Skip to content
Service & Impact
January 9, 2024

Game On!

Written by:

Even motivational speakers get weary sometimes, but a very personal promise keeps Trent Shelton inspired to share words of encouragement that may help others pursue their best life—it’s a vow prompted by the suicide of his best friend, despairing over the loss of a relationship and a future in sports.
“I remember going to his service, and I had so much guilt because I was out partying when they found him,” the one-time NFL hopeful recalls. “I looked in the casket and I told him, ‘I’m going to spend the rest of my life helping people know they have self-worth, that there’s a reason to live despite the pain they are going through.’”
In sharing that message with live audiences from schools to corporate events and through social media (where he has 12 million followers), Shelton offers lessons from his own journey from pain and disappointment to purpose. He felt that he’d lost his value when his dream of a career as a pro footballer evaporated after brief spells with the Indianapolis Colts, the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins. “My whole life was tied to that,” he admits.
Asked to speak to a youth gathering at his church, he reluctantly agreed—and froze when he went on stage, forgetting all he had prepared. Offering a brief prayer for help, he found words coming out of his mouth that connected deeply with the audience. “I never in my life had felt such confidence in the midst of my fear,” he says.
Shelton was so convinced that he had found a new purpose, the very next day he called the coach of an arena football team where he had been due to try out for one last shot at playing sports professionally and told him he wouldn’t be there: “I’m going to be a speaker.”
‘The longer path’
Shelton had no big game plan, but he started sharing short inspirational videos that have since garnered 41 million YouTube views. Founding the nonprofit Rehab Time, he has also written two books, Straight Up (also the name of his podcast) and The Greatest You.
A decade after his change of direction, Shelton is one of the most in-demand motivational speakers around. With his dreadlocks, tattoo sleeves and dressed- down style, he cuts an unusual figure at some of his speaking engagements and enjoys challenging stereotypes, especially of Black men.
“There were a lot of times where people told me to change this and change that, but when I changed that and changed this, I felt like I wasn’t walking in my true self,” he says. “I decided to go ahead and take the longer journey, the longer path, and I was able to build something that really can’t nothing break except me. I built a community and a mission and a vision.”
Shelton recalls one event where a woman at the VIP table seemed to wonder why he was sitting there. After he spoke to the audience and returned to his seat, she apologized and told him: “I didn’t realize you were the speaker for this event. It changed my life, and I will never judge a book by its cover again.”
Though he is now living his life’s purpose, it hasn’t been without its trials. Shelton admits to being rocked on his heels by three big personal hits in the space of just a few days in 2021. First, his mother died and then soon after his daughter ended up in intensive care after being struck on the head by a rock thrown up by a lawn mower. While Shelton was at the hospital with her, he got a call telling him that his grandmother was also in an ICU; she died a couple of weeks later.
Initially, he was overwhelmed. He allowed his perspective to “be my prison, not my power,” he says now. “I was seeing limitations; I was giving myself a death sentence instead of a life sentence.” He came out of that slump by changing the way he looked at his circumstances. “Instead of saying, ‘What does this mean?’ say, ‘What is this going to mean?’ What happens is that you take the power out of the situation and you put the power in your hands.”
He had to employ that strategy more recently, after a torn Achilles’ heel put him in a leg brace for an extended period. For an active guy, it was tough to be forced to sit around, but he decided that the enforced downtime was “going to build something inside of me that no perfect year ever could.”
When he talks about developing what he calls “a champion mindset,” Shelton has five essential elements in mind.
1. Commitment. Stay loyal to what you have said you are going to do, he says. That means being patient and trusting the process: he tells of being small and crying to his grandfather when the seeds they had planted together didn’t produce any results after just a couple of hours. “Progression is an ugly road sometimes, that leads to a beautiful place,” he says. “A lot of us become very impatient in the process and we don’t trust it because we think the process is supposed to look like a person that’s 10 years into a process we just started,” he says. “We put in a day’s work and we expect to get a decade’s worth of results.”
2. Discipline. Shelton defines it as “getting legendary at saying no to the things that don’t get you a yes.” Don’t get fooled into thinking you have all the time in the world to do what you want to, he adds. Avoid distractions and comparisons and “keep the main thing the main thing.”
3. Consistency. Shelton says he hasn’t gotten to stand on big stages because of his talent but because “every single day, I showed up even when I didn’t want to.” Many people have gone to work at a job they didn’t like for years, or attended school, because they had no choice. “If you could be consistent to the thing that you don’t like, why can’t you be consistent to the thing that you say you love?”
4. Faith. You have to believe in more than just what you can see, that a door you can’t yet see is going to open for you. “Faith doesn’t work off logic,” he says. “God doesn’t work off logic.” Shelton tells of being interviewed when he went to speak in Africa and being asked if he was surprised to find himself there. He said no, because when he first began speaking, he told family and friends he would one day go to Africa. “My body just got here, but my mind was here 10 years ago,” he told the interviewer.
5. Heart. At the end of the day, sometimes it all comes down to “finding the strength to give more, even when everything else says you have nothing left to give.”
So you want to rise above your current circumstances and make the most of your life in the way Trent Shelton encourages. But where and how to start? He suggests two things to get you going.
Face your reality. This may seem like a strange place from which to begin pur- suing a dream, but Shelton says, “You’ll never win your war by running from your battles.” So, acknowledge what you need to deal with: maybe it’s a limitation you have to recognize or someone you need to forgive because that unresolved situation is dragging you down.
Let things go. There are some bridges in your life that need to be burned so that you can’t keep going back to them, as that will stop you from moving forward. “Maybe it’s a habit, maybe it’s an environment, maybe it’s people,” he says.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2023 issue of WayMaker Journal.