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How My Career-Ending Injury Helped Me Find My Purpose

Lewis Howes
Written by Lewis Howes

A typical Midwestern boy, I dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. I couldn’t imagine anything better than being one of the star quarterbacks, point guards, or Olympic medalists on TV. In real life, I was lanky and goofy with big ears and just enough turmoil at home to make me feel like an outcast.

Cut to gym class, when my 8-year-old self was picked last for dodgeball. For me, that moment was defining. It was the worst rejection I could imagine. I hated that feeling so much, I swore I would never be picked last again. I threw myself into sports — basketball, baseball, soccer, and any other sport. I was obsessed with being the best — all because I had been picked last.

I went on to play college football, break an NCAA record, and go All-American in two sports. My quest for redemption turned into something so much bigger. I don’t think I would’ve gotten where I am today without that experience.

By the time I graduated college, I had my heart set on playing in the NFL. As a stepping stone, I played arena football in the American Football League. It’s an indoor version of what you see on Sundays in the fall.

It was amazing to be paid to do what I loved and had worked so hard for — until I injured my wrist so badly in a game that I had to have surgery, which required a long, arduous recovery. I had no money, chronic pain, and I was sleeping on my sister’s couch. That was my rock bottom.

When a lifelong dream falls down around you, it’s hard to find meaning. As hard as it was, I knew I needed to pick myself up and keep going, so I started to look for a new dream.

I took little steps every day toward finding a new passion, but I had no vision. I was lost. I started with what I knew I was good at. I was a connector, a networker, and I loved adding value to other people’s lives. One of my favorite sayings is “When in doubt, focus out.”

By focusing on helping others create value in their lives, I worried less about my own. I knew I didn’t want to work for someone else, and it took months before I saw any income from my efforts, but my dedication paid off. Within two years, I had built a seven-figure business with my partner, by formulating my new dream and vision along the way.

About the same time, I came across an Olympic sport called Team Handball. Though popular in other countries, the game is not as well-known in the States. I was fascinated by the game, and suddenly my dream came back to me. I had always wanted to represent my country in the Olympics, and had a hunch that Team Handball might be the sport for me.

I moved to New York City to train with the New York club team, got myself back in shape, and made the U.S. National Team.

Looking back, I’m so grateful I didn’t compromise by taking a nine-to-five job. So many more of my dreams have come true, as I work to help people make a living doing what they love. I didn’t know then that my football injury was the catalyst I needed to start serving others, but I know it now. It’s true that in retrospect, our lives often look like perfectly planned lessons. Just try to remember that along the way.

For more inspiration on finding your purpose, start here:

Photo courtesy of the author

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