The ‘I’ in all things

Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver, believes with Shakespeare’s Polonius, “To thine own self be true.” Photograph by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hughes.

Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver, believes with Shakespeare’s Polonius, “To thine own self be true.” Photograph by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hughes.

San Francisco 49ers’ wide receiver Anquan Boldin stirred the drink recently when he said embattled Niners’ running quarterback Colin Kaepernick – who trained during the offseason to become more of a classic pocket passer – just needs to be himself.

“…I think he just has to block out everything else around him, stop listening to what people want, what people have to say about you, stop listening to what people want to see you do and just be yourself," Boldin told SiriusXM NFL Radio, via CSN Bay Area, on April 9. 

"I think sometimes when you try to go off the suggestions of other people and try to please other people, you forget who you are and what got you there,” Boldin added. “I think if he just goes out and (is) himself, he'll be just fine. And that's the thing I try to tell him. 'Go out and be Kap. Don't try to go out and be anybody else, because that isn't what got you to this point.”

Wise words about identity, a much misunderstood subject that’s a crucial theme in “The Penalty for Holding,” the upcoming second novel in my series “The Games Men Play.” Like Colin, my hero, Quinn Novak, is a quarterback at the crossroads trying to balance pleasing others and remaining true to himself. It isn’t easy in our selfie world, which often spurs a 180-degree reaction. In his April 12th column “The Moral Bucket List,” The New York Times’ David Brooks wrote:

“Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?”

I think Brooks is wrong and Boldin is right. You have to, in the words of the ancient Greeks, “Know thyself.” Ask yourself, as I always tell young people, If you could do anything in the world with no impediments, what would you do? Then go out and try to do it. Because unless the answer is, “I want to be a mass murderer,” then chances are what you want for yourself is what the world needs. If you want to be an artist but your parents think you should be a businessman, you owe it to yourself to be an artist. As long as you are not hurting someone else, you have to make yourself happy, because only when you are happy in yourself will you make others happy, and then your happiness, your work, your life, will be gifts to the world.

That doesn’t mean you can’t improve or modify your behavior, particularly where those who sign your paycheck are concerned. Here’s what another Colin teammate, tight end Vernon Davis, had to say about Colin’s retooled talent:

He was working on his dropback and I was just, 'Who is that?' 

"You guys are in for a treat. He looks like a totally different guy. I think it was really genuine and I think he's just a class guy. It shows that he's humble, for him to go to someone and work on his craft and get better. And it shows that his approach to this game, he's just relentless.

"He just wants to be great and I respect that. And that's another reason why I'm in this building today."

That’s all fine, but under pressure people tend to rely on their core strengths. My hunch is that Colin will never be a pure pocket passer but will rely on his legs from time to time. Hey, it hasn’t hurt Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers or even Andrew Luck. It didn’t hurt Steve Young.  

We can all become a better version of ourselves. But we (must) remain ourselves.