Does fear of commitment prevent you from being your best at work, at home, or in other pursuits?
Or have you made a conscious choice to go “all in” and throw your heart and soul into the things that matter most, relishing the trials and tribulations as much as the successes?
Making that commitment isn’t easy, says Gian Paul Gonzalez, but it’s essential to finding fulfillment.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you go ‘all in,’ because most people only go halfway,” he says.
In a powerful message to attendees of the inaugural CUNA CEO Council Conference, the ninth-grade history teacher and youth center leader from New Jersey explained what “all in” means to him—and why that message has inspired everyone from kids in juvenile detention to Super Bowl champions.
“When you’re ‘all in,’ it’s something personal,” he says. “It’s something that drives you. Something that keeps you up in night. Something that gets you up in the morning. Something that can’t be described by a slogan on a T-shirt. It’s something that comes from within.”
For Gonzalez, the principle is personal on several levels.
His mother went “all in” when she decided to stick with her pregnancy despite doctors’ warnings that her son wasn’t developing properly due to her contracting measles.
A credit union went “all in” for him and his mother when she saw Gonzalez going down the wrong path as a teenager and needed a loan to relocate to a better environment.
He went “all in” when he decided to forego an NBA contract to be a public-school teacher in his troubled hometown of Union City, and when he committed to always be present in the life of his nine-month-old daughter in an area where many children don’t know their fathers.
And the NFL’s New York Giants went “all in” after hearing Gonzalez’s message in the 2011 season, going from a team poised to miss the playoffs to winning the Super Bowl. The team felt so strongly about the phrase, they put it on their championship T-shirts and invited him to their tickertape parade.
Since then, Gonzalez has brought his message to other professional sports teams and elite organizations, such as the FBI.
Still, he continues to teach and serve as executive director of the Hope & Future Youth Center, an afterschool program intent on steering kids away from gangs and toward success.
That effort builds on his work years ago at a juvenile detention center as he gained experience toward his teaching certification. That got the attention of the Giants, because he had made a giant impression on the relatives of team employees.
“Being all in is about looking in the mirror,” he says. “If we really want to make a difference, it’s all about us.”
Why don’t people automatically go all in? Gonzalez discovered the answer after repeatedly quizzing his struggling students, whom he initially characterized as lazy.
“If I don’t study, I can always say I didn’t really try,” one told him. “Excuses are safe: it’s not me, it’s just my effort.”
As a teacher, Gonzalez explains to these students that great men and women through history gave everything to accomplish their goals, and that failure didn’t stop them. Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections before becoming one of the greatest U.S. presidents. Thomas Edison tested hundreds of prototypes before inventing the lightbulb.
“Being ‘all in’ isn’t about perfection. I think perfection is overrated in our society,” Gonzalez says. “It’s about being committed, long after the feeling of commitment has faded away.”
►Read more coverage from CUNA News and get live updates on Twitter via @AdamMertzCUNA, @cumagazine, and @CUNACouncils, and by using the #CUNACEOCouncil hashtag. Learn more about the CUNA CEO Council, a member-led community of credit union CEOs dedicated to providing relevant resources and tools essential for success to its members at cunacouncils.org/ceocouncil.