Dashed Dreams Didn’t Temper My Passion for Sports

As a kid, I always felt out of place.

I barely remember anything from my first six years in South Korea, where I was born and raised, primarily by my grandparents.

Until I arrived at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, I had only spoken Korean words, eaten Korean foods, seen Korean people.

Upon arrival in the U.S., I met my new adopted parents and had weeks to “acclimate” before starting first grade.

Growing up on or near military bases throughout my childhood, I often learned in harsh ways that I wasn’t black, Hispanic or white. Most crushing of all, though, was being around other Koreans and realizing most of them didn’t think I was “Korean” enough.

I sought refuge in sports and books.

Through the former, I developed my first friendships and an unending source of fun. Through the latter, I discovered the inspiring journeys of remarkable people and an endless stream of fascination.

But my first dreams were all interconnected.

They were, in order: To become a professional bowler, then a professional tennis player, professional baseball player, professional soccer player, play Division 1 sports, compete in the Olympics.

My parents goal for me was vastly different: Become the first person in our family to earn a degree from a four-year college.

Growing up, an “A” was only one acceptable grade on my report cards.

Anything less meant a forfeiture of my privileges, including sports!

Though I fell short of my own dreams, my passion for sports cultivated in me characteristics such as persistence, resilience and resourcefulness.

In an episode of my podcast, I asked my seventh-grade baseball and basketball coach what he remembered most about me.

“Your work ethic,” Retired Air Force Master Sergeant David Smith recalls. “You weren’t the best, but you sure wanted to be the best.”

That mindset served me well, earning acceptance to the journalism school at Northwestern University, becoming, at the age of 24, the youngest lead beat writer at a major newspaper on a professional beat in the country and continuing to cover the NFL with distinction for 17 seasons.

But children can inspire change.

My interests started to shift; I spent less time tracking sports and more time delving into faith and fatherhood. I have an insatiable desire to sift through stories the world over in pursuit of examples that show my children — our children! — how to unlock the greatness in each of them.

In middle school and high school, I was constantly reminded how I was different, and the compounding pain of those rejections sowed in me a yearning to find the common ground with others.

That is one of my superpowers — and I joyfully share those insights and stories with children through my books, through my talks, through my podcasts and through my stories.