CLEVELAND, OH — Two-time Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis electrified the crowd delivering his closing keynote speech at Contractor Leadership LIVE!
The legendary Baltimore Ravens linebacker is now living the life of an entrepreneur, businessman and public speaker, and spent much of his speech discussing how the lessons learned on the gridiron translated into his new life.
He opened with what he calls the Five Ps. “When I started to play,” Lewis said, “I realized something about football and about life: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
Lewis would spend hours watching film before a game, studying his opponents, looking for tiny clues to predict their behavior. He made himself a student of body language. And the little cues, the indications of what the man across the scrimmage line was about to do, would always begin to show in the fourth quarter.
By the fourth quarter the combination of fatigue and pain makes almost every player reveal himself. “Every man,” Lewis said, “shows his flaw in times of weakness.
Lewis had plenty of obstacles to overcome before he ever made it to the NFL. Raised by a single mother who was often in abusive relationships, Lewis grew up knowing poverty, violence, and dealing with sometimes all-consuming anger.
Yet from that childhood came a determination to make a better life for himself and his family, and a fierce work ethic that would be the backbone of his football career. “Never giving up,” he said, “is the real key to life.”
Lewis – just like Weldon long described himself in his opening keynote speech -- is a big believer in writing things down. He has a series of notebooks that he’s kept since 1999 in which he writes down everything: what he ate, who he meets, what he said, what he’s committed himself to. The physical act of putting pen to paper brings clarity and focus to his life. “Write the vision,” he said, “and make it plain.”
Everyone, Lewis said, needs to develop a plan to achieve their goals. The next step is to build a strong foundation to make those goals achievable. “If you don’t have a strong foundation, you won’t be able to build anything.”
For Lewis as a young man, that foundation was his body. He talks about a workout routine he created during a difficult period in his life when his mother was being abused. He would take random cards from the deck. A six meant six sit-ups. A face card meant ten sit-ups. An Ace? 25. A Joker? 50!
And he would work his way through the deck of cards like that – more than 500 sit-ups. THEN he would do the same thing with push-ups. It was all work towards the foundation he needed to pursue his goal of athletic excellence.
Once we’ve set our goals and laid the foundation that lets us work towards them, there are still hazards along the journey. The first are obstacles that need to be overcome or circumvented.
For Lewis, the biggest obstacles in his football career were injuries. He had nine surgeries during his time in the NFL. He would make good use of the down-time recuperation forced on him, what he calls his “cocoon seasons,” spent mostly in reading and watching game film.
Sometimes, in the midst of everything we have to throw it all away and try something new.
When it came time to get back on the field he pushed himself to return, not just to is old level, but to an even higher level than before. “There is glory,” he said, “on the other side of pain.
But when repeated injuries and time began to take their toll, Lewis found that if he couldn’t achieve his goals physically, he would find another way. “Sometimes, we have to change where our greatest strength lies,” Lewis said. “Sometimes, in the midst of everything we have to throw it all away and try something new.”
That meant upping his mental game, drawing on his intelligence and years of experience to read an offence and direct the defense. But it also meant drawing on his spirit: as a team leader, as an inspiration to his fellow players. “I realized that my greatness lied with my team’s greatness.” It is as that Ray Lewis, the motivator, the sidelines preacher, that he is best remembered today.
But more pernicious – and probably the reason more people don’t achieve their goals – are the thousands of distractions the modern world presents us with every day.
As a father of six Lewis worries that the new world of social media is offering a constant barrage of distractions to the new generation; that these distractions are making meaningful work towards meaningful goals more difficult than ever before.
Every time we look at our phones, Lewis said, we are surrendering part of our energy to someone else’s goals, to someone else’s agenda. “You must accept that your energy is a blessing and a gift,” he said. Save your energy for the times you need it. That, according to Lewis, is what makes a champion.
Every day, sometimes all day, we expose ourselves to self-doubt, to hate, denial and negativity. And for what? Likes? “There should be a Respect button,” Lewis said. “A Character button. An Integrity button.”
All the phones in Lewis’ house have to be on the dresser in his room by 9:00 PM – none of his kids go to bed with a phone. If someone wants to do business with him they have to call or meet him – not text or message him. As a public figure, he tries to make the distinction between his brand and his identity, and to demonstrate the difference to his children.
And again, if it’s important to him, it gets written down, by hand, in his book.
Hall of fame
Ray Lewis told the crowd in his concluding remarks that he’s been nominated to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for 2018.
With all the success he’s achieved in his life, he still has goals as a businessman and entrepreneur. But they are not what he lives his life for.
“I live for one thing in my life,” Lewis said, “to make sure my kids see me as an example to them. Because when I’m gone, all that will be left is my example.”