Personal Development: Lessons from Charles Tillman

Always be peaking.

Charles Tillman, cornerback for the Chicago Bears

I spotted an article a few weeks ago written by Jack Silverstein in Chicago’s Redeye about Charles Tillman, who plays cornerback for the Chicago Bears. In other words, he plays defense on an American football team.

Tillman has been gaining more and more fame lately. A big reason for that is his continual record breaking ability to create turnovers from the opposing team, which he still accomplishes at the age of 31 when the average career of a cornerback is just 3 years.

The article was interesting because it opened my eyes to how inspiring this guy’s work ethic and values are to folks who have nothing to do with sports.

A couple great bits:

“He ‘sucks’ in practice early in the week” #

Tillman forces himself to find a new peak each week. He and his coaches place him in situations where he’s losing and screwing up in practice early in the week. He uses these moments as opportunities to get better each practice session until he’s winning again. And then he keeps the cycle going.

To get better, to be better, to be awesome, we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to make those moments of suckiness opportunities to improve, not opportunities to sulk, feel sorry for ourselves, or complain to our friends about how we don’t get anywhere with anything.

Tillman is a tremendous example of getting good by constantly putting himself in situations where he’s not that good. Yet.

“I speak it. I believe it. I practice it. It happens.” #

You can see in Tillman’s interview that he has a deep belief that he’ll accomplish whatever he believes he can accomplish.

Over 6 years ago I attended the first Startup School. It was a one day conference hosted by Y Combinator, the folks who turned out to be the investors in the first company I co-founded, Inkling.

The conference was great, but it wasn’t the speakers or other attendees that I remember most. The thing I remember most was the fact that I ditched the opportunity to network with other folks at lunch, and went to the Harvard Book Store and bought a book on positive psychology. I devoured the book that same night.

The principles I learned about optimism and visualization were instrumental in accomplishing things I needed to help get Inkling started and to keep going when things were really rough. When you’re in month 6 and there isn’t enough income or any investment money still in sight to pay some kind of salary for you and your partner (which is the de facto standard for most small businesses getting started), it feels awful and scary. Believing you can get through it is one huge part to actually getting through it.

This isn’t some “The universe will obey you, if you just think about it and lay on the couch” garbage. It’s the pure fact, that there are so many negative things nibbling away at you accomplishing things in this life. Critics. Friends who don’t believe in you. Cash flow. Fickle clients.

Having a method to improve the way you look at yourself and your chances of accomplishing things while you work your ass off is critical to keep going.

There’s some other coincidental lessons I’ve been observing from Tillman recently.

His priority is team above himself #

Tillman injured his ankle in the Bear’s game last Sunday, which kept him from playing in the second half.

What I often see from players in that position is someone sulking on the sidelines. Maybe staying suited in uniform, and providing an enthusiastic holler if the team does well, but that’s about it for participation.

In this case, there was Tillman passionately coaching his teammates while he stood on the sideline injured. You could see him flashing signs to players on the field or giving talks on strategy to others on the bench.

Tillman appears to have figured out that the Bear’s winning takes priority over his own chance to play. Even if he’s out of commission he finds a way to keep contributing.

But family first #

Tillman had another chance recently to show how his priorities are set.

Tillman’s wife was expecting a baby on November 11. Problem was that’s a game day. Tillman announced he may miss the game if his daughter was born that day.

The announcement sparked a bunch of controversy as you might imagine.

However you want to feel about Tillman’s decision, he made his priorities clear. The team is very important to him, but his family remains on top.

That’s a decision I know more of us could emulate.

Go Bears! :)

P.S. Who’s been inspiring you recently? You could let me know on Twitter: here.


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