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FIND YOUR PURPOSE—PURSUE YOUR DREAM
By Emmitt Smith
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 2011 Emmitt Smith
All right reserved.
Chapter One CLAIM YOUR DREAMS
If there were prophets among you, I, the Lord, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams.
NUMBERS 12:6, NLT
Before I'd ever scored a touchdown for the University of Florida Gators or the Dallas Cowboys, I crossed the goal line untouched hundreds and hundreds of times. I did it as a small boy in the park across the street from my grandmother's house in Pensacola, Florida. My field of dreams was a little park called Malaga Square—though back then I never knew those raggedy two acres even had a name. It was just a sparse patch of ground, but it gave a kid from the housing projects room to run.
And run I did.
My cousins usually played football with me there, but often I'd be the first on the field. While waiting for the others to show up, I'd throw the football into the air and let my imagination run as far as it would take me:
There's the kickoff. The football is in the air, and Emmitt Smith catches it at the five-yard line. He runs to the left sideline and makes it to the twenty, but here comes a tackler. He spins away, and now Emmitt Smith turns into Jim Brown bulling through another pair of tacklers. A cut to his right, and he's Tony Dorsett sprinting to the far sideline. He hurdles a defender, and now he's Walter Payton, weaving through the defense and sprinting toward the goal line. He's at the thirty, the twenty, the ten ... Emmitt Smith scores a touchdown!
The record book says that in my NFL career, I ran for 164 touchdowns and 18,355 yards, surpassing Walter Payton's all-time leading rushing record of 16,726 yards. I'm here to tell you I ran for a lot more touchdowns and a lot more yards at old Malaga Square. As I sprinted down the field of my boyhood dreams, I'd transform into each of my football heroes one after the other, imitating each player's signature moves.
I could hear the roar of the crowd with every cut back, every spin, and every fresh burst of speed. My creative mind was racing even faster than my legs. I was a boy at play, but something far more important and lasting was taking place in that park.
A child was running after his dreams on the power of his imagination.
In a sense, I've never stopped running.
And I've never stopped dreaming.
A CHAMPIONSHIP-LEVEL DREAMER
I believe there are great things in store for my life and yours, too. Greatness is not reserved for VIPs. Happiness and fulfillment are not limited commodities. The question is, are you willing to do whatever it takes to become the person you need to be, to achieve the life you want to live?
If you are happy right where you are, that's fine. But if you feel that God has more in store for you, then I encourage you to step into your workout gear and read on. The first step in this process is to trust in your vision for that better life and dare to dream big.
The Bible says in Numbers 12:6,
If there were prophets among you, I, the Lord, would reveal myself in visions. I would speak to them in dreams. (NLT)
Wiser men than I have commented over the centuries about the awesome power of our visions, our dreams, and the human imagination. Poets, philosophers, writers, great military and political leaders, and probably even a rap star or two have noted that our visions and dreams are the pathways and portals to a better life. That has certainly been true for me, and it can be true for you, too.
We are all born naked into this world, but each of us is fully clothed in potential. Every one of us possesses unique gifts that we must embrace and develop to the fullest. But we can't do that if we don't have a vision. We can't do that if we're afraid to dream.
I'm not referring to idle daydreams or grandiose, self-centered imaginings. I'm talking about the way you visualize or picture the life you yearn for, the life that God is calling you to. Having vision means picturing in your mind what it will be like and how you will achieve it and build upon it. Dreaming means "rehearsing" what you see, playing it over and over in your mind until it becomes as real to you as your life right now.
The two go together. Vision gets the dreams started. Dreaming employs your God-given imagination to reinforce the vision. Both are part of something I believe is absolutely necessary to building the life of a champion, a winner, a person of high character who is consistently at the top of whatever game he or she is in.
I was a championship-level dreamer as a boy. When we were riding in our parents' car through the nicer neighborhoods of Pensacola, my sister and brothers and I would spot our favorite big homes and claim them:
"That brick one's mine!"
"The house with the big front porch is mine!"
Other times we'd sit on the curb in our own neighborhood and claim the nicest cars passing by.
"Oh, that Mustang is mine!"
"That Cadillac is mine!"
What can I say? We were just crazy kids. But even though we came from a low-income family, we dared to dream that anything was possible for us, anything was within our reach if we were willing to work for it and keep reaching for it.
Winning isn't something that just happens to you on the field when the whistle blows or the crowd roars. Winning is something that is built physically and mentally every day that you train and every night that you dream. The victories we achieve, then, are the result of the vision that fuels our commitment to making our dreams a reality.
THE POWER OF DREAMS
As children in a middle- to low-income family, my brothers and sister and I had fewer advantages than most. So my journey offers good evidence that when you dare to claim your dreams and always strive to do your best, nothing can hold you back.
Your dream may not be anything like mine. You may have no interest at all in playing sports or developing a business. Your idea of a "better life" may involve making more money so you can help your family ... or simplifying your lifestyle so you can live on less money and have more free time. You may have an inner yearning to paint or to travel the world or to establish an AIDS clinic in Africa or to retire to the mountains.
Your dreams will vary with your interests, your desires, your stage of life, and your receptiveness to God's leading in your life. But until you dare to claim these dreams—to acknowledge them to yourself and to others and to rehearse them in your mind and heart—you will never get started. Your dreams provide the energy you need to move forward and keep striving to do and be your best.
My life, like yours, did not come with any guarantees of success. At five feet nine inches tall, I was not exactly the prototype for the modern running back. Many scouts thought I was too small and too slow to play beyond high school. The doubters were proven wrong because they could not measure the reach of my imagination or the size of my heart. My ability to dream, to develop vision for my life and then make it happen through commitment and consistent effort, sent me soaring to heights beyond anyone's expectations—except my own.
After playing football in high school and then in three record-breaking seasons at the University of Florida, I entered the draft after my junior year and was selected by the Dallas Cowboys. I went on to thrive for fifteen years in the NFL, won a few Super Bowls, broke a few records, and in August of 2010, I am honored to say, I was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Reporters and sports broadcasters who covered the induction ceremony again noted my lack of size and speed, but one thing they gave me credit for was having great vision on the field. Many showed game films of me running and stopping or cutting just as two defenders descended on me, causing them either to miss me altogether or to run into each other as I charged on toward the goal line. I loved it when they hit each other instead of me!
I do have exceptional peripheral vision, but my inner vision is even better—and over the long haul that's what really has made the difference in my life. The Bible says in Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (KJV). Your inner vision, your ability to picture a better life for yourself and to pursue it, can save your life—and elevate it too.
As a boy and even later, I would first "see" myself achieving something—like playing college and professional football or having a career in the construction industry—and then my vision would drive my dreams. In my dreams, I would see myself fulfilling that vision over and over until I believed in my heart and soul that I could make my dreams happen in reality.
That ability to "see" helped me on the football field, too. I had a sort of inner big screen that allowed me to "see" changes in coverage. I could usually look at a defense and sense where the hole would be, regardless of where the play was called. Admittedly, this process became more challenging in the NFL, where defenses are far more sophisticated than in high school and college. In high school I could often point my fullback to where I felt a hole would be just prior to the snap. Every now and then, just to test this inner vision, I'd run at the hole I'd seen in my mind's eye with my real eyes shut. (Kids, don't try this at home!)
I've heard many other athletes describe similar experiences in which they envision themselves reacting to a situation before it actually happens. Quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers often talk about seeing a play unfold in their minds split seconds before it happens on the field. Some of this comes with the repetitive training that athletes go through. We run plays over and over and over again in practice, and then we watch them on film. Those plays keep running in our minds even after we go home. I know at night my mind would keep running the Cowboys' plays over and over until they became embedded in my subconscious and my responses on the field became instinctive.
Still, some of the things that have shown up on my mind's inner big screen are difficult to explain. Even scientists admit that our understanding of the human brain and its workings is still very limited. I do believe that most of us, if not all of us, have a degree of intuition, a so-called sixth sense—the ability to see in our mind's eye beyond what our own eyes tell us. I experienced that sort of vision in my athletic career, and I've also had it in my business life, when I would look at a vacant lot and "see" a commercial building on it with thriving stores and businesses.
I've worked at developing that sixth sense. It's a great asset, a gift of God, but only if you trust and then act on it. Creating a vision for your life is an essential first step, but your dreams will live only in your imagination unless you pursue them purposefully and relentlessly.
NOT JUST ANY DREAM
Having a vision for something better and dreaming of fulfilling that vision are important keys to creating the life God wants for you. Some people wander in the darkness. My dreams gave me a lighted path. Holding a vision of a better life in mind also served to motivate me because I saw that there were greater possibilities awaiting me. When you have a vision of yourself doing great things, that vision excites you and, in the process, prepares you for greatness.
Vision also keeps you hungry. When I won one rushing title, I was happy but not fully satisfied, because I saw more for myself. I wanted to win as many rushing titles as possible because I had noticed that my rushing titles and Super Bowl victories tended to coincide. I stayed hungry because I wanted to help Dallas win more Super Bowls.
So welcome your visions of a better life, dare to dream of what your heart deeply desires, and then pursue those dreams with all your heart, mind, body, and soul.
Know that whatever you lack, God will provide—given, of course, that you've opened your heart to what God wants for your life.
That's important, because it's a mistake to assume God will automatically support anything you happen to want or desire or picture for yourself. After all, not all dreams are from God. The people who brought my ancestors as slaves to America had a vision for all the money they could make with that particular "business venture." I don't believe God supported that. So if you want a truly winning life—something more than just "making it" in the world—it's always important to check your dreams and desires against God's standards of right and wrong.
At the same time, I don't believe you actually need a specific vision from the Lord—like a voice in a dream or handwriting on the wall—in order to claim your dreams and go for them. Many of our dreams, especially when we're children, are simply part of the package God made when he put us on earth. They grow out of our interests and talents and yearnings and imaginations, combined with the circumstances we find ourselves in. They don't have to involve a direct revelation to be from God.
That was true for me. I'm not a psychic. I have no superpowers. I was just a kid who had faith in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the dreams he gave me. But those dreams were what propelled me toward the person I needed to become, the life I believe God had in mind for me.
Whatever your circumstances are right now, no matter how hard you have it, no matter how many challenges you face, you can move to a better life if you have a vision for where you want to go. When your vision is planted inside you by God, he will help you do whatever it takes to make it a reality.
I believe in the power of dreams because I've had several incredible incidents in my life in which my wildest dreams became wonderful realities. Let me give you a couple of examples.
VISION NUMBER ONE
I was seven years old, sprawled on the floor in our Pensacola living room and watching a Sunday afternoon football game on television with some relatives and my father, Emmit Jr. (He spells his name with one t instead of two.) The Dallas Cowboys were one of the teams playing. I liked their uniforms. I liked the way they played the game. At one point about halfway through it, I turned to my father and said, "Pop, one day I'm going to play professional football, and I'm going to play for the Dallas Cowboys."
That bold statement resulted from a vision that fueled a dream. I couldn't hold a football in one hand at that point, but I was already getting a mental picture of what I wanted to do in my life. I wasn't aware at the time that my father had been a very good football player, so where did the vision come from? Was it merely my desire—or was it my desire coupled with God's plan for my life? I can't say for sure, but I do believe God has unique ways of revealing and fulfilling his plans for us. My professional football career serves as a prime example of that.
VISION NUMBER TWO
Let's move ahead to my senior season in high school. I was named the Gatorade Player of the Year, and part of the prize included two tickets for the Super Bowl, which would be played that year at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. As a Christmas present, I invited Johnny Nichols, the quarterback on our team and my best friend, to go with me to the biggest game of the year.
Think about all that had to happen to put my best friend and me—two kids from the wrong side of the tracks in Pensacola, Florida—side by side in the crowd at the Super Bowl. If God's hand wasn't hard at work to pull that off, well, I don't know what to tell you. Nor can I tell you what made me say this to Johnny during the game: "You know what? One day I want to play in a Super Bowl in this stadium."
At that point there were a lot of people who didn't think I had the slightest chance of becoming a starter at college or even playing at the Division I level. How could I be so bold as to say out loud to a good friend—one with a very good memory—that one day I'd be an NFL player in a Super Bowl at the Rose Bowl? That's crazy. And Johnny may have said exactly that when the words slipped out of my mouth.
I've come to realize that the greatest gift God has given me, besides his love and the love of my family, is this gift of vision—the ability to see beyond where I am to where I want to be. I've often talked about that in news articles and interviews—mostly as it pertains to football. Rarely have I shared with anyone the other dreams that began when I was playing in that Pensacola park across the street from my grandmother's house.
When we were still in the early years of grade school and not playing football, baseball, or basketball, my brothers and friends and I would sit on the bare, dusty ground of the park with Popsicle sticks in our hands. Using the dirt as our drawing board, we'd map out entire neighborhoods. This was way before iPads—not that our families could have afforded them anyway. So we were left to our imaginations and wooden Popsicle sticks to dig out roads for our Matchbox cars.
I wasn't just interested in the cars, though. I always drew an outline of the home I wanted to have one day. My dream homes were very different from the segregated apartment buildings we lived in. They were big Leave It to Beaver houses with generous yards and white picket fences—like the places we saw when we ventured across the tracks to the more affluent areas of Pensacola.
Those better, safer neighborhoods weren't really that far away, but they almost seemed like they were from another universe. Yet I dared to dream I could live in one someday, unlikely as it seemed. Maybe I could even design good places for other people to live. That was the beginning of yet another dream, one that I'm still working on as I build my construction and real-estate businesses.
I encourage you to dream that way too, to embrace even your unlikely visions—and not just for your own sake, but for the sake of others as well.
Excerpted from GAME ON by Emmitt Smith Copyright © 2011 by Emmitt Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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