What to Do When Life Interrupts Your Plans

 Most of us make plans for our life. We have goals. What do you do when life interrupts your plans? It seems to me we have a couple of choices. We can give in. Or we can fight back.

Today's interview in my overcoming adversity series is the story of a guy who initially gave in and then decided to fight back.

Mike Manfredi, is by any measurement a successful person. He has a great job, writes the blog MikedUp Blog, has a beautiful wife and daughter. Mike and I recently got to know each other and became friends pretty quickly. Even though he's one of those dreaded Millennials, he's one of the good ones. (Sorry, Mike. I couldn't resist).

We met through a blogging community and on Twitter (where many of us crazy bloggers hang out). Mike read a couple of my interviews and said he found inspiration in them. In one of our conversations, he told me he thought he had a story that might be of interest. When we talked about what it was, I wholeheartedly agreed.

Today's interview with Mike is the result. Mike is an engaging, enthusiast, and competitive person. I'm sure that's why we hit it off so quickly.

I think you'll find our discussion informative and inspiring. These interviews continuously remind me that everyone has a story; that a person's outward appearance of success usually has grown out of or, perhaps, hides an inward battle of some kind.

I hope you enjoy and get inspired by Mike's story.

Oh, and Mike has something similar on his blog called Wins and Losses. I'd encourage you to check it out when you get the chance.

Take it away, Mike.

Tell us a little about yourself

Hello, Money With A Purpose Readers! My name is Mike and stoked to be here with you (virtually) today. Here’s some info about me to help get us off on the right foot with introductions:

I played football in college, got injured, gained too much weight, then lost ~65 pounds. I have an intense drive to keep that weight off. My degrees are in molecular biology and ecology. I’ve been fortunate to have worked, a lot – in a bunch of different fields (as a landscaper, men’s fragrance salesman, coach, server, quality supervisor, forensic scientist, blogger, and now CEO…) and in varying places (Ohio, Maui, Costa Rica, the Gulf of Mexico,…). Monica (my wife) and I took out some sizable loans for her to go to dental school and for us to buy our business, and we are working to pay off that debt and grow the business. We believe in credit cards that don’t carry a balance from one month to the next (love the points, hate the interest). We put family first and love vacations. Our world centers around Clara (our daughter).

Whew. Deep breath. That was a lot to digest. Ok – here comes a bit more:

We have another baby on the way (not finding out the gender), and I absolutely love beach volleyball. It’s my rec sports passion at the moment but if there’s an Olympic doubles tryout that comes to my hometown – I can’t guarantee that I wouldn’t embarrass myself (read: overconfident).

I write over at MikedUp Blog, my personal development site that focuses on fitness, finance, and family. And recently, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing more visitors on the website which has led to many more connections with new friends via the interwebs.

Segue – I started interacting with Fred just a few short months ago, and I’ve loved our conversations and the collaborations that have come from that connection. So thanks so much, Fred – I appreciate the opportunity to be here today!

Now, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this thing:

I understand you played football back in the day and had your career cut short due to injury. What happened?

This was a tough situation at a pivotal time in my life – and maybe for reasons that might not be so obvious.

I was a pretty good high school football player that was right in the middle when it came to recruiting. I was receiving offers to play at Division II and III schools, and although the Division I programs I so wanted to play for thought highly of my skills, called, and sent letters, none had offered a scholarship.

So, when push came to shove, I was offered a roster spot as a preferred walk-on at Kent State University, the second largest campus in Ohio and a respectable MAC football program. Preferred walk-ons are guaranteed a roster spot from Day 1, don’t have to try on like a typical walk-on would, and get to go through summer camp as a member of the squad.

For the first season, I was redshirted (didn’t play in games but practiced, lifted, and did everything we could to help prepare the starters for gameday). It was a grind, but I learned a ton and was thrilled to be pursuing one of my dreams to play Division I college football.

But as we closed that first year and opened up with spring practice, I became zoned in on not only earning a spot on the team – but now an opportunity to play on Saturdays. And as we went through spring practices and eventually summer conditioning, I was either 2nd or 3rd on the depth chart at my position (Tight End), depending on when you checked.

I was on my way… Or was I? (I wasn’t)

It started early in spring practice as a dull pain in my lower left back. A couple of weeks later, I was feeling pain 100% of the time and especially during practice, or when I was sitting down or laying in bed. By the end of spring practice, I couldn’t bend down to sit in my car without nearly crying (yeah – not exaggerating).

So, I did the smart thing and didn’t tell my coaches or the medical staff until it progressed much to far down the line. I wanted to tough it out because I was fighting hard to earn playing time in the upcoming season. That was incredibly stupid – and it’s so easy to see that now – for two main reasons:

First, I was only making my health situation worse by running into other 250+ pound men at full speed for 2 hours each day, and

The coaches had to see that I was not performing well, which only hurt their perception of my abilities…

After spring practice came to a close, I visited with an Orthopedic Surgeon near my hometown. And after he read the scans, that doctor delivered a statement that would change my life’s course in a moment:

“…You could play football for the rest of your life and end up fine. But – there is the possibility that if you get hit in the wrong spot at the wrong time, that you may end up paralyzed.”

I hung up the cleats immediately after that.

How did the injury and the loss of your football career impact you?

I still remember delivering the news to my coach (Doug Martin) that I would be done playing football. He was understanding, but to me, I felt like a quitter – like I had fallen short of my goal. And that guilt left a hole in me for a little while.

I was offered a position to remain with the team as a student assistant coach after my back would heal up. And that just made the situation even more awkward. Here were the guys I was competing against and with for the last calendar year (doing a good job, I would humbly say), and now I was the one cutting up practice footage and running errands for position coaches. It felt like I had fallen off the small totem pole I had previously sat atop.

The partying didn’t stop though

And about one year after my playing career had ended, I topped out at 268 pounds. It had been one poor nutrition decision after another, and after a while, it had honestly forgotten what ‘healthy’ actually was.

I felt lost.

Would you describe this period as a time of grieving the loss of something you loved?

There are two answers to this question.

1) On the one hand, I had fallen short of a goal that I wanted badly to achieve – and ultimately thought that I could’ve completed. I was competing on a team that would send guys like Joshua Cribbs, Julian Edelman (Super Bowl champion), Usama Young (Super Bowl champion), and so many others to the NFL.

We had four guys that would go on to earn Super Bowl rings. And there I was – holding my own for that first freshman season. I took hard hits, made some plays, and was beginning to learn the playbook. It felt like I was finding my niche. At times, I wonder where that path might have taken me.

I feel regret for not accomplishing this goal, and at times I do look back and wonder, “what if…”

BUT

2) There was more to my life than football. I didn’t know exactly what that would mean at the time. I needed to end that chapter in my life so that I could move on to the next.

It took a while for me to get healthy again, but after another year or so of partying and poor decisions, I started cleaning up my act. About a year after that, I got accepted into graduate school on a graduate assistantship (they paid for my tuition and living expenses). Three weeks later I met my wife.

If I would’ve gone on playing football, the fulfillment, family, and purpose I have in life now would have at least looked much different. Meeting my wife and starting our life together was the spark that ignited the fire that burns deep within me now. The reason I work so hard toward goals we’ve set for ourselves. By quitting football, I was afforded the opportunity actually to start living my life. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

How did you finally get out of this frame of mind? What steps did you take? (pg-13 curse words in this section – please avert young eyes)

Meeting my wife was the spark that ignited my personal, professional, and post-adolescent (I had to come up with another ‘p’ word) life. But rediscovering the healthier version of myself took a different kind of spark.

And all that spark needed was a mirror. And time.

I remember the moment vividly in my mind. I was getting up out of bed, headed to the bathroom (shirtless) and caught a glimpse of my upper half. Then I stopped, stared at myself for what must’ve been a minute, then said, “What in the hell are you doing with your life!?!?!?”

I got pissed off at myself, and that dog that used to come out from me on the football field had just found another bone to chase. From that moment on, I didn’t know what I’d be doing, but I knew damn well I’d be doing something.

It took me a while of gradual progress to believe that I could change, but that moment in the bathroom altered my mindset. It was like a switch had been flipped.

If I were to psychoanalyze my previous self, I’d say that this spark was probably also due to my wife. I knew that I wanted to propose to Monica and that we wanted to start a family together. And I felt that my family deserved the best version of me they could get. 268 pound Mike was not the best version of Mike. (By the way – I’m still looking for that best version of myself, so if you see him – point me in the right direction, will ya?)

What lessons have you learned from this period? How have you applied these to your life now?

So many things…

I’ve learned that achieving your goals doesn’t just happen overnight. If you are genuinely bound and determined to do something that isn’t otherworldly, there’s a decent chance that all you need is discipline and time.

I’ve also learned that if you’re unhappy with something in your life, you have the ability to at least influence that thing, if not change it altogether. I was ‘husky’ for my entire life until I ended up losing 65+ pounds (7 years ago). ‘Slightly overweight’ was the only way I knew myself. But if people see me now that only knew me then, I’m routinely not recognized. And I love it.

It takes a village. When I was making healthier decisions to change my life for the better, if Monica weren’t on board, and didn’t support me in the quest – I would’ve probably slipped up and never achieved the goal. But we bought in together and eventually brought our extended family into the mix. This isn’t because of us, but I’ve had two brothers-in-law, my parents, a sister-in-law, and countless others that have lost significant weight (many over 50 pounds) by using this simple strategy that I used.

What would you say to anyone who has experienced or is currently experiencing losing something important to them?

 OK – here comes Coach Mike…

First of all, if you’ve done something similar and lost a ton of weight – congratulations! You rocked it, and you now know what value that good health can bring to your life. Now don’t slip up!

If you’re currently on the path – stay on it. Keep making more positive choices than negative ones. Every day. One after the next. And don’t let up. Your life and your loved ones are too important to make poor decisions in the short-term at the expense of long-term health and happiness.

If you’re looking for a change and need some direction – draw a damn line in the sand – Right. Now. Take your before pictures, throw away all the junk in the refrigerator and the cupboards, and start tracking your calories. It’s not going to be sexy, and it’s not going to be easy – but it’s a simple concept that feeds back on itself positively. And give it time. The link above details what I did to make it happen and it can work for you, too. It’s incredibly simple – just not easy.

Thank you so much for the opportunity, Fred. I truly appreciate it. And if anyone wants to connect with me, please feel to reach out on Twitter or via email. All the best,

Photo of Mike, his wife and daughter on blanket in back yard

Final Thoughts

Thanks, Mike for sharing your story.

Isn't it interesting how life often changes our plans? I know when I was younger, I thought I had control over everything. Like Mike, I got reminded on several occasions just how little control I had over things.

No one gets through life without experience losses of some kind. How we deal with those losses shapes our lives and impacts the lives of those around us. Mike got knocked down by an injury. The choice of what to do seemed pretty straightforward. Facing the prospect of paralysis to play a game doesn't make much sense. However, the loss from having a dream taken away can be devastating.

Mike got knocked down. He didn't stay down. When he finally looked in the mirror, he didn't like what he saw. That moved him to fight back (the competitive spirit). He got to work, changed his diet, began working out, and lost the weight that was holding him back.

I hope you find inspiration in Mike's story. I hope you'll come back every week to read about another person's journey through adversity and victory over it. These interviews inspire and encourage me. I hope they do you too.

Now it's your turn. What difficulty have you had to overcome? How did you do it? Are you dealing with something today that's holding you back? Tell us in the comments below. Thanks for reading. 

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