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Why you should lean in to challenges

Listen in to learn where my confidence comes from.

I ran for my middle school cross country team.
I learned some surprising things.
Because I never ran a single race where I didn't desperately look for a rock to trip on, or a bump to roll my ankle on, so that I can fake an injury and wouldn't have to finish the race.
But I never faked an injury.
And I never quit.
In fact I learned to lean in when my leg muscles started screaming at me to find a way to quit, I could lean my body forward, and just keep one foot in front of the other to keep upright.

I learned that my body can handle more than it first appears to be able to handle.

During middle school, I lived in Billings, Montana. My home was surrounded by cows (literally-- they grazed in my back yard), and I was a short drive from Yellowstone, where I regularly saw buffalo.

Interestingly, cows and buffalo respond to storms in opposite ways.
A cow will look for dry ground and will lay down until the storm has passed. But a buffalo is different. When the winds are strong enough, buffalo face the wind and begin walking into it. They lean in.

This week, join me.

I want to be the buffalo.

I want to walk straight into the storm rather than lying down or faking an injury.

Storms come when I try new things, or do things that really matter to me.

And so I'm okay with storms coming my way. I just want to make sure I treat them like a buffalo.


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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential, and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

When I was in middle school, I ran cross country for our cross country team, if you don't know what that is, I didn't either. Before I actually began my first practice, I showed up in long jeans and in whatever basketball shoes I was wearing. At the time, I didn't even know that cross country practice was going to be running.

I thought it might have something to do with traveling or talking about what it's like across the country. Anyway, I showed up and turns out that cross country is actually running long distances. So I ran cross country in middle school.

And even though I didn't know what it was before my new friend dragged me to practice that first day, I soon discovered that it would have a major impact on the rest of my life. I learned some things that I could not have learned in other ways. One of the most important lessons that I learned actually really surprised me.

Because once I started actually competing in the races and I pushed my body beyond what I thought my body was capable of doing, there was not a single race that I ran, not even one when my muscles weren't screaming at me and my lungs just burning. And there was not a single race that I've run that I did not really, truly, genuinely try to think of a way to quit every single time I thought about how I could fake an injury. Because if I got injured in the middle of the race, then no one would blame me for not finishing the race.

And I could just rest those poor muscles and my poor burning lungs. And so I would look at rocks and I would look at little divots in the ground, and I would think, oh, I could trip right there, but then I would pass it. Oh, I could pretend to trip over there, or I could pretend to roll my ankle on that rock right there, right about the one to the 1.1

mile mark of every single cross country race that I ever ran. I tried to find an opportunity to fake an injury so that I could quit, but not once did I ever fake that injury, and not once did I ever quit. I always pushed myself.

And in fact, my mo was that I finished really strong. And so I learned that about myself in a way that I don't think I could have learned otherwise. I don't know that I could have possibly pushed my body that hard outside of the parameters of organized athletics.

Well, here's an interesting thing that I learned along the way. Besides the fact that sometimes we just want to quit when things get difficult, and sometimes we push ourselves to the point that our muscles are screaming at us and our lungs are burning. Besides learning that I could make it past that stage, and of course, everyone's heard of the runner's high, and you get past the wall, and then your body feels better again, I experienced all of that, and it's wonderful.

It really is worth the journey, the process of learning how to do long distance running. But eventually I learned a trick that when you're absolutely exhausted, the best way to keep your body moving as fast as possible is to lean in, just lean. So you're a little bit out of balance, you're leaning a little bit in, and that's going to throw your body out of balance and force you to recalibrate.

But you stay upright by keeping 1ft in front of the other. Now, my middle school years were in billings, montana. That's where I grew up at the time.

And montana, for those of you who don't know, is not a very populous state. It's the fourth largest state in the united states, but there are more cows than there are people in this state, and part of yellowstone national park comes into montana. And so I lived in a part of montana that had a lot of cows.

In fact, we literally had cows in our backyard. They weren't ours, but we had cows in our backyard. And we were not far.

We were just a short drive away from yellowstone, where I could see buffalo year round. There were buffalo all the time. And another interesting thing about leaning in when storms come, cows and buffaloes respond to those storms very, very differently.

Cows feel the precipitation, and they feel the storm coming on, and then they find a spot of dry grass, and they lie down, because they feel more comfortable when they're sitting down on the dry ground. And so they keep that spot dry by sitting and just laying there and not moving throughout the entire storm. But buffalo are very different.

Buffalo, when they start to get into a storm, at first it's no big deal. But once the storm gets bad, if the wind starts blowing hard, and the snow starts piling up, and the storm becomes uncomfortable, the buffalo responds very differently. It takes on the storm head on.

It begins walking in the direction of the wind. Now, for those of you who have not had the joy of living through a montana winter or a yellowstone park winter, you might be shocked to hear that every single winter, it seemed the temperature would drop at least once during the year, it would drop to about negative 40. And you might ask, is that celsius or fahrenheit? It doesn't matter.

Actually, that's where the two degrees intersect is at negative 40 degrees. Negative 40 degrees celsius is negative 40 degrees fahrenheit. Fun fact, but that's really, really cold.

No matter how you define it, that's really cold. And these buffalo have lived through that year in and year out. They know what a really cold winter is like.

They know what really bone chilling strong winds feel like. And when they experience a storm, when they feel the snow coming down harder and harder, they look right into it and begin walking into the storm. Now, mathematically, that's the fastest way to get through the storm.

And it's assumed that that's why Buffalo have evolved to have that tendency. But whether they know what they're doing or not, buffalo take on these storms head on. And I think that's beautiful.

I want to challenge all of us, myself included, to be the Buffalo. All right? So this week, that's my mantra. That's going to be my motto this week, I am the Buffalo.

When you face a storm, when you face a challenge, I hope you decide to be the Buffalo rather than being the cow who just kind of looks around and tries to find a dry spot to lay down and wait out the storm. I hope you decide, like, I want to decide to be the Buffalo and take that storm on, head on and walk into the storm, because that's the fastest way out. Put 1ft in front of the other, lean into it.

Even if it throws your body a little bit out of balance, that's going to force you to recalibrate. It's going to force you to stay upright by keeping 1ft in front of the other. And I love that idea.

I want to be the Buffalo. Let's do that together. So earlier in a previous podcast, man, more than a year ago, I did a podcast about Champions Day or Play Like a Champion Today, I think is the title.

And the idea was later on when I played basketball for my high school team, before we went out onto the court to play in front of the audience, in front of the crowd that had assembled, there's a plaque right above the locker room door out onto the gymnasium. And on that plaque it says, Play like a Champion today. And I would always jump up and slam that plaque right before I got out onto the basketball court.

And later, I envisioned myself doing that. Even when it was academically focused right on the basketball court, there was a lot of stress, a lot of pressure. That basketball game meant the world to me.

My life felt like it felt like my life was basketball at the time. And there wasn't a game when I didn't leave everything on the court. I really gave it my all, but I never felt overwhelmed.

I never felt the sense of desperation or stress or I never worried about my mental health because of how much pressure these basketball games had. And later on, I think I took that same approach into my academics. There were times when the tests piled up, when the homework was beyond reasonable, and I knew I just had to take it like a champion.

I had to play like a champion today. And so I even throughout college, I set up what I called my Champions Day. I usually had one day that was far busier than the rest of the days throughout the week.

And I just knew I would have a night class that day. I'd have several of my hard classes, and in between classes, I didn't go home because that was my Champions Day. I just went to the nearest place where I could study, I focused, got tons of work done, and in that one day, I would accomplish as much or sometimes more than the other four weekdays combined.

The Champions Day became an amazing tool that I used to more effectively get through college. And I love how that evolved, because today, as an adult, I don't push myself when I run. I do still run.

I love it. I do still play basketball whenever I have the chance, which is not nearly enough, but I don't play with the same kind of ferocity and the same kind of effort that I used to. I play more for my own health and enjoyment and not necessarily to win any sort of competition.

And the other thing that I still do is I still have Champions Days. The reason I do that now is not because all of my classes are decided for me and I pile them up on one day. I do that because I think it's fantastic.

I've grown to love champions days I know my mind and body even love it, right? I know I'm going to get this surge of dopamine, this absolute thrill when I get to the end of that Champion's Day, and I've accomplished more in one day than I normally do in three or four or five days. It just feels amazing. And so I hope that you as a teenager, as you're listening in, I hope that you do have times when the wind is against you and, you know, you remember to lean in.

Just be the buffalo through that storm and kind of lean in towards it. If you need to schedule a Champions Day for yourself so that you can stack up all your academic requirements and knock them out in one go. But also, I have one last thought to share, and that is I know that these things sometimes scare you, and I think that that's good.

I hope that you need Champions Days, and I hope that you need to remind yourself to be the Buffalo sometimes, because I hope that you have other challenges that are outside of academics. I really do. Even though you're in middle school or high school, as you're listening to this, I hope that you have other things that scare you.

I hope you try things that you're not good at yet, right? I hope you take risks and try things. And even if you're not going to be excellent at first. I hope you're willing to be bad first.

I hope that you do things that really matter to you that really can make the community a better place and that might add some extra pressure, and it might feel like this is more important than some of the other things that you otherwise might have done. And it might feel like there's a storm coming on, and the only way to take that storm is to take it head on. So I hope you do feel that fear sometimes.

I hope you do feel screaming muscles and burning lungs, and I hope you do have those times when you think, man, I just wish I could quit. I wish there was something that I could fake an injury on so that you can get through that race and experience what I did, where at the finish line, you realize, wow, my body handled that really well. I didn't need to quit, and I'm okay.

I've already made it to the finish line, and I'm I'm fine. I hope you experience things that scare you and I hope you choose to do things that scare you because that means you're trying new things and you're taking risks. I hope you're talking to new people and making new friends.

I hope you're doing things that really matter to you. And when they scare you a little bit, I hope you remember that that's okay. And not only that, that's okay.

That that is how you learn and that is how you grow. And I hope that when you face those storms, you choose to be the buffalo. I hope you choose to lean in and face it head on.