And ultimately led to Artist Waves. PS — I didn’t go to Michigan

I’ve never been to Ann Arbor. In fact, I’ve never even been to the state of Michigan. You are probably wondering — what does this have to do with music? And why is it on Artist Waves? Fair questions.

During March Madness season, my family and I create a fun little game where we put the final eight teams in a hat and then we each *blindly pick one, which is then designated to be your team for the rest of the tournament. The person with the winning team picks a prize. This year I set a terrible example as a father. Having written the names of the teams on the little pieces of paper myself, I placed a dot on the one that read Michigan. As the second person to draw a team, I just so happened to pick Michigan. Surprise!

But, here’s why.

Growing up in small town New Jersey, I loved basketball. I was lucky enough that the University of Michigan’s historic Fab Five team had their time in the spotlight during the height of my interest. They were dominant. They were flashy. They started the long shorts. They had cool uniforms. They had personality. They played a creative style of basketball. And they really consisted of a young lineup unlike anything we had ever seen.

One day as a freshman in high school I was sitting in my seat at the back of science class. To my right was a new kid from Ohio who had just moved to New Jersey. Let’s call him Carl. He didn’t know anybody and was quite a nice kid. I decided I would talk to him when possible in class in hopes of making him feel welcome. We paired together to work on a project and as we turned our seats to face each other he noticed my notebook drawing. I told you, I have always been a notebook guy. That day, I had scribbled myself playing basketball in a Michigan Wolverines uniform — sporting one of their signature jerseys, which read Gorra #10 on the back. Carl asked me why I drew that particular picture and I explained that I loved Michigan basketball, but furthermore what I was displaying here was actually me playing on the team in near future. Young and naïve, I was certain that was my future.

Carl lifts his head and begins to smirk. A slight squeaky chuckle leaves his mouth before he crushes me with, “YOU, play basketball for Michigan? You think you are going to go to the University of Michigan and play on their basketball team” Now feeling two-feet small to the kid I extended a hand to, I simply replied, “Yes.” What was so hard to understand about that?

Well, the dude had a point and every right to have that immediate reaction to my outrageous dream. At that time, I was five-foot-five on a good day and 140 pound soaking wet. I looked like the least athletic kid in the school and was particularly quiet with people I didn’t know or care for.

That feeling of being punched in the stomach like never before is a moment that changed everything. With his words, Carl basically took my head between his hands and spun my neck 180 degrees. I had a new perspective. It was simple and something that I have carried with me in everything I do ever since that rainy fall day in the back of Mr. Cobb’s science class. Nobody, and especially not Carl, is going to tell me what I can or can not accomplish. I will be the one to decide. If I fail, its on my shoulders. If I want to try, I take the reins. I am happy to seek guidance and I’m a big proponent for mentors, but ultimately, if there’s something I want in this life, I will go for it.

I was 14, I was a novice in life, and in many instances, I was barely there to be known. But, I appreciate the fact that my instincts immediately went to “Who the $@&! are you Carl, to tell me I won’t play basketball at Michigan?” Somehow, I didn’t go home bummed out that day and sulk to my parents that someone had just ruined my life. I buried it down, subconsciously tried harder than ever at basketball, and thought — I will show you, Carl, and anyone else like you.

I didn’t play basketball at Michigan. As it turns out, after my sophomore year of high school I hung up my hi-tops for good and never played competitively again. I fell in love with football and refocused my energy to that. This experience was over 20 years ago now and along the way I have tried about 500 different things. 490 of them haven’t worked out. I’ve failed, I’ve fallen, and I have dealt with enough rejection to fill a small ocean. None of it has been fun, but all of it has been necessary.

Throughout my journey to this point, two things have remained constant — my passion for music and my subscription to the emotion evoked from Carl’s comment.

Music (another thing I’ve tried) has always been there. I was stupid for some time in thinking that it couldn’t coexist with sports. You were an athlete or a musician. It was OK to be an athlete that religiously listens to music, but I didn’t see how it would be possible to be an athlete who plays guitar until much later on. Regardless, these two forces of nature guided me down a path that ultimately led to artistic writing. Writing led to launching Artist Waves. And somehow, I attach Artist Waves to Carl, for telling me I could not achieve something I really wanted. The underlying theme here is perhaps I really didn’t know what I wanted. Sure, it would have been awesome to sport the Blue and Maize and rock Crisler Stadium, but then maybe I would have never found my true purpose.

Each morning on Artist Waves we start each day by posting a quote of the day. Last week when I wrote this, it just happened to be… “I promise to myself, alone and no one else, my flame is rising higher… I am the fire. I am burning brighter, roaring like a storm. And I am the one I’ve been waiting for,” by Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. It’s 100% applicable to this story. I promise to myself alone and no one else, that I carve my path. Not Carl. I/You try something. Jump in. Take the risk. Roar like a storm. If it doesn’t happen, it’s because there’s something else that was meant to be.

The University of Michigan made it to the NCAA finals this year. They got crushed by the well-oiled machine that is Villanova. The next morning my oldest son (who was also rooting for Michigan and was a bit disappointed) said to me, “Dad, aren’t you upset? Michigan lost the championship.” I paused for a moment. “No,” I said. “Maybe those players were destined to do something else.”

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~ follow Jeff Gorra | twitter @JeffGorra |