I first met Darren almost five years ago, in the fall after he was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the 6th round (204th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft as a wide receiver out of Georgia Tech. We exchanged information and he eventually sent me, a bright eyed 14 year old, his game cleats from his rookie season. Little did I know how our lives after that year would play out.
For those that don’t know, Darren has one of the greatest stories in all of sports. He’s battled addiction, suspensions, injury, roster competition and much more before blossoming into a Pro Bowl caliber tight end for the Oakland Raiders… and a Pro Bowl caliber person. He’s always had solid advice for me through all of his highs and lows, so I recently asked Darren to share what “The Super 8” means to him. We broke all eight principles down together, and here’s what he had to say:
BF: “I put God in a way where it’s not one belief in one religion, but rather a belief in an overall power. For example, ‘everything happens for a reason,’ so how do you feel like there’s some overall power that guides you through what you do?”
Darren Waller: “So, number one, I feel like there’s God because I feel like there’s everything leading me back to football. Of all the times that I tried to ruin it through my own power, there was like some force, some power, whatever you want to call it, (that said) ‘No, you’re gonna be back in this game, and it doesn’t matter how much you’re trying to mess it up.’ As far as the transition from me hitting the lowest part of my life, to just how quickly I opened up to something different, to just how quickly that changed my life, then continuing to honor that. I’ve grown deeper into it. Not saying, ‘OK God, I got it from here, my life is pretty good, thanks for the lift.’ I continue to pour myself into it because it feels right. You have that Holy Spirit, that voice inside of you guiding you more and more, and you get more in touch with it, you make better decisions, you start feeling things around you more, and know what you should be doing and what you should pour yourself into. He’s all over the place, His hand’s on everything.”
BF: “Prayer is the same way, not necessarily praying to a certain belief, but having hope. Prayer is what you internally feel, so what’re some things that get through life and be hopeful?”
DW: “Yeah, I feel like praying and meditating as soon as I wake up, and even in small pockets of the day is your daily decision to re-commit yourself. You can commit one day, but the next three days can be staggered, (then) you’re not pouring anything into it, you’re not getting the most out of it that you could. So, it’s my daily decision to give up whatever I’ve got going on to pour it out to (God) and trust that I’m going to get an authentic peace, like a safe place. You know, it’s an evil world, everyone is trying to get over you, but (prayer) is a place where you can go and let go of everything, and know that you’re being heard, you’re being loved and valued at the same time. You may be letting out some of the deepest and darkest stuff in you, but it’s that affirmation of love that’s coming to you in return. That’s what prayer does for me.”
BF: “That’s one of the toughest parts about being so busy every day. Normally maintaining spiritual relationships are the first thing to go on the agenda. When there are so many things on your mind, it can be hard to go through and easy to forget that spirituality. Was there ever a time where you let that slip and what has finding that reconnection helped you with faith wise?”
DW: “There’re a lot of times where I wasn’t getting what I wanted or what I deserved, so I just abandoned it. It was like God and prayer was some kind of formula for me, where if I plugged in a certain amount, then I was supposed to get something in return out of default. But I realized that through prayer (everything) is going to come on God’s terms, it’s going to come on life’s terms. Whatever you’re looking for, you’re going to have to endure things that don’t feel good. In order to really appreciate the good things that you truly want, you really have to go through those things and feel them, and not try to escape them, or be like ‘woah woah woah this isn’t part of the deal.’ You have to take all of life for all that it is. (I have to) really evaluate (and say), ‘OK, this is what it is because I’ve been in this low place, I’ve been in this place where I haven’t had much,’ so when I do get it, not only do I appreciate it, but I know how to handle it when it comes… and how to share that message with other people. You have to take it all, you can’t just take the good parts.”
BF: “Now, family obviously isn’t related to blood, you have family all around you. How do you determine the right kind of people to be around you, and what do you gain from having the right kind of people around you?”
DW: “I’ll link that back into prayer. I’ve had to change my core group of friends numerous times. It required me relying on faith, realizing that I may be lonely at times, and that these new relationships are good for me and take time to build. It goes back to prayer, it goes back to making those relationships with my family and really appreciating that qualities they have and then looking for those same qualities in other people. And not judging people when you first meet them because there are people that I could’ve judged when I first met them, but they’re now my best friends. We now make good music together, we can really talk about life things, but if you look back at both of our resumes, we weren’t necessarily great people, or people that could make a difference in other people’s lives. I try to listen to them and try to be a friend first. If I want those qualities in return, I try to put them out there first, and not just sit and be like, ‘oh when somebody is good to me then I’ll be good to them.’ Treat people how you want to be treated, don’t treat them how they treat you, but raise that standard… then you attract those people, and God says, ‘OK you’re ready to have those people in your life.'”
BF: “The next value, education, you know goes way beyond school. It’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about life in general, and just learning every day, so what’re your thoughts on daily education?”
DW: “I feel like if you can get into a mindset where you can always learn, you can always learn from anyone around you, regardless of position or title. That’s where you’re always growing. You’re never a finished product, you never know everything, you’re never an expert, so have that mindset that ‘I can always learn, I can always grow.’ That’s where the beauty of life lies. You never know where you may learn certain things or where an idea may spark. Never feel like you’ve got it all under control because that’s when those old habits start to creep back up. So if you always keep that mindset of, ‘OK, I may be doing these things better than I was yesterday, but there’s always something more I can learn,’ then learning makes you feel good because that’s the truth into (you). I’ve always welcomed the truth into me.
“On the other side of that, you educate other people as well… what you internalize you continue to pass it on. Always keep that attitude to be open to other people, and keep yourself an open book, too. That’s not withholding from anyone, not trying to get the upper leg on people, but helping anyone you can because you never know what they can do for you in return or what God is trying to show you through it.”
BF: “Sacrifice… we both get it as athletes, especially at these levels, but just as a person what’re some of the harder things that you go through that you have to sacrifice just to succeed daily?”
DW: “I have to sacrifice doing the normal things that people around me would do… like going to get a beer or smoking ’cause it’s legal in some states, stuff like that. I have to sacrifice my leisure, I have to sacrifice not being out amongst all these people, being seen, being noticed, I have to sacrifice that. I know that through the work that God has me doing, I’ll be seen at some point by Him, and that kind of validation is better for me. I had to sacrifice relationships. I have to sacrifice those desires and those selfish temporary things that aren’t considering other people and what they go through. I have to sacrifice all of those things even though I’m in a position where there’s an image in the world that people in my position can do that… and that’s what they’re supposed to do. I have to sacrifice people feeling comfortable around me. They may feel uncomfortable around me because I’m doing something different. But, in the end, I’m not here to fit in, and God’s reminded me that over and over. So, you’ve got to sacrifice the normal things and be ready to be open to something abnormal. Be open to something that says, ‘Hey, this seems crazy right now, but trust in it, pray on it.’ That’s when that sacrifice hits home and you know that it’s worth something bigger than what you’re missing out on… you’re really gaining.”
BF: “For me, sacrifice is easier, especially socially, when you realize you do all of this until your career is done, and then you have whatever time you have in the rest of your life. We may have three more years, we may have 13 more years, you don’t know, so you might as well make it worth it while you have it… which leads right into discipline… and a lot of people don’t get that one…”
DW: “I would say it’s like being willing to cut yourself off from what you want now for everything you ever thought you wanted down the road. For things right now it’s so easy to get a small victory and get too high, or have one small loss and get too low and (self pity). You have to be able to find some kind of level headedness and realize that this is a marathon, this is a life long thing… whatever I’m doing, I’m in it for the lifestyle, I’m not in it for results. As soon as you get a small taste of something, if you don’t have much discipline, you’ll be thinking that you have it all when you really don’t know that God is going to put plenty more on your plate as you go forward. When you’re just celebrating and kicking your feet up over something small, that goes back into your habits and what you really value… are you just happy with something small to ease your pain or insecurity, or are you really in it for the long journey? Are you in it for the long game for something that can not only change your life, but change the lives of people around you? It’s hard to see that in the moment because you can get caught up in comparing yourself to other people, or you’re willing to compromise and sell your future out for something temporary just to impress people. Your discipline is what you do on your daily basis, what you’re convicted by in the morning when you wake up. Are you starting something with the end in mind? Are you committed all the way through, regardless of the results? That discipline is some tough stuff, man.”
BF: “Now the last value, character… this is interesting perspective because when people look at people like you, they see you being this NFL guy and they have a hard time realizing that you guys are just people, too. Who you are is blown up in so many ways because you have to maintain character in the public eye while still doing it in your private life too. Character is a different juggernaut than what people understand, especially at your level, so what’re some things that you have to be mindful of to make that character habit and routine?”
DW: “I think it’s a daily assertion for me that everything I do goes into all of my life experiences. I can’t put things to the side. Things that are going on in my life that may be not so good or not up to par in my book, but I can’t just say ‘oh, I’m this great guy, but in certain areas I feel like can slack just because I’m giving back to the community, I’m not getting in trouble, I’m doing this that and the third,’ but if there are these things that I’m not doing I can’t try to hide them to make it seem like I’m this great guy. I’m working on the whole slate, I’m working on every part in my life. Some parts may be good, like the football thing is going good, but how am I treating people? Am I being patient with people? Am I being kind to people? Am I showing empathy? Am I judging people who are in places where I was? It’s a constant thing daily in realizing that I’ll never have the perfect character, but it’s the striving for that hard posture, that striving to be more like who you believe in, who you read about daily. It’s also like discipline in that it’s never over, it’s a lifelong commitment. You know, character is humungous. You have to walk the walk, you have to do it at all times… not just when it’s convenient or eyes are on you. I know I owe myself better than part time character, or part time integrity. I never want to sell myself short. You never know when your last moment could be, you don’t want to look back and say, ‘Damn, I could’ve done that better.’ Don’t leave any stone unturned when it comes to your character and your habits.”
Last week, Darren also announced the launch of The Darren Waller Foundation and their mission statement, as seen on his Instagram below:
I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did. Thank you again for following along. If this is your first post, feel free to check out my others. We are just getting started.
Until next time,