How to Find Stories of Transformation in Your Life
By John Millen
When I’m teaching storytelling in business, one of the needs most everyone expresses is how to find stories in their lives. Some even say, “I don’t have any stories,” which always makes me smile.
We all have stories, thousands of them.
One of the strategies I teach is to divide your life into thirds. In each third, identify transitions that occurred: family moves, new schools, new relationships, births, deaths, divorces, first times (loves, driving…) and so on.
Digging deeper, we look for moments that transformed you in some way: what you believe; how you see yourself; how you see the world, and more.
This week I was re-reading a fascinating book that speaks to these moments of transformation. The Agent: my 40-year career making deals and changing the game* by super-agent Leigh Steinberg, is a fascinating read on sports, business, leadership and personal redemption.
Inspired ‘Jerry Maguire’
While on business several years ago in Newport Beach, California, I stopped by Steinberg’s talk and book signing.
He served as the inspiration and consulted on the movie Jerry McGuire, which starred Tom Cruise as a colorful and unconventional sports agent. The most famous line of the film was “show me the money!”
After his talk, Steinberg told me he still has people passing him in airports yelling "show me the money!"
In one of his transformative moments, Steinberg vividly paints a picture of his 'crisis of conscience.'
He walked into a darkened hospital room to visit his client hours after he suffered a severe concussion in a game. In his talk, Steinberg identified the client as Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, currently a football commentator.
In his book The Agent, Steinberg writes of the encounter:
He was alone and looked confused.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"In the hospital," I replied. "You had a concussion."
"Did I play today?" he asked.
"Yes," I responded.
"Did I play well?"
"Yes, you threw three touchdowns," I said.
Over the next 10 minutes, Aikman asked the same questions again and again.
"It was terrifying to witness how delicate the line was between full consciousness and dementia," he wrote.
Crisis of conscience
This moment was the tipping point for Steinberg. "I had a crisis of conscience," he said. What good was he doing setting players up with huge contracts when they could be disabled for the rest of their lives?
Steinberg decided to take action, though he was putting at risk the successful career he had developed by "rocking the boat" with the NFL.
This was no small risk, Steinberg had had huge success –– negotiating outsized contracts for clients, developing his own celebrity brand as an agent and, in fact, creating what we now know as the modern sports agent.
Concussions in sports
That's why Steinberg was the inspiration for Jerry Maguire and served as a consultant on the 1996 film and other sports movies.
Despite the risk, Steinberg decided to move forward, convening neuroscientists, medical experts, players and policymakers in conferences to bring attention and to find solutions to the problem of concussions in sports.
At that time in the early 1990s, the NFL was still in deep denial and Steinberg said the NFL hired a medical doctor who was a rheumatologist (which has nothing to do with the brain) to appear in the media and decry Steinberg as a "fear monger."
The agent persisted and very likely set the stage for what has become a greater awareness of the issue, with the NFL finally acknowledging and to some extent acting on the problem.
How do you react?
For leaders, Steinberg's crisis of conscience provides a moment of insight: when faced with conflicts that pit your ethics against your profits, position or power, how do you react?
Do you do the right thing? Do you dismiss the problem (as the NFL did with concussions for so long)? Or do you take action, risking retribution?
There are no easy answers and many gray areas –– as the rest of Steinberg's story points out: after being on top of the world, he succumbed to alcoholism, was divorced and filed for bankruptcy. He lost everything.
Sobriety and redemption
Steinberg rebounded and in 2020 celebrated 10 years of sobriety. He also successfully rebuilt his business larger than before, now representing a slew of successful sports clients including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
I'll close with this: one of the most amusing stories Steinberg told during his talk, which is included in the book, is a story about Cuba Gooding, Jr., the other star of Jerry McGuire, who delivered the “show me the money” performance.
Steinberg took Gooding to the 1996 Super Bowl between the Cowboys and the Steelers to prepare for Gooding’s role as an NFL player.
"I told Cuba to envision himself as a wide receiver who was my client, and not an actor hanging around football players. It helped him immensely to play the part for real." I said to him, "If you get this down right, you could win an Oscar."
Cuba did win the 1997 Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.
Show me the money, indeed.
Take the time to search your life for transformative moments.
Those moments, my friend, are money.
Photo Credit: Leigh Steinberg (pictured with client quarterback Patrick Mahomes)
* Amazon Affiliate Link