it to come together so I could be a part of it. I got to team with Ndamukong and speak to a bunch of kids in an open Q&A. We talked about our passion not only for college baseball, but we also talked about training, and becoming a very dynamic, ultimate, professional athlete.
We had a great turnout for our Q&A, and it was very interactive. Everyone is pretty enthusiastic about the Nike brand. I think they enjoyed not only having us there as two representatives of the company, but also to be able to see the great products and cutting edge technology that Nike is producing for student athletes.
INTERACTION AND TRANSPARENCY
I usually get a lot of really good questions at these events, and I have not come across any question that I wasn’t willing to answer. I get asked about peer pressure, about being able to stay focused and about goal-setting. That’s an important one because there are a lot of different ways you can go about setting and hitting goals, and it kind of depends on what type of goals you’re talking about.
For a student athlete, I will reference my own perspective and the way I personally set my goals on game day. I always give myself a personal goal of averaging 25 yards a quarter. That seems like a much more attainable goal than setting the longer term goal to average 100 yards for the game. But if you just average 25 yards a quarter, after four quarters you have those 100 yards. So I always encourage the student athletes to make small attainable goals that will go toward obtaining that big goal, the ultimate goal, down the road.
For a student, I always build a correlation of doing homework and studying. If you go home nightly and study that day's lecture, or what the teacher went over in notes that day, and you continue doing that daily throughout the semester, when midterms and finals come around, you are more apt to have retained a lot of the information than if you waited to the last minute and decided to cram. By studying daily, it's putting small deposits in your brain, like small deposits in the bank, and allowing it to all add up to a bigger total at the end. And those two things kind of go along the same lines. Short term goals and markers can be a big help to achieving long-term goals.
Obviously, whenever I’m doing a speaking engagement, I also get some financial questions as well, but I try to kind of steer away from those questions the best way I can, while staying on the topic. A lot of times people, especially kids, think that once you hit that huge contract many professional athletes are able to obtain if they're worthy enough, that you’re set. That’s not really true. So when I get that question, I try to make them understand that no matter how much money you are able to amass over your lifetime, that does not secure your happiness. Your happiness is secured in who you are as a person.
One thing I like to do whenever I do a Q&A is to always ask the audience to allow me to ask a question back. I want the conversation to flow both ways. I don't want it to be just me, and there are things I can learn from them as well. One day in the not too distant future, my children are going to be teenagers. So I like to stay in the know about what's going on. What's on these teenagers' minds? What are the pressures that they feel?
One of the big topics of late that I’ve found to be a point of breakthrough with the audience is social media. A lot of times, people think what they see on social media is real, and a lot of times kids are affected by being bullied on social media. One of the things I want to do is to try and help them navigate the truth in it. It's okay to feel good about yourself, and project an image that you want to project. But you have to understand that you as a person and eventually your family will want to have some type of privacy. Because as you grow up, you're going to continue to change. You don't want to be defined by these posts and these pictures you’re putting up on social media as a child.
The second part of that is being bullied and how you escape being bullied on social media. I think one of the things that’s important to avoid that type of thing is to take breaks from it. You have to be able to put the phone down, put the laptop or the iPad down for a second and relax. You shouldn’t feel the need to respond, and to let out your emotions and feelings in cyberspace. I think that’s a lesson that’s transferrable to the classroom and the schoolyard as well. Those are the things I like to really talk to teenagers about.
Spoke to a couple hundred local Las Vegas high school students today. Encouraged to see a young generation so eager to learn!
Posted by Steven Jackson on Friday, May 15, 2015
But you have to do it in a way that’s relatable. When I’m talking to these young people, I don’t want them to see it as me talking at them as a 31 year-old. So I once again try to build a bridge of understanding, and relate it to my life.
One way I present it is through the lens of how I deal with criticism in my own career. I may have a bad game, or there may be a game when the team didn't do so well. In those moments, fans can be really harsh on me, or on my teammates. But as people we have pick our words wisely. So sometimes you have to put the phone away and not reply. Take the higher road.
The one thing we don’t want is for a young person to ever feel like they're isolated on an island, or that others like myself are just too old to understand what they’re going through. It’s important for young people to understand that these are things you’re going to experience for your entire life, things we all go through. So let's figure out how we can handle them now, before these issues become bigger.
That’s why, whenever I do a speaking engagement, I try to be fully transparent with the audience. Sitting in an auditorium of 200 people, if I change one child's life, that was worth my time that day.