"Opportunities enable you to demonstrate your knowledge and apply your skills." — Jonas Cain
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Neither option was ideal and Brandon Burlsworth wasn’t entirely sure what he should do. He was good—but was he good enough by Division 1 standards?
On the one hand, he had a full ride scholarship to play football for a small university team—but on the other hand, all his life Brandon dreamed of only one thing: playing for the Arkansas Razorbacks. But the Razorbacks didn’t make him an offer.
Brandon had two choices: 1) Compromise on his dream with the safe offer, or 2) bet on himself, double down, and pay his own way as a walk-on at the University of Arkansas—but with no guarantee of ever earning a scholarship or even being given the opportunity to play on the field as a Razorback.
At some point, we all face our own rendition of this kind of problem—and what we decide to do ultimately comes down to how much we believe in ourselves and how bad we want it.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with betting on ourselves with calculated risks when we’re called to such a path, yet there’s also nothing wrong with taking the safe route when we’re unsure.
As the presenter Norberto Jansenson reminds us: “For life to work in your favor, you have to pay in advance, without having any certainty of what you will get in return.” This payment will always require sacrificing something of value; after all, as Norberto further suggests, “Surrendering something that is of no value to you, is not surrendering at all.”
What would you do if you were Brandon? Would you sacrifice your dream in favor of security? Or would you sacrifice security in favor of your dream? How much do you believe in yourself? And how bad do you want it?
After graduating from high school in 1994, Brandon made the tough decision to sacrifice his scholarship by enrolling at the University of Arkansas. But he only had enough money to pay for one year, and if he wasn’t able to prove his value to the Razorbacks within that time, Brandon would have to drop out of school with his dreams crushed and with no way of earning a college degree.
Once on the team, Brandon was sidelined as a backup player, limiting his chances to prove his value, but he persevered by finding other ways to stand out.
He became known for being the first player on the field for practice every day, and the last to leave. And when his fellow teammates went off campus for parties and vacations, Brandon would stay on campus to continue working and training.
Brandon knew this was his only opportunity to prove himself, and he took full advantage of it by leaning in and making the commitment to go all the way by doing the work. And this dedication paid off. By the end of his freshman year, Brandon earned a full scholarship and a starting position on the offensive line.
By believing in himself and making sacrifices, Brandon’s dream of becoming a Razorback had finally come true. Over time, Brandon went on to become a captain of the team, received the coveted College Football All-America award, and was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts as a starter for the 1999 season.
Brandon’s example serves as a testament of what is possible when we seek and take advantage of opportunities worth pursuing, and if we ended the story here, we would have a happy story to inspire our hearts—however we would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge that not all stories have such happy endings.
Regardless of knowledge, skills, and talent—and regardless of how bad we want it—not everyone achieves their goals. There are simply too many forces outside of our control that influence outcomes. What’s more, even when we do achieve our goals, these achievements never lead to true and lasting happiness—for eventually even this too shall pass.
Acknowledging this truth is an empowering reminder that we have an opportunity to experience everlasting joy not in what we achieve, but in who we are and how we live our day to day lives—regardless of the outcomes.
And Brandon’s legacy serves as a worthy testament of this. Just two weeks after being drafted by the Colts, his career and life ended suddenly in 1999 when he was involved in a fatal automobile accident.
Today, the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation continues his legacy by supporting the physical and spiritual needs of children—especially those with limited opportunities—helping young people develop values and a lifestyle that exemplify Brandon’s spirit of faith, hard work, and character.
Perhaps the most powerful insight to be gained from Brandon’s story can be summed up in this poignant knock-knock joke:
Opportunity? That’s impossible! Opportunity doesn’t knock twice.
In other words: When you believe in yourself and when you want it bad enough, do it now. Tomorrow’s never promised—today may be your last chance.
What opportunities are you taking advantage of today? And when not presented with opportunities, how are you making your own opportunities?
Hashtag Positivity can help you and the people you lead achieve growth by design through community engagement keynotes and assemblies, leadership development workshops, and change management coaching. Connect with Jonas today to discuss your challenges, goals, and obstacles.
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Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.