Tim Shaw, 32, is a Livonia Clarenceville graduate who played six NFL seasons for four teams. A linebacker, he made his mark on special teams and played his final three seasons (2010-12) with the Tennessee Titans. On April 17, 2014, Shaw was diagnosed with ALS disease. He lives in Nashville, Tenn., and new his book, “Blitz Your Life,” was released last month (Dexterity, 214 pages, $16.99 retail). He will speak at a book event from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Clarenceville High School. Admission is free. Here is an excerpt from his book:
I’ll never forget running into someone at the pool shortly after I went public with my diagnosis. He recognized me: “You’re the ALS guy!” But just as I am not “Tim the Football guy,” I am not “Tim the ALS guy.”
ALS doesn’t define me. ALS sucks. It’s the most physically and mentally difficult thing I have ever had to endure. In my current state, I have to think about every move I make. Literally, every time I move. Sit down. Stand up. Turn the corner. Walk through a doorway. Navigate through a crowd. If I’m not careful, I will fall. I’ll run into something or someone. My body doesn’t do what I tell it to, and my balance resembles that of a newborn calf.
So if I’m not the football guy or the ALS guy, who am I?
I had to start with self-evaluation. I know this is what (former Titans defensive end) Dave Ball went through, and I believe a lot of people can relate to finding themselves in a time of change, whether it’s a new career or opportunity or a position where change is necessary. Situations like these require honest introspection. For me, that meant analyzing my priorities. Do I work on my golf handicap, pursue business ventures, read a good book? These are all things I love to do and there is nothing wrong with any of them, but isn’t there something more meaningful? I guess that depends on what I really want to accomplish. How about peace on earth, or at least inner peace? Now, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my time meditating. My thirty-year-old self hadn’t thought about all that serious stuff. But like me (even if it’s not life or death), a lot of us need to face this fear and answer the question:
If you could have, do, be, go, or experience anything at all, what would that be?
Most people never answer such introspective questions. If not for ALS, I don’t know when I would have faced this daunting question. I decided that in order for me to live fully, I needed to run this question down and face it head-on.
Surprisingly, my answer wasn’t very difficult to find. What I wanted more than anything else was impact. I believe that as humans our time on earth is short, so the greatest thing I can ever do is to positively impact as many people as I possibly can. I’ve had some cool experiences, and I’ll have some more as I go along. I’ve made money and had fun, but if I died tomorrow, I would have wanted to leave a positive impact on other people.
Knowing what I really want, having answered that question, I realized I must act on this grand self-discovery immediately. For me, this action has taken many forms. Some are small and short term, like doing an interview for a local paper or speaking at or supporting charity events. Others are larger and hopefully will have a longer lasting impact. Like this book, for instance. My hope is that something in it will lift somebody today and for who knows how many years after I’m long forgotten. I’ve also looked for ways to team up with others who want to make a lasting difference. Along those lines, my friends Tom and Stacey and I formed a sports performance company that we hope will bring character and leadership development to young people through sports while promoting diversity and merging cultures.
These are the types of things that I believe can have lasting impact and change lives.
I haven’t quit golfing or traveling or having fun. Those things are important too, as they fuel my spirit, but now they are prioritized in their proper place. I’ve adjusted other things as well to reflect my new goals. It’s not like I dropped everything in pursuit of my drive to impact other people in a positive way, but I did sharpen my focus. Spending time with family is important to me, so I’ve made seeing them frequently a huge priority.
I also make a lot of choices to not do things that I don’t want to do. I know I, like so many people, used to do many things I didn’t actually want to do — either out of a sense of obligation, pity, or even guilt. I simply don’t do that anymore. And I am free not to do these activities because I have faced and answered the question of what I really want. If something asked of me doesn’t align with my priorities, then I simply don’t do it. Below the surface of this seemingly selfish approach is one of genuine care for others. This methodology doesn’t negate charity or helping others, but it eliminates the obligation to do anything. If, by your choice, you leave your path to do something out of your purpose, then that’s awesome. But giving your precious time by any means other than your own choice doesn’t benefit anyone. Breakfast with a long-lost third cousin stopping through town? Sure, if you want to. Giving the keynote speech at a fundraising event? Not if done solely out of guilt. Getting coffee with someone who drains you? No, you don’t have to. That phone call with an ex? Heck no, that’s just a huge waste. Big or small, there’s rarely anything wrong with these activities. What matters most is why we choose to do them. Knowing what you really want allows you the freedom to make those choices.
Dave, after his football career, sought counseling and in the process developed a strong sense of purpose for his life.
“I believe I was put here to build and be in loving relationships with people, and I was put here to help serve others,” he said.
Today Dave is helping college coaches find out what’s going on under the surface of their teams and turn struggles into success. He also serves on the Williamson County Foster Care Review Board and the Nashville Coaching Coalition.
“I am an extremely passionate man who is trying to be a great dad, a great husband, and do something of value,” he said.
Who Are You?
Take a step back to evaluate who you are. What are your core beliefs and values, your belief system? The way we handle success and failure shows what we truly believe. Our actions — not our words — display what we truly believe.
Look at the small decisions you make. Who are you influenced by? What do you agree or disagree with? Where do you draw the line? Do you place high value on personal success and public recognition? Or do you quietly accept success, acknowledging team efforts? When you fail, do you beat yourself up and not forgive yourself?
These questions can help define who you are as a person.
Sometimes we are blind to our own beliefs. We deny that certain actions reveal certain beliefs. If you constantly put your needs ahead of everyone else’s — like a guy I know (cough, Tim Shaw) — then you are showing a belief that you are more important than those around you. Even if you never admit it, your actions demonstrate it clearly. We are often unaware of the statements that our actions are making. If the things that I claim to believe don’t come out in my actions at all, do I really believe those things? I might wish I had a high moral standard, but if I’m constantly doing morally questionable things, then the reality is that I don’t have high moral standards. The truth is revealed in our actions, particularly when moments of pressure reveal what lies beneath our conscious motivations.
For example, while I am quick to forgive a family member, I tend to be harsh with other people, projecting my own expectations and standards onto them. If I’m not cutting other people slack, then I’m not showing the kind of grace that I want to be one of my core beliefs. My actions say otherwise.
On a more positive note, during a football game, in the heat of the moment so many actions are reactions. I have been hit after a play had ended, and I immediately confronted the guilty party. I did not retaliate, but I made sure it was clear that such actions were not cool. I always stood my ground and made sure that I won my battles between the whistles, which was the ultimate reward. My reaction could have easily been one of retaliation, which would have vindicated me at the expense of my team. My value of “team above self” trumped my desire for revenge and dictated my actions. When we react and do not have time to think, that’s when our true values show up. We can’t draft a response or take time to decide how to react, it just happens. And when desired values become automatic reactions, we know they have become part of who we are.
Wrestling with values and beliefs can be a struggle, especially when there is a gap between who you want to be and who you are now. The beliefs and values that you strive toward are not always easily attained. You may not immediately succeed at being the person you want to be, but failure is part of the process. In fact, failures can become great learning experiences that propel you toward who you want to become. It may take many failed attempts to see the values become your own, but failure can indicate progress if followed up by corrective action.
In the process of discovering your core beliefs, you are also discovering who you truly are. As you develop a belief system to live by, your true self shows more and more. This does not mean you are a finished product, but it does mean you are a work in progress, and committing to the process is half the battle. As your belief system grows and changes, you will grow and change. As life continues to throw its experiences at you, your core beliefs will continue to be challenged. Day in and day out, people will question who you are and what you are doing. Without strong convictions, you will be easily swayed. The more you know yourself, the more you can stand firm in your beliefs and your actions.