Thinking Man or Man Thinking

I loved football. Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an NCAA Division I football player. Because of that you might expect this article to be a discussion of things such as playbooks, fundamentals, cheering crowds, and game-winning touchdowns. Instead, you will find a story of failure, redemption, and personal growth thanks to American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I worked hard through high school to reach my goal. I trained diligently, ate right, and didn’t smoke or drink. I won many awards and honors for my athletic ability. As an 18 year old I had the world on a string – or so I thought. Things seemed to be going according to plan when, after being heavily recruited, I accepted a Division I scholarship to play football at Ball State University. I worked harder than I ever had the summer after I graduated because I wanted to play during my freshman year.

My whole career ended up being a struggle. I still hold a heavy disdain for many of my coaches, not because they cussed or yelled, but because they didn't have the stones to tell the truth to my teammates and me. To this day I hate the sport. Essentially having this struggle over 4 years led me into an identity crisis. Would I change anything at this point in my life? NO!

Blank transferred to Indiana State University after the 2014 football season. ISU is located in Terre Haute, Indiana, Blank's hometown.

What I ultimately discovered was that I enjoyed my classes more than anything else and that I was good at school. Unlike my coaches, my professors weren’t there to tear you down; they were there to teach you how to use your brain to its fullest. Oh sure, they would challenge you but it was always to make you and your argument better. They didn’t attack you personally; they just questioned your ideas.

I enjoyed attending lectures, learning about new ideas and perspective, and taking part in class discussions. I liked the challenge of learning about a wide variety of subjects. I had the good fortune of being exposed to the American philosophy of Transcendentalism. Because of this, I was able to figure out a lot about myself and how I wanted to be seen as a person and how to live my life.

In my life as a student, probably the most important and influential thing I came into contact with was Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “American Scholar” address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University in 1837. It has meant a lot to me personally, and I’m confident it will continue to be a valuable influence in my life. In the address, one of the things Emerson talks about is the difference between being a man thinking and a thinking man.

It’s an important distinction. In the case of the man thinking, a whole being is doing the action. The action does not define the man. Instead the man defines the action. There is considerably more to this individual than the act being performed. On the other hand, the thinking man is only a partially realized being who is defined by his individual actions or occupations and not his being.

This idea resonated with me because I was lost. I didn’t know who I was inside. Externals such as athletics had always defined me. I was the football-playing Calvin when I needed to be Calvin the football player. After reading Emerson, I began to look at my life in Transcendentalist terms. I reflected and slowly started changing the way I perceived myself. I started to realize there was much more to life and to me than an occupation or an action. I was becoming self-reliant, another important characteristic for Emerson.

After my fourth season, I was ready to graduate and start a new chapter of my life away from football. But then I got a surprise. After the season, the head coach resigned and we hired a new head coach over Christmas break. I thought, “What the heck. I might as well give football one last shot. I can at least enjoy another year of being a part of a team.” My approach to the game had changed. I wasn’t there because I was a football player. I was there because I am Calvin, who loves football but is not defined by it. I wanted to spend another year with my best friends and teammates. I wanted more school and learning. I wanted to have fun playing football again.

I sensed that I was being given another chance to realize one of what was now just one of my life goals, and I was determined to make the most of it. I worked hard – mentally and physically – over the winter to get ready for the challenge ahead. I performed at the peak of my abilities in spring football and fall camp. I put the game in perspective. I was having fun again. I was doing it for all the right reasons. I just wanted to play.

Despite my career not traveling the route I had planned for it, I wouldn’t change it for anything. The path I took to get to this point was bumpy, but it helped me learn a lot about myself. As a result, I have accomplished more than I could have imagined when I started college and feel I’m ready for anything.

I am Calvin the football player. I’m also Calvin the student, Calvin the uncle, Calvin the volunteer, Calvin the law student and sometimes just plain old Calvin.

267 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All