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One key to success, according to acclaimed motivational speaker Matt Mayberry, is more than a little bit counterintuitive.
That's the message of Mayberry's forthcoming book, "The Gift of Failure."
And at the Daily Herald's Prep Sports Excellence event May 4 at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Mayberry was able to successfully demonstrate how failure is such an integral part of achievement.
Mayberry's audience was nearly 1,000 high achievers: the best high school athletes as nominated by athletic directors at the nearly 80 schools regularly covered by the Daily Herald, along with many of their parents, coaches and high school sports staff.
Mayberry's own experience on the subject of achievement -- and failure -- takes a dramatic arc.
He excelled as a high school athlete at Hinsdale South, but those years were anything but a smooth ride for him. His favorite sport was baseball, but getting kicked off the team left him with football as his last chance for a future in athletics.
That early baseball failure, along with school suspensions and struggles with peer pressure, inspired Mayberry to become a Division I competitor. He ended having a terrific prep experience for the Hornets' football team and proved his doubters wrong by earning a scholarship at Indiana University.
"The more we experience failure, the more it will lead us to our true purpose and passion," Mayberry said. "In my case, I asked myself, ‘What can I do to pay back the people I've hurt?' "
"I had a conversation with my parents, and that's what really turned it around for me. I just decided right then that I was going to be a Division I athlete."
He ended up excelling for the Hoosiers, too, earning all-Big Ten honors in his senior year.
Doors continued to open for Mayberry after college, and he was trying to make the Bears' roster as a defender when an ankle injury suffered in a preseason game in San Diego sidelined him for almost nine months.
After the injury healed, NFL teams were still showing an interest. But during his time recuperating, Mayberry had a change of heart about his future.
"In some ways, it was hard to tell all the people who just think of you as a football player," Mayberry said. "You feel like you're letting them down. But in my heart, I knew I was done with football."
The consequences of that choice, of course, eventually led him to his current career. Mayberry started with the simple notion of trying to give back, speaking at schools simply because he wanted to help provide a positive message.
He's since traveled the world speaking to all kinds of groups, many at the corporate level, and spreading a message of success.
Mayberry says the thing failure accomplishes, like nothing else, is to provide a sense of perspective.
"All of life is about choices," Mayberry said. "When I was in high school, I did a lot of the wrong things. I chose the wrong opportunities, hung out with the wrong people.
"My experience with losing baseball really opened my eyes. It gave me the perspective I needed. That's really what failure does, and why it's so valuable."
High school athletes will always have challenges with peer pressure, but Mayberry hopes, too, that today's prep standouts can appreciate how special those four years should be. He encouraged all the athletes at the Sears Centre to truly cherish their time in high school.
Mayberry has rubbed shoulders with some of the all-time greats of football, including former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. One thing successful athletes at even the highest levels have in common, Mayberry says, is that they recall their high school days with a special fondness.
"Even when you're talking to Hall of Famers, they all say they had the most fun playing when they were in high school," Mayberry said. "Ten and 20 years down the road, after they're done playing, they all say they'll remember playing on the same team with all their friends the best."
At the very least, the high school athletes who have dedicated themselves to their sport are getting some high-level life tutoring that will last well after graduation day.
"Sports," said Mayberry, "is the greatest teacher you'll find anywhere in your life."