On Throwing Oneself a Pity Party, on Becoming Completely Wrapped Up in the World’s Smallest Possible Package—and on Escaping Those Confines and Expanding Beyond Them By Doing Something Good for Someone Else: Former High-Profile NFL Prospect Finds His True Purpose in, of All Places, Prison
By Ken K. Gourdin
On more than one occasion, I have been tempted to use various of my circumstances—a physical challenge, a behavioral health diagnosis, unemployment, underemployment, lack of fulfillment at work, lack of fulfillment in relationships—as (a) perfect excuse(s) to throw myself a Pity Party. Alas, the trouble with Pity Parties is that the guest list rarely is more than one name long. And even long after the party’s over, the excuse for throwing it remains. And someone who is all wrapped up in himself makes for a very small package.
The truth—and I don’t mean this to seem as stark and as dire as it’s going to seem—is that nobody cares. Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not that they’re unsympathetic; it’s simply that the nature of life usually provides each of us with more than enough to handle when it comes to addressing our own challenges, let alone helping anyone else address theirs. And however much they might care, in most cases, the reality is that their ability to do anything to address your problem is limited. Other than God, the only person with enough wherewithal to address your problems successfully is you.
Former National Football League quarterback Ryan Leaf, widely considered one of the biggest busts (if not the biggest bust) in NFL draft history, found himself in much the same situation after a very high profile career flameout. Our choice may not seem as stark as Mr. Leaf’s, but each one of us have to decide, is the sum-total of who we are, of our worth as human beings (in fact, I would put an even finer point on it by saying our worth as children of God), determined by how well we perform as an athlete, in our work, as a student, or in any other area of life? Or is our worth determined by something deeper? Are we human doings, or are we human beings?
Mr. Leaf certainly has had his share of such problems. His high-profile career flameout was accompanied by other failures, including drug abuse, a criminal record, and a stretch in prison. But it was in prison where a fellow inmate taught Mr. Leaf that he is more than his accomplishments and, more to the point, that he is more than his failures. For all of the seeming fulfillment his in certain areas of his life may have brought him—or for all the emptiness his failure in those same areas may have brought him—it was in prison that Mr. Leaf finally discovered that his true worth lies in his ability and in his willingness to do something good and something worthwhile for another person.
It was a conversation with another inmate which convinced Mr. Leaf that, whatever his failures, his faults, and his shortcomings, whatever his life to that point might leave be desired, he still had something worthwhile to offer his fellow human beings—something more than his ability to throw a perfect spiral, to throw touchdowns, or to lead his team on a last-second game-winning drive. As Jesus Christ taught, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least, of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40), and “[W]hosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).
For coverage of Mr. Leaf’s epiphany and of the change it reportedly wrought in his life, see Jake Becker’s story at the New York Daily News, available at the following address and last accessed June 6, 2017: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/ryan-leaf-teaching-fellow-prisoners-read-changed-life-article-1.2995862. Best wishes to Mr. Leaf for continued sobriety, for continued success in his recovery, and, most importantly, for continued fulfillment in the service of others.