041. Going from Why Me to What’s Next with Cornell Thomas

Who is Cornell Thomas? That’s a question that even he wasn’t quite sure about until 2011. He is a former athlete, a speaker, an author, a thinker, an activist, but more importantly than any of those titles, he is a husband and father.

Cornell Thomas is the youngest son of Bobby and Tina Thomas. That sentence is very important in regards to who he is, as you will hear in the show. If not for his parents, he wouldn’t be the man you see today. His father passed away when he was just three years old, and although his time with his dad was brief, he learned through others the amazing legacy that his father left behind, as a police officer and community leader.

His father’s passing forced his mom to become he and his siblings’ everything. She was their main provider, mother, and life educator. She was forced to become an expert problem solver, and that skill was passed down to her children. Cornell’s mom raised her children on the old adage, “Everything happens for a reason,” and that one lesson out of the myriads she has taught him was never forgotten. It’s what he remembered when he suffered a career-ending basketball injury, and the first thing he thinks about when any adversity comes along.

In that dark times, his mom’s teachings served as his light. It was that ‘bounce-back-ability’ ingrained in him since his youth that has allowed him to find his purpose through the pain.

What Brought Cornell to The Do a Day Podcast?

That’s the question most people spend their whole lives trying to answer. He thought his purpose in life was to play professional basketball. In 2003, he received a contract to play professional basketball in Portugal. A dream he had since discovering the sport at 16. Two weeks before he was supposed to leave, he suffered a career-ending injury that reshaped his life, as he gets into in this episode. He was sickened by all of the negativity he was seeing online, and decided to start writing his own motivational quotes for his personal Facebook page. The quotes eventually led him to writing a blog, and the blog led to his first book The Power Of Positivity-Controlling Where The Ball Bounces.

In 2011, he realized what his true purpose is – to inspire and motivate others. He’s been fortunate enough to speak all over the world sharing his story with people from all walks of life. Daring others to say, “What Now?” instead of, “Why Me?” in the face of adversity.

Key Points from the Episode with Cornell Thomas:

  • Cornell’s lost his father to cancer when he was just three years old, leaving his mother with five young kids to raise on her own. That set Cornell up to see what it means to never quit as his mother always pushed through no matter how hard things got.
  • In his teens, Cornell found basketball and fell in love (despite being totally uncoordinated).
  • He learned how to play thanks to a short, Asian man named Ray. That taught Cornell you never judge a book by its color (let alone its cover).
  • He made basketball his life, practicing constantly, including skipping the senior prom.
  • Cornell had a dream of playing in the NBA, but he did not fully believe in himself yet. But his mother did, and kept pushing him to go for his true dream.
  • After many years of intense practice, Cornell finally found his skills while in college and became a solid player earning accolades. The only reason he got there was sacrifice. He sacrificed other things for what he loved (basketball). But what he really loved was the idea that his mother wouldn’t have to work again because he was successful enough for let her retire. He stayed so focused on that, which is why he got to where he needed to skill-wise.
  • He earned a scholarship to play for North Dakota, and was now playing with NBA-bound college players.
  • His dream was taking shape as he finished school as he got an email from his agent that he had gotten a contract to play professionally in Portugal. He went home to tell his mother that it was really happening.
  • A week before leaving, he played a half-court game casually with friends, and heard a pop. His Achille’s tendon had ruptured, and he needed surgery.
  • After surgery, as his contract to play in Portugal had just been voided, his first real memory was his mother kissing him goodbye as she went to one of the three jobs he told her she’d never have to work again.
  • He went into big Why Me mode, and his mother called him out. She told him to get out of Why Me mode and get into What Now mode. That’s how she had been living since his father died, so she knew it better than anyone.
  • When you find yourself in these moments, focusing on what happened is not going to help you move forward. You have to look at what’s next rather than dwelling in what already happened that you can’t change.
  • He worked through his recovery, and was at about 90% when he went to a training camp where he left one night to go back to the hotel just as some guys came in with guns and shot at participants including killing one of them. This was a sign to him that he wasn’t supposed to be doing this.
  • Cornell soon was asked to coach a junior college team, which was the next sign. As a 26-year-old player, becoming a coach was almost throwing in the towel so he fought it. It took his mother telling him to go to the interview anyway for him to at least give it a chance. He ended up taking the job, and fell in love with coaching.
  • As he became a father, it kept building, culminating in writing a book and finding his voice as a speaker.
  • One thing he realized is that all the hours, skills and discipline he put into basketball can be translated to other parts of his life.
  • As a coach, he realized that he has to love his players no matter what. That means not holding them to the standard he holds himself to since that’s about him, his life and his goals. His brother reminded him that if the players don’t think you love them, they won’t play for you the way you want them to.


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