Letter to My Younger Self


Dear Young Var,

Allow me to be the first to congratulate you. It’s April 2000, and you’ve just fulfilled the first part of your dream — getting drafted. Next stop, Washington.

That’s a big deal, bruh. You should be proud.

But before you head to D.C. to start your career and build your new life, I want to talk to you a little bit about the road ahead. I know you’re riding pretty high right now, still hyped about being the No. 2 pick and excited to prove yourself at the next level. So you probably aren’t ready for some of the things I’m about to tell you. But if you want to avoid some of the pitfalls ahead and ultimately become a successful person — someone who creates positive change in his life and the world — it all starts right here with what I’m about to tell you.

So please, do us both a favor: Just shut up and listen.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Images

When you show up at Redskins Park and sign that piece of paper that officially makes you a millionaire, everything is going to change.

Because money changes everything.

You’re not just leaving college for the NFL, Var. You’re leaving the controlled world for the real world. To this point, you’ve had a small group of people from which to choose your friends — kids from your neighborhood, people in your classes, guys on your team. But now, it’s everybody. And because you’re going to have the money and the social status of being a professional athlete, the unfortunate reality is that a lot of people are going to want a piece. So your definition of friend is gonna have to change.

If a friend wants to go to dinner and he can’t pay for himself, then homeboy ain’t eating. Or at least he’s paying next time. If he disagrees, that’s a wrap. And if you’re going on a trip and someone wants you to pay for their ticket … guess what? That’s not a friend. That’s a tagalong. Beware of those tagalongs, bruh — the people who are riding your coattails. Because all they’re gonna do is slow you down.

When it comes to your pool of friends, narrow and deep is better than wide and shallow. Your inner circle should be a dot, and the walls guarding it should be ironclad.

So the first thing you need to do is audit your inner circle. You’re gonna have to make some cuts, bruh. That’s just the truth. And you can’t have any shame in that. No guilt. No regret. Because in life, there are some areas in which you need to be selfish.

This is one of them.

When you cut people out of your life, some might come back at you like, Oh, I see how it is. You went and got brand new, huh?

Everything is going to change. Because money changes everything.

That’s going to be tough, because you’re a people-pleaser. But trust me … if anybody comes back at you like that, all it will do is prove you made the right decision.

In your new life, the basis of a friendship should be the value the other person brings to your life. If you’re the smartest or the most successful person in the room … then you’re in the wrong room, bruh. Surround yourself with people who push you to be great in football, in business, in relationships — in whatever way you are trying to excel.

It’s going to be difficult, deciding who’s who. Because it’s going to feel like everybody wants something. You’ll be overwhelmed with people — some you know, and some you’ve never met in your life — hitting you up saying they got a business opportunity, or an investment, or an idea … and they just need you to put up some money to make it happen.

Well, here’s how you should respond.

“Hey, that sounds great. So how much money are you putting up?”

Do that … and then see how quiet people get.

Watch how they get nervous or defensive.

That’s because they’re not putting anything up. They want you to take all the risk.

My advice is to stay away from anybody who claims to be bringing opportunities your way. Because there is no such thing as a can’t-miss investment, or easy money, or a sure thing.

Evan Vucci/AP Images

See, you’re about to sign a piece of paper that will instantly make you a millionaire.

It sounds easy, doesn’t it? Like … all you gotta do is sign.

Well, don’t forget how long it takes to make money. Because you’re not getting paid just to sign that paper. You’re also getting paid for being the No. 1 recruit out of high school, and for all the late nights watching film and long summers in the weightroom at North Hills High. You’re getting paid for being the best player in college football last year at Penn State, and for all the hard work and dedication it took to achieve that. You’re getting paid for all the work you’ve done in your entire life to become the player and the person that you are. Signing that paper is just the final step. A formality.

Here’s an example of what I’m trying to tell you….

It’ll be 2006 and you’ll be sitting in the Giants locker room (more on how you’ll become a Giant in a minute). You’ll notice some kids running around — the Mara kids, from the family that owns the team. They’ll be cleaning up after players, organizing their lockers for them … just keeping things tight.

Your first thought will be, What are these kids doing? They’re gonna own the team one day, and they’re in here cleaning up after players?

Then it will hit you that … they’re interning. They’re learning. They’re experiencing what it means to run a team. They’re investing in their future business.

So when it’s time for you to venture out into the business world, I want you to remember that. Remember that you didn’t make millions for signing a piece of paper, but for the years and years of hard work that came before. Remember that kids who will one day inherit a professional football team were right there, in the trenches, cleaning out lockers.

Because there will come a time in your life when you decide to open a restaurant … but you’ve never worked a grill before, have you? Never run a fry station. Never served a table. Never mopped a floor. Well, when the business goes south and you’re forced to shut it down, you’ll wish you had.

If you’re the smartest or the most successful person in the room … then you’re in the wrong room, bruh.

So whatever you plan to do — open a restaurant, a training facility, a sports management company, whatever it is — understand that throwing some money down doesn’t qualify you to be the CEO on Day One. You need to educate yourself. Find the dopest restaurateur around and the best businesspeople available, and learn from them. Invest in yourself. Be an intern.

Mop the floors, Var.

Build your network. Leverage your relationships. Ask for advice. Hire an agency to help you build your brand instead of trying to do it on your own. And live minimally. You don’t need a 20,000-square-foot house when you’re only going to be living in 2,000 of it.

And please, please … learn how to say no.

Not just to avoid bad deals or investments, but also to maintain your freedom. Because someday you will have a wife and kids at home, and football — because that’s the investment that nets you the greatest return — will take up a lot of your time. So when you’re away from the game, you’re going to need that freedom to be present at home and enjoy your family instead of jet-setting all over the place to explore business opportunities or to live like a celebrity or a superstar. You’ll be fortunate enough to marry a fine woman. Let her be the superstar. She’ll deserve that and so much more.

Slow down and enjoy your family.

Trust me … you’ll thank me one day.

James Devaney/WireImage/Getty Images

I mentioned the Giants earlier. I know you’ve been wondering about that. I mean, you just got drafted, and you see yourself as a franchise guy. You’re already HTTR for life, Day One. I know.

Well, after four years in Washington — and three Pro Bowls — you’ll sign a contract extension to stay with the Redskins long term. But there will be a problem. Some bonus money that had previously been agreed upon somehow won’t make it into your final contract — the one that you’ll sign. It won’t be your fault. It will just be a miscommunication between your agent and the franchise.

Well, when this happens, I want you to go straight to Dan Snyder’s office. You were his first draft pick ever, and you’ll have a close relationship with him. You’ll be a pallbearer at his father’s funeral. That’s how tight you will be.

Now, when you walk into his office, close the door behind you. Lock it if you have to. And tell Mr. Snyder that you are not leaving that office until you work things out and fix whatever issues you have in your contract.

I’m not telling you to walk in there and make demands. I’m saying … just get down to the bottom of everything and come to an agreement that makes you happy and the team happy — one that keeps you in a Redskins uniform for life. Because if you don’t, that contract dispute will fester. And before your know it, you’ll be gone. You’ll return some bonus money, buy your free agency and eventually sign with New York.

And honestly, when you put on that Giants jersey … you’ll feel like a traitor.

Within a year, you’ll tear your Achilles, and that’ll be it. At 28 years old you’ll be done playing football. No hero’s exit. No speech. No ovation as the final seconds tick off the clock.

Just a medical cart carrying you off the field.

Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Don’t get me wrong. You’re going to have a great career, Var. It may not last as long as you want it to, or end the way you’d like. But let me tell you … a person has a better chance of getting struck by lightning twice than having the career you’ll have. So whatever happens, however it goes, be proud of your accomplishments.

Thank everybody along the way — in real time, face to face. Tell your parents how much they mean to you. Tell your high school coach, Jack McCurry, how instrumental he has been in your life. Show love to your closest friends — the guys you played with in college, like John Gilmore, Omar Easy Tony Stewart. (Dogs for life, four fingers to the sky!) And constantly let your wife know how much you appreciate her. Tell everybody, Var. Thank everybody. Because nobody is self-made. We all get help.

And lastly, when you get to Washington, share this letter with your fellow rookies. Share it with your teammates from Penn State who got drafted along with you. They can learn from this, too. I’m not saying I’m gonna solve all your problems right here in this letter. I can’t give you all the answers. It’s just that … in life, there’s bitter and there’s sweet. You’re gonna have a lot of both. And I just want to give you some knowledge and guidance here to help you minimize the bitter, and maybe savor the sweetness a little more.

And I hope that however it all goes down, you have no regrets. Because everything you’re about to go through has led me to being in the state of mind that I’m in today, which is one of gratitude and appreciation. It’s led me to a tremendous opportunity to coach and educate young men as the football coach at Maranatha High in Pasadena, California. I thank God every day for giving me this responsibility, and I guess I have to thank you as well, because you — and everything you’re about to go through — are why I’m where I am today.

So congratulations again on getting drafted. That’s a big accomplishment. But it’s only the beginning. There’s plenty more ahead for you, Var. So enjoy all the successes. You’ll have a lot of them. Just make sure to also learn from every single failure.

Because you’ll have plenty of them, too.