The McDonald Journey: What’s Your Personal Identity?

Photo By Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

What mask do you wear?

Carey Price is an amazing goalie who has skated between the pipes for the Montreal Canadiens for 14 seasons. In that time he has made the All-Star team numerous times, was voted best goalie at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he led team Canada to a gold medal, and was MVP of the NHL in 2015.

At the conclusion of the 2015 season, Price was in Las Vegas for the NHL Awards, where he would win four trophies (including the fore-mentioned MVP). While at the MGM Price played a low-key role in a hilarious prank video, which was made for the awards show. The show host, Rob Riggle, stood in the casino, next to Price, showing hockey fans pictures of him in action, and asking them for their thoughts on hockey goalies, his worthiness to be MVP, and other questions.

The fans being interviewed responded with brutal frankness without realizing that they were standing next to the guy that they were talking about. Their shocked reactions, when it was pointed out to them who Price was, were really funny — a lot of expletives had to be bleeped out!

The irony of the hockey fans not recognizing Price is that when attending NHL games there is probably a good chance that they may have given the goalie a standing ovation and cheered his name. As I’m sure you know, hockey goalies wear masks and so that is how people recognize them. When they take the mask off, they are often anonymous.        

My mask for at least half the first thirty years of my life was football player. Sure, I was more than a football player, but if you asked anybody, even me, “Who is Paul McDonald?” the answer would have been, “Oh, he’s a quarterback.” I first earned my name playing QB at Bishop Amat High, then USC, and finally, for eight years in the NFL. 

My time to say goodbye to football, ultimately, came in 1988 when I spoke with Tom Landry, the legendary head coach for the Dallas Cowboys.  I was called into his office at the end of training camp and he informed me I was released from the team – and, just like that, my football career was over.  

Now what?

The transition from professional sports to the real world (aka, life after sports) is daunting for every athlete that experiences it. I spent most of my entire life preparing for, practicing, and playing football. And then, it’s suddenly over. I had a wife and two children with monthly expenses that didn’t stop just because football stopped. We had been able to save some money, but the salaries in the ‘80s were probably around 10% of what they are today.

Bottom line, I needed a job and fast!

Just like Price, not wearing his goalie mask, my football mask was put away and nobody seemed to know or care that just a short while ago I was flinging footballs in massive stadiums. My new mask was rookie businessman. I might as well had been invisible. In fact, when I walked through the front door, I had to ask someone where my desk was. The first person I encountered showed me an open desk with a phone and said, “Here, this should do.” This was the start of my business career. Man, I felt lost!  

I know this is the emotional experience of countless athletes, regardless of their sport or how long they played. Whether they were a starter, or never saw the field, they all experienced this sense of being out of place, even lost during their transition from sports.

Why?

Nothing in the “real world” really compares to playing a game. So many people love sports, and to have the unbelievable fortune of getting to play at a higher level, whether it be college or pro, is hard to let go of. It was fun! It was fun to compete! It was fun to play a game that we all grew up watching and playing as children. That is really it – the game took us back to our youth. To the time when life was simple, and we just got to play with our friends.

In society today, when you meet someone for the first time, the typical question you hear is “What do you do” or “tell me about yourself?” The answers typically revolve around your career. We don’t hear “Who are you?” Which is what’s most important. Unfortunately, our identities tend to define us. And, the most prominent identity is typically associated with our profession, our work.

So, due to all the intoxicating positives with being a professional athletes, we have a challenging time accepting “former” in front of athlete. If you are a former athlete, the next question you will receive is generally – “What are you doing now?” The answer to this frightening question will most likely not live up to our past life. Imagine meeting your childhood hero, who pitched in the World Series or was the point guard on an Olympic championship basketball team, and they answer, “Oh, I sell copy machines.”

Athletes are not the only people who wear masks. The lab coat of a doctor or the thousand dollar suit of a Hollywood executive can be just as much of a uniform as shoulder pads and a helmet. These clothes tell the world, this is who I am – I am a surgeon or a producer. So many of us wrap our identity around what we do and not who we are.

Others wear a mask to hide.    

Go check your social media feed and you will find numerous pictures of people wearing masks to show off.  You can see their groovy lives being played out at trendy restaurants, fun parties, or on exotic vacations. Let’s be honest, most of us are guilty at some point of exaggerating the fabulousness of our lives with some well-placed images on Instagram.

Sometimes masks are worn by us as a response to our own deep-rooted issues that we are yet to overcome. However, since we haven’t been able to move through these issues, we over-compensate and wear a disguise to project a much more “put together” persona. These masks serve as protective armor for us. They protect us from being real. They protect us from having to be vulnerable. Unfortunately, they also prevent us from being the authentic person we were designed to be and this holds us back from being truly joyful.

Knowing who you are and what matters to you is a great way of not allowing the opinions of others to concern you. We wear these masks to create illusions and to meet the expectations of what we think other people have for us. Don’t let the fake coolness of social media or other people’s opinions and expectations stop you from being authentic and honest with yourself and others about who you are and what you want.

The fact is we all have many identities – father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, friend, singer, artist, etc. No matter how many identities we have, they do not define us! We are much more than our identities.  It is our qualities as a person that matter most – how we treat people, how we treat ourselves, how we see the world, what has meaning to us, and what we give to others. That is the identity we should all strive to achieve.

“The McDonald Journey” is a blog that includes excerpts or edited versions of chapters from “Thru the Tunnel,” a book by Paul McDonald and Jack Baric that tells true stories of sports and life to empower the spirit. “Thru the Tunnel” is available on Amazon.

[1] “Price and Riggle Prank Fans in Las Vegas,” YouTube, YouTube, June 24, 2015, Video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBqtNIVCuoQ.

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