About the Author
NFL legend Michael Strahan made his name on the football field, setting the record for single season sacks in 2001 and being inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014, but his star has shined brighter and for longer than his 216 history-making games with the New York Giants, which included a win at Super Bowl XLII. In 2008, he joined the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show as a commentator, and in 2012, he beat a competitive roster of candidates to replace Regis Philbin as co-host of the wildly popular Live! with Kelly & Michael. In April 2014, he joined Good Morning America as a special cohost, and Barbara Walters selected him as one of her 10 Most Fascinating People of 2014.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Wake Up Happy PROLOGUE: PROTECTIVE GEAR
NOT TOO LONG AGO, I sat anxiously in a dark theater as the MC began his introductions. I was a bag of nerves. The MC didn’t speak for very long, but it seemed to take forever.
“Come on,” I wanted to jump up and say. “Let’s get on with it!”
The longer he talked, the more nervous I got. At last, he began to wrap up his remarks.
“It’s going to be okay,” I told myself. “It’s going to be okay.”
Sure, it was a kids’ talent show in North Carolina. Yes, my daughters were the ones performing, not me, but that didn’t make me any less fidgety. Finally, the MC stopped talking and the curtains opened. Then my youngest girls, Isabella and Sophia, came out and sang “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” I love that song. And even though I was such a wreck, the girls sung beautifully. On the outside, I may have come across as cool and collected, but inside I was a mess.
All my life, people have always told me, “You look so comfortable,” whether it was on the football field or hosting a television show or any of the other things I’ve done in between. If they only knew. The truth is, I’m a shy guy. I get nervous for myself and I get nervous when someone I love is out there on the line. But I’ve known ever since I was young how to take that nervous energy and turn it into positive energy. My goal in this book is to share with you what I’ve learned about developing a winning attitude and putting your most productive habits to work to craft the life of your dreams. I’ve had more than a few jobs, challenges, and personal transformations to which I’ve applied my philosophy, which I share with you in the pages that follow. Beyond my own experiences, throughout the book, I turn to other experts and people who’ve thought deeply and written about the power of positive thinking and transformation, from happiness expert Shawn Achor to Po Bronson, from Thor Muller and Lane Becker to Dr. Joseph Cardillo, an expert on energy management, to the figures who’ve meant so much in my life, from my dear friend Dr. Ian Smith to the late, great Giants coach Earl Leggett. In the second half of the book I talk specifically about how to use these principles not only to reach your goals but also to transform your attitude. In ways that may be counterintuitive, former professional athletes know a thing or two about transformation. Our career choices are, by definition, limited in duration. We can play only as long as our bodies, first and foremost, and our willpower allow us to. Then we have to reinvent ourselves.
Using stories from my own life and from those whose journeys have inspired me, I draw upon the power of positive thinking often. Take the time the producers of Good Morning America approached me about joining the team. I was scared to death. I was just getting my sea legs on LIVE with the talented Kelly Ripa and didn’t think I could handle sitting at a news desk with esteemed journalists like George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts. Then I had to ask myself, “Well, am I not trying it because I’m afraid or is it because I think I can’t do it?” After some reflection, I admitted to myself that I was afraid of trying and failing, and that wasn’t a good enough reason not to give myself a chance.
That’s a recent example of my working through my fear, but it’s something I’ve been doing since I was a child, even when it comes to football. I don’t remember the first time I ever held a football any more than I remember being handed my first bottle of milk. The youngest of six, with three older brothers and two sisters, I was surrounded by football enthusiasts. My brothers loved football. My parents loved football. Before I could walk or crawl properly, I could hold a football.
My brothers and I were always good at the game. It wasn’t so much that we were innately talented as that we persevered. When I was seven years old, our family lived on an army base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where my father, Gene Strahan, served as a captain in the military. I still remember how excited I was to begin my first season on the Pee Wee Falcons team and the pride I felt in seeing that black-and-white uniform laid out on the bed. From the first time I donned a football uniform, I’ve loved the ritual of putting on the game pants with the built-in pads and the eyelet front. Then the shoulder pads with elastic bands and metal clips that make a distinctive sound when they’re fastened.
I had watched my brothers do it a hundred times, but nothing had prepared me for the power and pride I felt the first time it was my turn. With my pads and my helmet on, I walked onto the field feeling like a gladiator, and an aerodynamic one at that. The sport may be brutal, but the design of the equipment is elegant, simple, and beautiful. Someday, if we ever get those flying suits that they used to talk about on cartoons like The Jetsons, I’m sure they’ll be calling some of the engineers who design football uniforms. My team had a special chant, which I took pride in every time I sung it and which still makes me smile when I think about it. “What do Falcons do? Swoop, swoop, swoop.” The fall I entered second grade, there was no day better than Saturday, when my mother laid out my uniform and I put on my equipment and I would swoop, swoop, swoop around the field.
One afternoon at a game, I made what I remember was the most amazing play of my Pee Wee career. An opposing player did a sweep around the opposite side and was headed for the goalpost. It was such an unexpected move that no one was even close to being able to stop him. He was twenty yards in front of me, but I ran him down and tackled him. The parents from our team went crazy, setting the bleachers afire, it seemed. My teammates were jumping up and down, screaming my name—all of which terrified me as I went crying back to the huddle. When I say crying, I don’t mean that cinematic cry, just a few tears of happiness running down my cheek. I was doing an ugly cry: it was a bawling, snot-coming-out-of-my-nose, “Where’s my mama? ’Cause I need her” cry. Thank God I had a helmet; it not only protected my head but also managed to hide the tears.
I learned something huge about myself that day. I loved making the play, but I did not like the attention. In time, I learned something else about myself: fear of being in the spotlight didn’t stop me from pursuing what produced the fear in the first place; I pursued football nonetheless. Do I still get anxious? Of course. Intimidated? More than you know. As they say, Show me the boy at seven and I’ll show you the man. But I’ve learned on the field that I can push through it. And I’ve been pushing through it ever since. The protective gear I wear these days is more mental than material. Gone are the shoulder pads and helmets. Instead, I employ what you can think of as attitude adjustments that help me play through the fear. I truly believe there’s more power in your attitude than in your bank account. That’s true for all of us, from the single mom struggling to build a brighter future for her kids to thought leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
I have spent my entire career sprinting down that thin line between what’s impossible and what’s improbable. Along the way, I’ve learned how to turn self-doubt into an energy source and to metabolize fear into a result-producing adrenaline. When I was in college and really learning the art of football, I became so good at making plays and upsetting the other teams’ offense on the field that the other teams began to assign two players to cover me instead of the customary one. The local reporters called this “Strahan Rules,” as it was an uncommon practice that seemed to be implemented only for me. Throughout this book, you’ll see my own live-your-best-life rules. Don’t think about any of these as something that’s being dictated for you to follow. But rather these rules are my way of giving you that extra oomph so you can carry your dreams all the way to the finish line. In a perfect world, I’d have ninety-two rules to match my jersey number. But in real life, I’ve found that you need only eighteen to get and stay motivated. I share those eighteen with you in the chapters that follow and sum them up in the appendix.
When considered together, my hope is that the “Strahan Rules” will help you transform your attitude so you can accomplish your goals. I was having a conversation with a friend recently. We were talking about how it is that some people seem able to drive toward their goals with so much joy, while for others it’s struggle after struggle and setback after setback. All I know is that for as long as I can remember, I saw life as a game, a puzzle that I could solve again and again to get and achieve the things I wanted the most. I never—well, rarely—allowed myself to be overcome by doubt. I just kept telling myself, “I’ll get there somehow.” Did I know the exact method or route to achieve my dreams? Absolutely not. But I created a set of tools—rituals, ideas, formulas that helped me get from there to here—and that’s what a lot of this book is about.
Even now when people say, “You’re successful, you can have anything you want,” I think, “What does that mean?” No matter what we accomplish, we’re always searching for something else. I’m not talking about money or material things. I just think we have an innate desire, as human beings, to continue to achieve. Achievement, the quest and the process of doing more and being more, is the most powerful pathway to happiness.
Everything people ever want is because, at the core of it, they believe that it will make them happy. The goal could be a relationship, a house, or a career. But I’ve learned that happiness is, in and of itself, a choice you make every day. Every morning I ask myself, “How do I get to happy today?” Then I keep asking questions: Is happiness freedom? Is it honesty? Is it the passion you feel when you’re doing something you love? Is it feeling wanted? Is it feeling needed? Is it giving and being of service? Or is it all of those things?
I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself these questions because, while I work extraordinarily hard and I play hard too, I want to make sure that I’m spending the limited time and energy I have on the things that make me happy.
Life changes every day, every minute. You’re thrown things that don’t seem fair at times; you’re thrown things that you don’t know how you’re going to handle, or if you can even bear to handle them. But happiness is something that you have to find every single day. It’s not a “Been there, done that.” It’s not “Well, I finished the happiness test and I got an A and now I’m moving on to the next thing.” The quest for happiness is an ongoing pursuit, maybe the most important test of our lives. Because at the end of your life, if your stack of happy days is bigger than your stack of miserable days, then yours was a life well lived. It’s that simple.
My goal with Wake Up Happy is to set you up for the win in your own life, no matter how many obstacles appear to be in the way. To quote lyrics sung by the legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, “The difficult I’ll do right now. The impossible will take a little while.” So let’s get started.
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