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Success and Regret

In 1981, Marcus Dupree was being recruited to play football at most of the nation’s top collegiate programs. Most experts and coaches said that, in fact, he was the most highly recruited high school player ever. And, the praise did not stop there. These same experts and coaches said that Dupree was probably the best running back – EVER! This is a pretty big claim. And, it’s a heavy burden for a 17-year old kid out of Philadelphia, Mississippi.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series recently told Dupree’s story. It was titled, “The Best That Never Was.” From what I can remember about Dupree (I was only 10 at the time but an avid football fan) and from reading the title, I was expecting a real-life story about another troubled athlete who missed an opportunity to be his best. In fact, the first 75 minutes painted this exact picture: recruiting violations, his mother getting a new house from his university, getting out of shape, getting injured from being out of shape, forfeiting a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, and on, and on… I felt some sympathy for Dupree but quickly squashed those emotions when I realized that he was making some very poor decisions. A brutal knee injury ended his pro football career almost before it began. And, of course, almost all of his earnings were squandered.

Then, with about 15 minutes left in the show, we learn that Dupree made an incredible come back five years after the injury. He worked out three to four hours a day and dropped about 50 pounds in three months. The Los Angeles Rams picked him up and he helped the Rams for the better part of two seasons. He was cut by the team after leading them in rushing during the pre-season of 1992.

Asked if he had any regrets, Dupree nodded and said that there were definitely things that he would have done differently. He would

have stayed at the University of Oklahoma (his first of two colleges) and made some other decisions, differently. It was easy to see the look of anguish on his face. But, it was refreshing to see a man admit his mistakes and own them. Dupree said that he wasn’t really disappointed when he was cut by the Rams in ’92. He said that his goal was to make it to the NFL, and he had done that, against all odds.

What is the lesson for the rest of us? Dupree’s story, in my opinion, helps illustrate two important points: 1) It’s actually healthy to have some level of regret. Admitting to your regrets is simply admitting to be human. Todd Kashdan has a great post in more detail on this. 2) Success is much more of an internal state of mind. Dupree may have missed out on millions of dollars in a professional football career but he was able to mount a successful come back and meet his own personal goal.

Life is much too short to pursue someone else’s dreams. And, along the way, don’t be afraid to be human.

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