Defining Success: My Personal Journey

Written by: Kevin Cann

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacle which he has overcome.” -Booker T. Washington

I don’t remember the picture at the top of this article.  I must have been under 5 years old in it.  I have always had a confidence about me to put myself out there.  I am pretty lucky to have that genetic predisposition.

We always look at athletes and talk about their genetic predisposition for success in their sport, but this is also true in life.  The kid in that picture is not far away from crying himself to sleep at night while pleading to God for help.

I went to catholic school, and I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God in the first place.  This was purely an act of desperation more than anything else.  This God that I wasn’t even sure that I believed in was the only person that I would confide in that I hated my life, and I was at a breaking point.

This wouldn’t be just a few tears running down my cheeks, but I would have to turn my pillow over because of how wet it would become and hope that that side dries before I need to flip it over again.  This was happening just a couple feet away from my brother who would wet the bed at night out of fear of getting up and having to deal with my father’s wrath.

In religion class they would tell us that God lives inside each and every one of us.  I struggled to understand how God lived inside the man that I looked like and was named after.  In fact, I don’t think God was allowed inside of the apartment that we lived in.

I had seen movies where the devil couldn’t enter church, I wondered if it was the same thing with our apartment, but the other way around.  Maybe God couldn’t enter that apartment because of the evil that resided inside of it.

I struggled to understand that if God resided in everyone, why didn’t anyone ever come to our rescue.  No teachers, school administrators, police officers, child services, and other parents ever helped us out.  They just wrote us off as troubled kids and even at times would keep their kids from associating with us.

The pleading to God eventually changed to me telling him how much I hated him and if the devil was real, I would sign my soul over to him for some help.  The tears were still there, but now weren’t coming in streams and there was no longer snot dripping into my mouth as I tried to fall asleep. This was the start of my rage.

The longer the abuse continued, and even escalated, and the more I was called a troubled kid and written off the angrier I became.  My rage grew and I felt like it was me versus the world.  I no longer cared about trying to fit in, and I had drawn a line in the sand that the world had crossed.  I declared war.

I was angry all the time.  Someone looked at me the wrong way and I would resort to violence.  I was going to be tormented and called a bad kid anyways, I might as well get my licks in too.  When I began acting like that, I slept like a baby at night.  Something about getting that rage out into the world allowed me to unload it from my being.

Those of us that experienced trauma during our formative years need to work 10 times harder to be “successful” than those that didn’t.  15 years of physical and verbal abuse from a parent leaves scars.  There are changes that occur in the brain and body due to being in a prolonged stressful environment.  Only recently have researchers discovered these changes.

There is a risk assessment known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) risk assessment.  This is an assessment to determine how “bad” the trauma was.  A score of 4 or more is considered high risk.  I scored an 8.

Those that have experienced complex trauma have shorter life spans.  This is probably due to the higher rates of suicide, higher rates of alcohol and drug use, and physiological changes that occur such as high blood pressure.  

I for one am very easily agitated.  This is because I am always “on” because my brain doesn’t realize that the danger has been removed from my life.  I am workaholic as this is how I avoid dealing with the emotions that I can’t make sense of.  This mixed with my difficult moods has been a strain on relationships my entire life.

The physiological landscape of hypervigilance does enhance my ability to learn, and I have endless endurance, even during burnout.  I average reading 2 to 3 books per week, and I can absorb information very easily.  I can become even more “on” by viewing other coaches as my competition.  This is my drive and motivation that then becomes relentless.  

This is still a huge work in progress and always will be.  However, sports gave me the tools necessary to overcome adversity and to continue to get better even into adulthood.  It took a long time to learn this lesson.

As a kid, I was angry and aggressive and sick of being labeled a bad kid.  I was determined and disciplined in sports.  My dad wasn’t allowed on the field, so the four lines were a forcefield that protected me from the outside evils.  I was free inside these four lines to be whoever I dreamed of being.  I learned how to leave the outside, outside and focus on the task at hand because it is all I had at that time.  

I learned how to lose.  I learned from mistakes and worked harder so that I would lose less.  I learned to play hard to the whistle.  The whistle in life doesn’t blow until I am dead.  If I am in the game, I have a chance.  Sports taught me to stick with it even when on bad teams.  Life will give you long periods where it seems like you are losing.  You keep playing hard because there is pride and self-respect at stake.

After soccer ended in college I got into a lot of legal troubles.  I felt lost and hopeless and like I had no future.  That rage never left; it just didn’t have a purpose.  I realized that sports taught me how to make sense of my emotions that I can’t make sense of in the real world.

In sports my rage could be harnessed into my play.  My heart racing wasn’t my fear and shame I felt being a kid sleeping on the floor being beat up by his father and called all kinds of names.  It was my excitement and anticipation for the competition.  My aggression didn’t make me a bad kid, it was harnessed into something that made me a good athlete.

Sports gave me the belief and the discipline to finish my undergraduate degree while unemployed and on federal home confinement.  Sports taught me to be flexible and adaptable and to find a way no matter what, we can call this resilience.

Sports taught me to overcome obstacles, which is how Booker T. Washington defines success.  

This is the soul of Precision Powerlifting Systems.  You don’t have had to experience trauma to have sports teach life lessons.  We all have our stories and sports can help us write those stories in a much more positive way.  

Coaching needs to foster this relationship between athlete and the sport, not just write some sets and reps on a fancy spreadsheet.  Sports can be a critical element to finding personal success.  Without sports I would be in jail.  I have zero doubts, and I was fortunate to be placed on house arrest instead of in a federal prison as it gave me an opportunity to overcome.  Circumstances do matter at times and a lucky break here and there is needed for sure.

Sports are also physical with positive health benefits.  This is important for those of us that have lower life expectancies and higher risk of developing disease.  This is bigger than a 5lb PR.  99.5% of people will never make money doing this or win a world championship, but 100% of everyone can become a personal success if they let sports teach those lessons.

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