They’re Always Recruiting!

Mike Eskridge. That was his name. The guy who almost ruined the Summer of 1991 for me. I remember it like it was yesterday, a hot and muggy day in Davis, CA (about 20 miles outside of Sacramento). Shawn and I had just finished running, part of an intense offseason training program that, in all, totaled about six hours of work every day. Shawn was my roommate for most of my college career. Like me, he played defensive back and together, we were as disciplined and intense as you could be, dedicated to an offseason program we mostly designed ourselves that included running, lifting weights, stretching, countless football drills, and hours of film study. And in one conversation, all of it seemed futile.

We were chatting with our Defensive Coordinator. We’d already showered after our workout and were in the team’s film library, affectionately known as “the Cave” because it was on the top floor of our training center, in a dark corner office with no windows or natural light. It was the tail end of recruiting season and he was finishing up some paperwork and making a few final phone calls. The look on his face revealed that he was pleased, in an unusually pleasant mood. He, like many a defensive coach, tended to be surly. But not on this day. So I asked him, “What you so happy ’bout, Coach?” “Just had a good signing period,” he said. “That’s all.” I naturally had to ask him what kind of additions to our team we could expect. And the first name out of his mouth was Mike Eskridge, a cornerback from Monterey Peninsula College, a junior college located about fifteen minutes from where I’d attended high school. I’d worked out with Mike a few times during the summers while in high school and knew he was good. In fact, he was one of the smoothest and most natural defensive backs I’d ever seen. To say I was upset would be an understatement. I’d go so far as to say I was devastated.

My career was over. I might as well quit now. Or at least transfer schools. That’s how I felt. For the first couple of weeks after I discovered Mike would be joining our team, all I did was mope around, feeling sorry for myself. I still worked out, but it wasn’t as intense. I went through the motions on my daily routine, but it wasn’t the same. Shawn was the first to point it out to me. Good friends have a way of doing that. There was nothing I could do about Mike, he’d tell me. He and I were still in line to be starters sooner than later, he’d assure me. But I’m stubborn. Always have been and likely always will be. When I get in these moods, it’s hard to get me out of them. My family and friends have come to learn that I have to let these feelings kinds of run their course.

Fortunately, though, I come from great stock. My father is as resilient as they come and my mom taught me to never quit at anything I do. (My brother and sister are pretty tough cookies, too.) And as always, after several days of mourning what I thought might be the death of my football career, I woke up with a renewed sense of energy. It wasn’t quite optimism. It certainly wasn’t joy. But I did feel relieved, convinced that I had control of my future and destiny. That if I was to be supplanted by this newcomer, robbed of my place in line as the next great player in the school’s long history, I’d only have myself to blame. But above all else, I learned a valuable lesson that I’ve carried with me ever since.

They are always recruiting!

Always. Whether it’s your football coach, your boss, or even your girlfriend, they are always recruiting. The sooner you grasp that universal fact, the better. The truth is, while it’s not the best of news , it’s actually liberating. When you understand that you are replaceable—all of us are, really— you worry less about the external world and focus your attention on the things within your control. Moreover, when you appreciate the other side’s position, you almost expect it. It is a coach’s job, after all, to put the best team on the field. With injuries, graduations, and other departures, continually brining in new players is the only way. Your job or work is no different. While you may have a great personality and are a pleasure to be around, your performance is the ultimate measure of your worth. And if you are a “B” player, trust the fact that you are an “A” player away from being unemployed. Alas, your personal life is certainly not impervious. I think Chris Rock, the great comedian, may have said it best when he declared “a man is only as faithful as his options.” Of course I don’t necessarily believe and certainly don’t endorse that statement. But like most great comedy, there is some truth to it. And while you shouldn’t walk around questioning the love of those closest to you every day; nurturing a relationship with an understanding that you are replaceable—especially when it means you take care of yourself and your mate with the same intensity as you did when you met her— can only strengthen your bond.

Because of this “Law of Recruitment”, I wake up every day ready to compete. For my job and career. For my present and my future. For my wife and family. And for my life. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would you rather WIN the starting job or have it given to you by default? Would you rather be “The Man” or the man for now? I, for one, choose to control my destiny, to focus on what Steven Covey calls in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, my circle of influence. And if I’m not good enough; then, well; I’m just not good enough.

Mike Eskridge was as good as advertised. But I continued to work and compete and was pretty good myself. I became a starter and had what I’d call a successful football career. But the coaches didn’t stop recruiting. Each year, a new crop of players was brought in. Young, fast, athletic kids looking to take my job. But I was a little older by then, maybe even a little more mature. And unlike when I was a whiny sophomore, afraid of losing my future to a quiet guy from down the coast, I now embraced the challenge. Instead of running and hiding from the “Law of Recruitment”, I looked it squarely in the face and said “Bring it On!”

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

7 Responses to They’re Always Recruiting!

  1. SP says:

    That’s was dope. Good ol eskridge. Man, mike had the best hips and feet around. Remember how he used to smile when chump wr’s would run comebacks??

    • bbluford says:

      Yes! He reminded me of an old wise Kung Fu Master. “In time, you will learn young man. In time you will learn.” … but for now, let me take this interception the other way!

  2. Julie Manriquez says:

    Very good advice to all who are entering the rat race, whether it is college or career. No one is irreplaceable. Also, as you stated in so many words here, and as Michaelangelo said up until his 87th year: “ancora imparo”…..”I am always learning.” Thank God we never stop!

  3. Leigh Ochinero says:

    very inspirational story. I appreciate the authenticity of it, and also agree wholeheartedly. We are all one loss away from the minors as I used to be told. Savor our victories, and embrace our losses as opportunities for growth. Thanks Brother Bobby for those words of encouragement on a Tuesday morning that I needed something other than caffeine to wake me up!

    • bbluford says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Leigh. You also make the perfect point: we need to embrace our losses. As tough as they seem when we are in the eye of the storm, they are absolutely necessary for long-term growth. Our society, unfortunately, has conditioned us to want things NOW. We forget how long it takes to build valuable things. Nothing worth having, we all discover sooner or later, comes easily or quickly.

      The point I tried to drive home is that we should all enjoy the competitive spirit that lies within all of us. The Law of Natural Selection (in all creatures, really) means that we have embedded inside of us a drive to be the best we can, to survive. Rather than run from it, we should welcome it as a way to keep us on our toes. By remembering that the guy in the cube next to us or the girl who also submitted her resume or fighting the same fight that we are, we stay ahead of the game.

  4. Patrick DePalma says:

    I’ve been thinking about this often the last few months and your post focused this idea a bit more, thanks.

    • bbluford says:

      You are very welcome, Patrick! Remember, as good as we are, there is always someone right behind us. I like to live by this mantra that I read on one of those corny (but I love ’em) Successories Posters. It featured a lion lying in the wait in the foreground and a gazelle off in the distance. The text reads:

      Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed…every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle…when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

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