When Paul McDonald arrived at USC in his freshman season to play quarterback for the Trojans he quickly learned that it would be a steep climb to get on the playing field. There were nine quarterbacks on the depth chart and, as the youngest player, McDonald started in the ninth position.
McDonald’s place was brought home to him at the very first practice. When he trotted out to warm up with the other eight quarterbacks, he found them all paired up, playing catch. He was the only one without a throwing partner. In the GameChange podcast, Thru the Tunnel, McDonald, the company co-founder, says, “I had to grab a student manager to throw with me. As the rookie on the squad, I was on the bottom rung of the totem pole.”
At practice that day McDonald watched in awe as the starting quarterback, Vince Evans was flinging passes 70 yards downfield with seemingly little effort. McDonald recalls, “This dude was built like Adonis or some Greek god.” At that moment a flood of insecurity washed over McDonald and he thought to himself, “Oh my god. If you’ve got to look like that and throw like that, I will never play here.”
Although McDonald started out ninth out of nine, two years later he was the starting quarterback on the Trojans 1978 national championship team. A year after that he was named All-American quarterback. How did he go from ninth on the depth chart to All-American? The first and most important thing McDonald did was to resist the temptation to compare himself to Evans. “I was never going to be Vince Evans, no matter what I did. I was never going to be as fast as he was. I was never going to be as strong as he was. I was never going to throw the ball as far as he could or as hard as he could.”
Instead of trying to become someone he could never be, McDonald set out to focus on making his strengths the things that gave him a competitive advantage. He explains, “I had a good head on my shoulders so I could learn the offense, learn the playbook, understand how to read coverages, understand how to go through progressions, and check downs, and call audibles as a quarterback.”
With the advent of social media in the 21st Century, one of the challenges that all people, especially young ones, now have is the constant bombardment of images of a life that seems better than our own. This often leads to the stress of trying to achieve a high level of status that is based on other people’s gifts and other people’s dreams. If the neighbor has a new luxury item — or the kid in class just got into a prestigious university — then it must be something that we should have too. Right?
Trying to be someone else’s version of best can point people in various directions, none of which will lead to joy and a path of reaching their personal potential. McDonald’s success came from staying true to himself. He explains what he believes would have happened if he hadn’t done that. “I would have never risen to the caliber of player that I became and, quite honestly, I don’t think I would have ever gotten off the bench at USC.