It was in May, 1977 and I was attending an athletic banquet at the Starlight Motel & Restaurant in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I had already resigned from my teaching position at St. Edmond High School. A month later, at age thirty-three and the father of three sons, I would become a full-time life insurance agent supporting my family on straight commissions.
I loved teaching English and speech classes but the reality of putting three kids through college on teacher’s pay had hit me like a ton of bricks. Having sold insurance on a part-time basis for ten years, I had a certain amount of confidence. But this time I would be doing it sans the safety net of my classroom duties. Also, because I had sold for so long and chose to work for a New York based company, I was not eligible for the subsidy that most agents get starting out in the business. It was a big risk for me but one that I felt needed to be made.
The last thing on my mind that evening as I walked into the ballroom where our student athletes were to be honored was that there would be a message from the podium directed more at me than them.
The late Al McGuire (1928-2001), who had just taken his Marquette Warriors to their only NCAA basketball championship in history, was the guest speaker at our event. Years later he went on to become one of the finest television college basketball commentators for NBC.
The son of an Irish immigrant saloon keeper in New York, McGuire was a tough-as-nails coach who maintained his street-wise mentality and sense of humor while recruiting and developing his players.
On this particular evening, his message to the St. Edmond Gael athletes was simple: Chase you dreams!
“My buddies were always trying to hold me back,” he said. “It wasn’t a conscious thing, but they had such low career expectations of themselves when we graduated from high school (those who actually did) that they couldn’t imagine big things for me. I wanted to go to college and they thought that I was crazy. Our kind just didn’t do that at the time. We were expected to hang out on the streets, get in fights and let life happen to us. Many of them ended up dead at a young age or in prison.”
Al McGuire went on to make a statement intended for the students that hit me squarely between the eyes, “Nuts to that. I like to fish,” he went on, “and there were two ways to do it. One is to stay on the shore and fish for whatever happens to come your way and the other is to get on a boat, go out to the choppy waters and fish for the big ones…the Marlins! The way I figure it is that I was gonna’ go for the Marlins. I might get some and I might not. If I didn’t, I could always go back. My friends would still be there waiting for me, standing on the shore.”
McGuire never did have to go back. He went to college, became a world class coach and a top notch broadcaster while earning fame and fortune along the way.
He gave me a personal message that I needed to hear that May evening in a packed meeting room. “Go for the Marlins (in my case…give up the safe job and move on). Take a calculated risk. Don’t let negative people or negative thoughts dictate your life.”
My message to you is to figure out what and where your ‘Marlins’ are. Are you attacking your profession with the vigor and attitude it takes be a peak perfumer? Or are you settling? Are you fulfilling your career and personal dreams? If not–why not?
McGuire gave his talk, shook some hands and got on a private jet provided by a generous wealthy St. Edmond supporter. Most likely he was back in Milwaukee by midnight. He never knew that his message impacted a soon-to-be ex-teacher/future entrepreneur more than he ever could have known.
I wish I would have told him.
Bill Sheridan—SHERIDAN WRITES, LLC
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