by Bryce Joyner
Whether I'm creating campaigns for Marriott to reach Generation Y, or selling solar water heaters in impoverished African villages, I view the challenges in my life as if they were playing out on an imaginary football field. Football isn't my only sport. Yet, looking at my life, the thoughts of downs, tackles, and touchdowns parallel the narrative.
Let's start at third down. Ball on our one-yard line. My coach signals I can initiate a cornerback blitz if I want to take the risk, or stay on my receiver and play it safe. I take the risk.
My foundation as a risk-taker was shaped as a child in Baldwin, New York. On weekends I played big games of hide-and-go-seek with my pack of friends. In finding my spots to hide, I anticipated my seeker's motions just like I would a receiver's routes. It looked like he was running a slant. I noticed the quarterback's eyes, and immediately jumped into the passing lane.
"Ready or not, here I come!" My friend Brandon finds friends one by one, but where was I? My hiding spot was Mr. Emory's backyard. He was a cranky man without children. No one would think to search there out of fear. I win that round.
1st and 10: I was in 4th grade, loving life. My utopia was on the verge of termination. "I'm going to marry Jacques. We're moving to Ridgewood, New Jersey to live with him," my mother tells me. I receive the handoff and fumble.
2nd and ten: The challenge of adapting to Ridgewood is the next play, and it's a long one. Ridgewood was different from Baldwin in many ways. Baldwin was ethnically diverse, while I was one of the few African-Americans in Ridgewood. Ridgewood kids listened to different music and communicated through iChat. Sports became my social savior.
3rd and two: By 15, I'm comfortable in Ridgewood. I'm a respected athlete and don't feel racially isolated. My mom pushes me out of my comfort zone again, forcing me to apply to the Leadership Education and Development program. I caught the ball at the University of Maryland in College Park, the site of the program. LEAD was my 761 Vertical. My quarterback hit me in stride, and so did LEAD.
Our big project was creating social media strategies to attract more Generation Y customers to Marriott hotels. We spent long nights working on our presentation skills to get ready for the judges, who were actual Marriott employees. In the meantime, I took classes on marketing, supply chain management, and finance.
3rd week, Presentation day: This was the big competition that we all had come to win. I presented the competitors' social media strategies and our main idea to enhance their app for smartphone users. I nailed it. I learned a ton about business. A good start to the drive.
1st and 10, Ball on 35-yard line: I applied for another LEAD Program, but this was in Cape Town, South Africa. My group's assignment was to present a sales pitch to sell solar water heaters in impoverished villages. We met the entrepreneur who created these water heaters and traveled to a village where they had become an absolute necessity. This was a sad place. I witnessed two little boys playing with a handgun, running around pretending to shoot each other. When we gave our presentation days later, our professor complimented my animated sales tactics. The risk I took in making this second LEAD trip confirmed my desire to study business. My quarterback hits me for a gain of 12. We call a timeout. Our kicker comes onto the field.
He lines up. The ball is snapped. The ball goes up. I'm busy fixing my helmet and can't tell if it went through or not. All I know is that it's halftime. Time for us to make adjustments, just like I will in college.
Bryce Joyner is a freshman at Tufts and a graduate of Ridgewood High School.