My Comfort Zone

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) warms up before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) warms up before an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 in Pittsburgh. This is the first game of the season Mendenhall is expected to play. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

I believe that every person has his or her own special place, where they can get away from the busyness of the world. This can be a quiet, peaceful place where life is a little bit slower, or it can mean doing something exciting -- something that you're passionate about, where you can just zone out and escape from all obligations.

That place is something important to all of us, and personally we know how devastating it would be if it were ever taken away.

When I was younger, everywhere I went I carried a Wilson mock NFL football with me. From sometime in elementary school all the way through eighth grade I almost always had "Wilson" on either one of my arms. That football meant so much to me that I even tried to sneak it under my graduation gown and throw it off the stage at my eighth grade graduation! I grew up in Chicago in the 1990s when Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls and they won the NBA Championship what seemed like every year. As a youth during this time at every playground in Chicago, all the kids there were playing basketball. I can remember spending many afternoons off to the side of the basketball courts, tossing the football to myself, watching the other kids try to "be like Mike."

Everyone who knew me as a kid knew that I loved to play football. It was impossible to not know this about me, even if you didn't notice "Wilson." Now as I reflect back on these times an adult, I can see that the football that I carried around represented a lot more to me. I realize that it was my place of peace. It was my adolescent comfort zone. It was what I used to express myself, and that football is what I knew would be there when no one else understood.

Today, I no longer carry a football with me. If you see me around Pittsburgh or Chicago, I normally have a satchel or a book bag on me, with a couple of books and a notepad in it. That is because football is no longer my safe place. Now for me, it is a place where millions of people tune in throughout the season to keep up with their favorite teams and follow the news and current happenings of the National Football League. At this level, the game of football that I play now has become a great source of entertainment, and sometimes the passionate getaway for tons of hard working fans. From a youth to an adult, my transition through football has gone from being one-on-one in complete union with my inanimate friend Wilson, to being a single player on this grand stage of entertainment and NFL football.

On this stage it is commonplace to go all the way from what feels like being praised to being harshly and personally attacked. In this arena you can feel electrified by the energy of thousands of people, or in the same assemblage feel entirely alone. And at times due to lack of media tact, you can be either loved or hated, for something you may or may not be.

If I placed my faith in football, it wouldn't be a very strong faith. I'd rustle around like a plastic bag in the wind, and find myself displaced with every playoff win or embarrassing loss. My esteem would be subject to change through every breakout game, or fantasy football slump. My morale would rise and fall depending on injury and health. And my character would be totally dependent upon every great article about myself, or every negative blog post intended to down me. This shaken existence would go on all the way until my eventual and swift exit from the game of football. That is if even at that time I am able to let go. And as great as the game of football has been to many others and to me, I don't believe it was built to sustain mental, spiritual, and emotional stability.

I still love playing football. As an athlete, however, I realize that I'm just a single player on this stage, and that when my time is done the show will go on without me. And as I've grown, I've realized that the place in which I found my comfort as a youth was actually not in that football alone. But it was in something greater, something that was deep inside of me all along. As I move with this peace, I have great comfort because I know that there is not a thing or a person on the outside that can take it away from me.

I believe that sometimes we all try to find our peace and joy externally. Be it by making the right amount of money with the right job, by finding that special someone who will love us forever, or by feeling free to have fun and do exactly what we want to do. And while these things may add to us finding peace, alone they fall short. I encourage everyone reading this to try, or to continue to search deep inside of you for peace. I say this because what you may find is something so steady, that no one will ever be able to shake it, or take it away from you.