Lou Holtz is my favorite football coach ever. Yes, he won a national championship at Notre Dame. He was successful with every college team he coached. And he was funny, delivering stories and one-liners that made his presence as a television analyst a pleasure for football fans.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Holtz at a medical conference at which I was speaking. He was delivering the keynote speech, and I was lucky enough to meet him a few minutes before he stepped on stage. I don’t think I’ve ever met a nicer celebrity.

The kindness of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz

Despite being surrounded by people who wanted a picture with him, he took the time to ask about my orthopedic surgery career and practice. He told me about his joint replacement surgery and how important the team doctors were everywhere he coached.

As college football season approaches, I want to share a few Lou Holtz stories and messages we should learn from them. Clearly, he has tons of great football stories. Since he was so engaging and kind with me at the medical conference, I thought I would share a story that might explain where he gets his kindness to others.

Dr. David Geier with coach Lou Holtz

Called home by his parents, Holtz’s world is shattered

In his autobiography Winning Every Day: The Game Plan for Success, Holtz describes how his parents urgently asked him to come home from college one weekend to discuss a personal matter. Despite a number of obligations on campus, including an exam the following Monday, he made his way home.

With no money or car, Holtz hitchhiked several hours from Kent State to his hometown of East Liverpool, Ohio.

When he finally arrived late Friday night, his parents informed him they were getting divorced after 23 years of marriage. Lou was devastated, but he spent the entire weekend trying to be as supportive as he could. Despite his whole family life crashing around him, he packed up his bags to go back to campus Sunday night.

Holtz struggles to find a ride back to campus

After an hour of waiting for a driver to pick him up, he found a businessman who took him to within 35 miles of campus. Now Lou was standing outside of a restaurant on a lonely highway. He had no money, so he waited patiently by the road. Then it started to snow.

Two hours passed. No cars. Another two hours went by. Finally, a car approached, but the couple got out and headed inside the restaurant. Lou waited another two hours in the cold and the snow before the couple left and got back in their car.

The couple saw Lou standing there shivering, so they asked him where he was trying to go. When he told them Kent State, the man and woman explained that the snow would last throughout the night. Few travelers would head in that direction. They offered to drive him all the way to school, taking over two hours to travel 35 miles. It also took them completely away from where they were going. In fact, they had to drive all the way back to the restaurant to head toward their intended destination.

The couple’s message to Lou Holtz about how to repay them for their kindness

Lou was thankful he made it back to school, but with no money, he had no way of showing his gratitude. “I wish I could do something to repay you,” Holtz said. “There is. Someday do a favor for someone else and think about us,” the man responded.

Holtz spends his life try to pay that favor forward. He aims to help people in need. He tries to offer kind, empathetic words to someone facing hardship. He lives with the goal that when he passes away, his account is marked “Paid in Full.”

How often are we the couple helping the shivering stranger?

How often do we act like the couple at the restaurant? If we see someone in need, do we offer to help any way we can? Or do we pass right by, barely noticing that person?

We all have goals. We should do everything we can to achieve them. There are times, however, when we must pause our lives to assist another person or a cause or some higher good. Of course, it might be inconvenient. It might be hard. But when we can, we need to make the effort.

Helping others in need when we can

It could be someone struggling with adversity in his or her life. Maybe we can offer some money or our time to help. Maybe we can offer advice or just an ear to listen.

It’s possible too that in offering to lend a hand to another person, we might not actually be putting our goals and our wants on hold. Life has a funny way of coming full circle.

Maybe if you act purely out of kindness towards another person, he or she might repay it by helping you in the future. Or maybe a stranger does something unexpected to advance your goals. Who knows? But acting out of compassion for someone else might bring you peace and satisfaction that furthers your life.

You will get what you want by helping other people get what they want

This story reminds me of a line I use in a talk about online and social media communication for healthcare professionals. I argue that promoting yourself endlessly doesn’t serve you well online. My motto for them (and me) is simple. “You will get what you want, but only if you help other people get what they want first.”

Paid in full

Pursue your goals with intensity and bold action. Just take the opportunity when you can to act in service and kindness to people who could use your help. Then you can look back one day on your career and your life and think proudly that you’re “Paid in Full.”

Ready to win in every aspect of your life?

I’ve created a checklist of 12 qualities of the world’s best athletes and coaches that will help you win in your work and life. If you adopt these traits, you will succeed in every aspect of your life, every single day.

Get the checklist here!

Source: Winning Every Day: The Game Plan for Success by Lou Holtz

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