Mark Herzlich from the New York Giants – A Man Who Lives in Maybe!

In 2008, Mark Herzlich was one of the best college linebackers in the country, an All-American. The 6’4″, 240 pound junior at Boston College was so dominating he was projected to be a first round pick in the NFL draft.  Then, at the very top of his game, Mark was diagnosed with bone cancer. He was told by a doctor his playing days were over…that he might not ever run again. He was just 21.

At first, Herzlich and his parents were in shock that Mark would never play football again. And then, Herzlich and his parents decided to explore if Maybe there was a another way.  Maybe he could treat his cancer and play football again?  So, rather than choose the treatment first recommended by the doctors: replacement of the cancerous femur with a bone from a cadaver, he chose to search for another possibility.  It turned out that the doctors could leave Mark’s femur intact.  After a course of chemotherapy and radiation, they would reinforce it by inserting a titanium rod.

Although weakened by the cancer treatments, Mark returned to school in the fall of 2009 and rejoined his team. On the sidelines, he coached his teammates and stirred up the crowd.  Then, on October 3rd, just five months after his diagnosis, Mark surprised the Boston College faithful – and a national TV audience — with news he’d just received from his doctor that his cancer was gone.  With a titanium rod in his left leg, Mark returned to college football in the first game of the 2010 season.

Then Mark was faced with what seemed to be another obstacle. He may have been back on the field, but Mark’s cancer treatments had reduced his strength and quickness and NFL scouts took notice.  Although he was invited with other top prospects to the 2011 NFL draft, his name was never called. Once again someone was telling Mark that he couldn’t play football.  As Mark saw another door close, he looked for another way to prove NFL scouts wrong. He wasted no time and immediately began training at an elite sports facility in Florida. Along with veteran NFL players and hopefuls, he ran through two-a-day workouts, determined to get stronger and faster. In late July, Mark went home to Pennsylvania for his regular MRI. As he left the doctor’s office, his mother handed him his cell phone with 25 messages and Mark immediately knew a new door had just opened.

So what happened? NFL owners and players agreed to a new contract in July 2011 and teams were finally able to sign undrafted free agents.  Mark was in great shape from his recent training and competed well against 90 other players for 53 roster spots on the New York Giants.  When the Giants opened the season against the Washington Redskins, Mark Herzlich, number 58, was on the team!

Ah, Maybe!!  Let it in to your life and see what happens!

Why Maybe?

The future ain’t what it used to be.

Yogi Berra

So how did my journey into Maybe begin? It came from an addiction.  This addiction caused me anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and sometimes such hopelessness that my next breath itself seemed a burden. My addiction wasn’t to alcohol or drugs. I wasn’t a shopaholic or a compulsive gambler. Yet this addiction almost destroyed me, and it afflicts millions of people around the world.

My addiction was to certainty. At every moment in my life, I desperately sought to know what was going to happen next. My need for certainty caused me to believe that the unexpected was always negative. I became devastated whenever things took an unexpected turn because I believed it meant the life I had envisioned for myself was no longer possible. I continually sacrificed my goals and desires in an effort to feel safe and certain. Yet no matter what I did I could not escape uncertainty of life, and the choices I made in an effort to attain certainty always led to compromise and disappointment.

The symptoms of addiction to certainty are peculiar and particular to each person, but the common denominator is unnecessary suffering. In my case, I would lay awake at night in fear of what might be, unable to catch my breath and unable to control my mind’s chatter. Was my livelihood secure? Would my husband always love me? Could I afford my life? Were the stocks I invested in safe? Would my parents, children and other family members stay well? Would there be a largescale disaster in my city? Would I or would I not get a raise this quarter? What would the results of my annual check-up be?  This onslaught of sleeplessness and anxiety began taking a toll on my immune system and I started getting sick.

The need to know the future had gripped me as a teenager and most of my twenties were spent in stress. In my thirties, though I was at the top of my career as an attorney, I was deeply unhappy and suffering. To deal with my illness—which no doctor could identify but the symptoms of which included an array of infections, allergies, anxiety and depression—I turned to alternative medicine, to meditation, acupuncture, and any other practice I thought might relieve my physical and emotional pain. I found some tools to ease my mind, but when a big issue or conflict infiltrated my life, I still spun out of control.

One day, still in the midst of pressing anxiety about the future, I went to see my qigong teacher for a lesson.  I related to him my tale of woe and he responded with a simple story that, for me, changed everything.

Here is the story.

One day, a farmers horse ran away. His neighbor came by and said, You have the worst luck.” The farmer replied to the neighbor, Maybe.  The next day, the horse returned with five mares and his neighbor came by and said, You have the best luck. The farmer replied, Maybe.  The day after that, the farmers son was riding the horse and fell off and broke his leg, and the neighbor came by and said to the farmer, You have the worst luck. The farmer replied, Maybe.  The next day, the army came looking to draft the boy for combat but he could not go because his leg was broken.  The neighbor came by and said, You have the best luck. Again the farmer said, Maybe.

I will remember the moment I heard this simple story for the rest of my life. It was in this moment that I was able to feel space in my breath. It was in this moment that, for the first time, I had a place to park my thoughts and just sit in a place called Maybe.  In this place, it felt all right not to know the future, and suddenly I was filled with an inexplicable hope.

As time passed, I learned that this world of Maybe created hope because it allowed me tosee the infinite ways that every situation could unfold.   I realized that things might not always go as planned, but that in the next moment things would change and Maybe for the better.  I had been so busy in my life worrying that the horse could run away that it never occurred to me that he could also come back.

Over time I have come to realize that Maybe is a place, a philosophy, a seed, and a magic elixir all at once. Maybe is the part of uncertainty wherein endless possibilities live and breathe. Maybe is not a matter of probability as in, There is an eighty percent chance a situation could be bad and a twenty percent chance it could work out well. Instead, it is a space within the uncertainty of life, a space which suggests that, for every situation we experience, there are numerous ways it may resolve.  Within these many possibilities, maybe there is a chance a situation that I am facing will work out well or maybe the answer will come to me or maybe I will be all right no matter what happens. The essence of Maybe or what may be contains the hope within uncertainty.

Some people may disagree with my interpretation of the Farmer story, but I cannot deny the life changing experience I had when I heard it for the first time. For me, Maybe became a window through which to view all that can be, and within that open space existed so many wonderful possibilities that I found hope and strength to endure uncertainty.  As I began to live in the realm of Maybe, my fears of the unknown dissolved and I established a new future filled with opportunities, a future which has me realizing many of the hopes and dreams I thought Id sacrificed to worry long ago.

Maybe allowed me to successfully venture into a business I love, a lifelong dream. Maybe transformed many other aspects of my life, too, from my health to my relationships with the people I love. In short, Maybe changed—and saved—my life.

Today, as a business coach and consultant, I work with a vast array of people, from entrepreneurs and owners of multi-million dollar companies to artists, actors, writers, fashion designers, attorneys, medical workers, doormen, garage attendants, nannies and the homeless. I have witnessed people, regardless of present circumstances, who had the courage to step into the realm of Maybe improve their lives.

So, lets take a journey together into the land of Maybe, and may we all find a life of peace, happiness, hope and success. Just Maybe!