Lessons from Life’s Biggest Challenge

James Conner has participated in many press conferences. As a star running back on the University of Pittsburgh football team, he is frequently asked to address the media after games. But he has never been part of a press conference like the one held this past Friday.

On Friday, James Conner announced to the world that he has cancer. The 20 year old who, just last year, was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, has been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma.

I don’t know James. But I know many people at Pitt who do, and all of them have told me he is an amazing young man. This explains why he was honored as a member of the Good Works Team which recognizes football student-athletes who have made a positive impact on others and their communities.

Although I don’t know James Conner, I got a good sense of who he is from listening to him on Friday. During his press conference, he showed the strength, commitment, and resilience of a great leader.

“When I heard those words – ‘You have cancer’- I admit I was scared. But after thinking about it for a bit, I realized that fear is a choice. I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it. And I will win…..I know there are so many people in the world who were told by their doctors this week that they also have cancer. I want them to know that together we can – and will – beat cancer.”

In these few words, James Conner teaches us about humility, honesty, accountability, toughness, confidence, strength, courage, perseverance, empathy, and teamwork – all characteristics of history’s greatest leaders. Fortunately, the problems we face, as leaders, typically pale in comparison to the challenge James is facing. But we can learn from his tremendous leadership and display these same qualities when dealing with our own obstacles and challenges.

Thanks for reading,


P.S. – The prognosis for James is good. Doctors expect he will in fact beat this. But please keep him in your thoughts.



2 thoughts on “Lessons from Life’s Biggest Challenge

  1. James is in my prayers. We all have tough years from time to time. James and his family have had a really difficult one. May all football fans keep thinking of him. He has a bright future ahead whether or not he can return to that great game.

    • Thanks for commenting Will. You make a good point; his future is bright even if it is not in football. This is a good reminder that our success is more about who we are and how we treat others, than what we do. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

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