By Malcolm Stewart
Two days after graduating Goldsboro High School in June 1999, I arrived in Chapel Hill. No one told me that the transition from high school to college would be easy. What they did tell me, though, was that I had an opportunity to compete athletically and academically.
Four years later, I graduated with a degree in Management & Society, gained some of my closest friends and acquired the knowledge and confidence to be able to compete in business and support my family financially. I benefitted from the teachings and influences of many outstanding professors and instructors in the classroom and certainly from my teammates, mentors and coaches in the football program.
One decade after graduation, here are five lessons I learned that stay with me today.
1. Grow – Our linebackers coach made it a point to emphasize getting better every day, saying, “You either get better or worse, you never stay the same.” This quote has become a guiding principle in my life. I’m always striving to become a better father, husband, student, employee, son, brother, uncle and friend. I’m always checking the status of my life spiritually, educationally, professionally, socially and financially. This principle has taught me to aim for the moon and to never to settle, to strive to be the very best I can be despite setbacks and problems that inevitably arise.
2. Connect – Being a Tar Heel continuously reminds me to find people you respect and connect with them. Once connected, find the qualities you admire and imitate them. I would not have made it through college without hanging out with regular students who were focused on studying, reading and being great students, who had dreams of managing, owning, running a business or being great employees. One of the greatest lessons learned in connecting is not stratifying individuals based on religious orientation, major, or any other factor that would allow oneself to disconnect from others. The principle of connecting is learning and growing from everyone.
3. Prioritize – It was tough being a student-athlete from 1999-2003 just like juggling the responsibilities of work, family, kids and maintaining our physical health is today. Everything is important, and everything must be taken seriously. We can’t survive long term focusing on one element of our lives. Throughout my four years as a student-athlete, I spent a majority of my time on football-related activities, but I knew some day I would not be able to play football and it was my responsibility to make academics a priority. These priorities were also emphasized by my teammates, coaches, mentors and family members who helped hold me accountable despite the demanding life of a student-athlete.
4. Play to win! – In order to play to win, you have to prepare to win. Our coaches and professors would always harp on practicing like you wanted to play. They wanted us to be in “game mode,” building great habits, building muscle memory for the game. It was all about preparation, having a plan, and executing the plan. There was no winging it athletically, academically or any other aspect of our lives. Playing to win is an attitude, a mentality. It’s the opposite of playing not to lose – doing just enough to get by, not aiming for the moon, being reserved, and not going all out.
5. Trust the process – I weighed 195 pounds when graduating from high school and was recruited as a defensive end. I didn’t know how I could compete with offensive tackles weighing an average of a hundred pounds more, but I knew I had time to grow and brought certain skill sets that would allow me to compete. I also didn’t graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA. But academically, I had an opportunity to compete and get the best education based on my passions and dreams. I wasn’t intimidated and did not lack the confidence to aim to be the man I’ve dreamed of being. My academic past had no control over my aspirations and desires of my future. I also graduated college accepting a sales role with a marketing and advertising company where the average representative’s tenure in the company was around ten years. How would I compete? I would be able to compete by trusting the process, despite the odds being against me.
Being a Tar Heel has taught me to continue to prepare, compete, work hard, and maintain a positive attitude. Do those things and life will always put you in position to win.
I’ve been able to compete by applying the above lessons: growing, connecting and networking with individuals who are teaching, training, and guiding me in the right direction; prioritizing to maintain a great work-life balance; playing to win and playing smart with the right attitude and confidence; and trusting the overall process.
I am honored, privileged, blessed and proud to be a Tar Heel!
Malcolm Stewart, Cary, NC; Tar Heel Letterman 1999-2002
Talent Management Executive, Personify Corp.