Emmanuel Acho, ILLOGICAL

Emmanuel Acho, ILLOGICAL

“We spend so much time ignoring our calling, searching for our calling not realizing it’s already calling us.” #1 New York Times bestselling author, Fox Sports analyst, and former NFL player Emmanuel Acho returns to talk with Zibby about his new book, Illogical. Emmanuel shares how being illogical simply means going against conventional wisdom to find the passions that speak to you the most in your personal and professional lives, just as he has done since releasing his first book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. The two discuss the advice Emmanuel strives to live by, how he wants to inspire others to create the best lives for themselves, and the moments that inspired him to find his calling.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Emmanuel. Welcome back on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Illogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits. Amazing. I can’t believe you have another book out already. That was so fast.

Emmanuel Acho: You and me both. What’s so interesting, I was actually writing this book before my New York Times best-seller, Uncomfortable Conversations, ever was a thought. Illogical, I had started writing back in March of 2020. Uncomfortable Conversations, I didn’t even begin until June of 2020. Illogical has always been my destination. Uncomfortable Conversations was the detour.

Zibby: Got it. Still fast, though. Still a lot of publicity to do, and events and emails and all the rest, right? Quick.

Emmanuel: Exactly right.

Zibby: The Emmys, did you have those last time? I don’t think so.

Emmanuel: I didn’t. I don’t think I had either of them. We have two more Emmys and two more books since we last spoke.

Zibby: That’s pretty impressive. You have the young readers’ version as well. I love how they’re just casually placed behind you. For people listening to this podcast, they’re just casually on little stands behind his bookshelf as if they’re lamps. You have to look closely and realize, oh, no, the two matching things are not lamps. They’re actually Emmys. I love it. Very subtle. He’s laughing. I found this book fascinating because you really let us into your early life, the things that shaped you during your career, your family, your injuries, even your success with Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. It was so interesting. One thing I wanted to start with while we’re talking is the voice injury you had because I’ve literally really never heard of that happening before. Tell me about that.

Emmanuel: I say on your journey towards being illogical, you’re going to make some mistakes. Things are going to go wrong along the way. For me, when I was doing Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, I burst a blood vessel in my vocal cord. True story. Even right before this call, I had to do vocal warm-ups where I’m like, . For those that can’t hear the specifics, it’s as though my voice is revving up and down an engine. I have to do things where I take a towel and I stretch my tongue. True story. I burst blood vessels in my vocal cords. Before I sat down with the Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, I could not talk for a week. My team would talk to me on calls. I would text them back. In order to navigate how I was going to have my conversation with the commissioner of the NFL where we were going to discuss the hot-rod topic of Colin Kaepernick, I literally had to communicate that entire week simply by text and email. All that to say, I believe when people are on their journey of being illogical, bad things are going to happen. You’re going to have to overcome them. That was my bad thing.

Zibby: Wow. Was it too much talking? Was it talking too loudly? How do I avoid this happening to me? is what I really want to know. This is all about me. I’m kidding.

Emmanuel: Part of my daily sports show, Zibby, I have to project. I don’t just get to talk like this during my daily sports show. I got to sit here and argue whether LeBron James is supposed to be the greatest. That really was the dilemma. I wasn’t speaking enough with my diaphragm. Instead, I was speaking too much with my throat, and pop goes the blood vessel.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I’m really sorry that happened.

Emmanuel: I know, but we’re better now. We are better now.

Zibby: I feel like I should ask you what you think about Russell Wilson going to the Broncos just so I can impress you that I even knew that that happened today. Did I impress you?

Emmanuel: That is incredibly impressive, particularly as I look at you with no sports posters behind you, but roughly a thousand books, and none of them pertain to Russell Wilson.

Zibby: If we were one flight down in my husband’s lair, he has a football helmet from every single team lined up in shelves just like this.

Emmanuel: There we go. I would be more comfortable there. No. I said that Russell Wilson, the second-greatest thing in his career is going to Denver, to the Broncos, first-greatest being drafted by Seattle. I think it is a huge win for both.

Zibby: Okay. Don’t even really talk about it. I don’t even know. Back to the book. You talked about your experience not getting the draft pick that you wanted and how disappointing that was and going through the experience and your brother and his experience and managing the setbacks and getting over it and then even when you got there, finding out that you were listed on the board as about to be cut, which sounded terrible. Tell me more about that. Don’t tell me loudly. Tell me in a nice, inside voice.

Emmanuel: The most trying story of my adult professional career. I was in Philadelphia. I had just been traded. What people don’t realize, when you get traded, you leave a city, and you never go back. I got called into the Cleveland Brown’s office. I was playing for the Cleveland Browns at the time. They’re like, “Hey Emmanuel, just want to let you know you’re going to Philadelphia. We’ve traded you to the Eagles.” I’m like, “Okay, cool. When am I leaving? Next week?” “No, you have a flight in three hours. We’ll pack your bags for you. We’ll order a moving company. We’ll get you there.” I go to Philly. Months later, I am in one of our coaches’ offices. Zibby, I’m trying to brownnose. I’m sitting in the coach’s office kind of trying to suck up. It’s like a student who knows they need to get a good grade in a class. You always go to after-hours and office hours. That’s the equivalent as what I was doing. While sitting in the coach’s office, I looked at his wall. His wall had a depth chart. For those that don’t know, a depth chart simply says what order you fall on the team. It has the first, second, and third of every position. This is our starter. This is our backup. This is our benchwarmer. I look at linebacker. That was a position I played, but I couldn’t find my name.

Zibby, I’m thinking, surely, they just misplaced it. Let me check defensive lineman, another position in football. No name there. Maybe they accidentally put my name under quarterbacks. No name there. Running backs, no name there. I peruse to the very bottom of the depth chart. I see these words in big letters: cut, C-U-T. In football vernacular, in football terms, cut mean you are going to be fired. They just haven’t gotten around to firing you yet. There were four names under the word cut, my name being one of the four. One of the names had already been cut earlier that day, so I am freaking out. I instantly lose my appetite. My heart sinks to the bottom of my stomach. I exit the coach’s office. I go to the bathroom. I lock myself in a stall. I get down on my knees, and I literally just start praying. I’m like, why? I didn’t ask to come to Philly. Now I’m in Philly, and I’m about to be cut. For those that don’t know, in the NFL, when you are cut, you go on what it called a waiver wire. Very simply, any other of the thirty-one teams in the NFL can claim you. You can go from Philadelphia to Denver, from Philadelphia to Green Bay, from Philadelphia to Dallas with the Cowboys, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles against your will. You have no choice or no input. When you get cut, any team can claim you. You must instantly go there.

Remember, I’m a twenty-two-year-old man who’s been drafted from Austin, Texas, where I played in college, to Cleveland. I’ve now been traded. I now see my name under these huge letters that say cut. At that moment in my life, I thought to myself as I’m praying in the bathroom stall and I now realize there’s somebody next to me on the toilet — true story. At that point in my life, I said, I might be crazy. This is one of my favorite stories because I overcame it. When I mention this in Illogical, I say that everybody’s going to have an “I might be crazy” moment on their journey to being illogical. Whether you have to quit your six-figure job to go start a new business, whether you have to empty your young 401(k) account so that you can afford this home, whether you have to sell all your possessions to move to a foreign city overseas because you want to do some sort of refugee work, whether you break up with somebody you’ve dated for eight years and you were engaged to but you know it’s just not the right person for you, everybody’s going to have an “I might be crazy” moment, but the operative word there is might because you’re perfectly sane and you’re wildly illogical. I just believe that our roads and our destiny to maximizing our life’s calling and a life without limits is the checkpoint of the “I might be crazy” moment.

Zibby: And your whole theory of, your calling is your calling. This whole thing became your calling. You were like, this is all on the road to being who I was meant to be.

Emmanuel: People get so lost trying to figure out their calling. I say your calling is what you’re made for. Your career is what you’re paid for. Every now and then, those two things intertwine, but not always. The other beautiful thing I say in the book — I hope it’s beautiful, but beauty’s in the eye of the beholder or the listener. Your calling is your calling. It’s not a conference call.

Zibby: Yes, I loved that line. Thank you.

Emmanuel: True story. If you read the acknowledgments of my first book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, I say Meredith, who’s one of my book agents — I love her to death. I say, I’m going to tell the story of you in another book. The other book happens to be Illogical. When I wanted to write Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, I was called to do so.

Zibby: Oh, no, you’re going to name her, the person who told you not to do it?

Emmanuel: Meredith wasn’t actually who told me not to do it. Meredith supported me.

Zibby: Oh, okay. Phew.

Emmanuel: No, no. Meredith is my person. When I got called to do Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, that was a calling. I had to do it. People on my team and my friends were like, hey, the market is too saturated for a book like that. I was like, what do you mean it’s too saturated for a book like that? I have to do it. It’s a calling of mine. It took me a year, Zibby, to realize my calling is my calling. It wasn’t a conference call. Meaning, nobody told the people on my team of my calling. While it looked reckless to other people and while they realized there are already books out — How to Be an Antiracist; there are already books out. So You Want to Talk About Race; there are already books out. I had to realize my calling is my calling. Meredith stood behind me, actually, and partnered with me. Repping me is executing it.

Zibby: I’m putting it on my bulletin board.

Emmanuel: It’s genuinely a secret. I hope everybody listening really takes a moment, pauses, and digests this in their mind, heart, and soul. When we do things in life that are illogical, people are going to think it’s just that. It’s crazy. Why would you ever do it? You have to realize it wasn’t their calling. I talk about the story, which is also a movie, the story of Noah. Those who didn’t see the movie or don’t know the religious story, Noah was called by God to build a boat roughly three quarters the size of the Titanic — it took sixty to eighty years, theologians submit — and put animals on it, two by two. Imagine how ludicrous that is. Theologians also submit that the earth had never seen rain. You’re building a boat, but the earth had never seen rain. That is the dumbest thing ever until what I write about in the book, and I believe a chapter title, the first drop of rain, until after Noah finishes building that ark and he gets on it with his loved ones. All the animals are on it. He looks out the window. He looks up into the sky. Smack. He gets hit in the middle of his brow. It’s the first drop of rain, which lets him know a flood is coming.

When you’re on your journey of being illogical, you’re going to have that “first drop of rain” moment. Personalizing it, for me, taking it from a movie and religious story to my life, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, where I sit down in front of a camera for nine minutes and it gets twenty-five million views in five days, I got a first drop of rain. It was a call from a no-caller ID number, which I picked up. The person on the other line said, “Acho, McConaughey speaking. I want to have a conversation.” Zibby, I’ve told you this story before. That was my first drop of rain. Once McConaughey called me, I didn’t realize, but now I know, the flood is coming. Oprah called five days later. The commissioner of the NFL called five days later. The Emmys followed. The best-selling books followed. That to say, we just have to build our boat. We just have to take that illogical step of doing what other people might chastise us for, but we’re called to do it. With me writing Uncomfortable Conversations, I was called to do it. To those listening, I promise, you are called to do something. Now, you might be asking, what the heck am I called to do? I also say this. Your calling will call you. Just pick it up.

Zibby: Another good one.

Emmanuel: Your calling is going to call you. So many people are sitting here trying to search for their calling in life when their calling has already called them. They’re just letting the phone ring. My calling literally called me. McConaughey, Oprah, Roger Goodell, three no-caller ID calls that changed my life and changed the trajectory of my life. To those listening, your calling will likely be a figurative calling. It might be that internal yearning to start that business, that internal yearning to start that family, that internal yearning to quit your job. Your calling is calling you. You just have to pick it up. We spend so much time ignoring our calling, searching for our calling not realizing it’s already calling us.

Zibby: It’s so true. I feel like some people are quick to put it aside because they think it’s not important enough or this couldn’t be it. I have a friend who’s amazing at gift-giving and calligraphy and whatever. She’s like, “But that’s just something I enjoy. That’s not –” I’m like, “No, that’s it. That’s your thing.”

Emmanuel: You brought me to such a phenomenal point. That’s your thing. I believe it was June 9th, 2020. I had just finished doing a show with Oprah. It was Oprah Conversation on Apple TV meets Uncomfortable Conversations. I get a — well, I missed the call. Piece of advice. If Oprah calls you, don’t miss the call. I missed the call. Oprah’s righthand woman, she rushes into the room. “Hey Emmanuel, great job, but Oprah just called you.” I check my phone. I am exhausted. I just finished a two-hour show electronically. Y’all know how much that takes out of you. I look. I call Oprah back. This is all she says. “You have the thing, my friend. You have the thing. Coming from someone who has the thing and had the thing, you, my friend, you have the thing.” My world changed that day. I was like, wait a second, this woman who’s the greatest TV person in the history of television is telling me I have the thing. I said, “Oprah, what is the thing?” She said, “You have the ability to deliver hard truths to people, and they still want to hear it.” With that being said, Zibby, I fully cosign what you told your friend. That calligraphy, that’s your thing. Everyone, everyone listening, has the thing. They just have to find the thing, develop the thing, and utilize the thing, but everyone has the thing. In Illogical, I’m simply talking about, yo, find your thing. It might be illogical. When I say illogical, logic is simply conventional wisdom. Being illogical is just going against conventional wisdom. Everybody has the thing. We just have to find our things and use our things, but we all have it.

Zibby: It’s so true. If everyone is saying, maybe you shouldn’t do that, or they don’t understand, that’s a cue that it’s either a really good idea or maybe not a good idea at all. It’s probably one of the two things. People like to feel safe. They like to recommend safe ideas. They base it on what they know. Nothing will ever change if you just keep basing every improvement on something that was there before it.

Emmanuel: That’s so good. One of my favorite quotes I recently heard, the most dangerous phrase we can ever utter is, that’s the way it’s always been done, the most dangerous phrase we can ever utter. That’s what so many of us do. Well, that’s the way it’s always been done. Well, my family’s never left this small city in Pennsylvania, so why would I leave? My family’s been in Austin, Texas, for three generations now. That’s just the way it’s always been done. I’ll say this other quote. Will Smith’s new book, he says, people’s advice is exactly that. It’s theirs. They’re giving it to you based upon their limited experience and life experience. He says you and now are a unique combination that has never existed before, of which you are the most reliable source for the outcome. You and now are a unique combination that’s never existed before, of which you are the most reliable source of the outcome. When talking about being illogical, you’re the most reliable source for the outcome because you and now have literally never existed. We have to stop depending upon what other people have to say. Zibby, I recently said — you might lead me there.

Zibby: Go for it.

Emmanuel: We’re so afraid of other people’s failures. Not other people’s failures. We’re more afraid of other people’s fears. I just posted — mortuusequusphobia, you know what that is?

Zibby: I don’t. I’m sorry I didn’t look at your post before this.

Emmanuel: Mortuusequusphobia, it is the fear of ketchup. It is a real thing, the fear of ketchup. In sixth grade, I was at my friend’s house. Him and I were eating a burger. His older brother walks in and throws something at the table. My friend scurries behind the couch and gets in a fetal position screaming. I’m like, what the heck did his brother just throw at this table that sent my friend behind the couch? I look at it. It was a ketchup packet. After checking on my friend, I literally bust the ketchup packet open, and I started eating my fries. I realized a lesson that day. We can’t be afraid of other people’s fears. We are so often afraid of other people’s fears, not even our own. Genuinely, it’s like, somebody else doesn’t want to get in a relationship, so we’re like, oh, no, we got to stay single. Somebody else is afraid of being single, so we’re like, man, we got to stay in this toxic relationship. Somebody doesn’t want to quit this job because they don’t know what life is like as an entrepreneur, so they’re like, I got to stay in this job too. Zibby, we’re not even afraid of our fears. We’re afraid of other people’s fears. It’s the most wild concept to me. I also just expand on that notion of, let’s stop being afraid of other people’s fears.

Zibby: It’s so true. By the way, since we last spoke, I started my own publishing company precisely because I wanted to do things differently. That was the answer I kept hearing. Now I started this company. My cofounder has been in publishing forever, and our consulting publisher. They keep saying things. I’m like, but why? Why do we have to do it that way? Okay, I get it, but what if we did it — why? Then we start going in a whole new direction. If you don’t ask, nothing’s ever going to change.

Emmanuel: Oh, my gosh, that’s so brilliant. It’s not only asking. If you don’t act, nothing else is going to change too. That’s why I love what you did. Congrats on that publishing company that you started. I’m incredibly proud of you because you have to ask, and you have to act. May 5th, 1952, nobody had ever run a mile in under four minutes. Nearly , and nobody had run a mile in under four minutes. Roger Bannister, he asked himself, is it possible? Scientists said it was physically impossible to run a mile in under four minutes. After Roger Bannister asked himself, is it possible? he then acted. On May 6th of 1952, for the first time in the history of the world, a man ran a mile in under four minutes; three minutes, fifty-nine seconds. Within the next two years, ten people ran a mile in under four minutes. Why? Because one person asked, and then one person acted, in Roger Bannister. Everybody else then realized it was possible. See, Roger Bannister broke that mental dam, if you will. Once the dam breaks, the floodgates are open. I have a chapter, When the Dam Breaks. It perfectly segues to your point of, you got to ask. Then you got to act. Then you got to break the dam. What’s so interesting, I think 1,800 people now have run a mile in under four minutes. The world record for the mile is three minutes, forty-three seconds now. It’s dropped by seventeen seconds since Roger Bannister, but nobody talks about anybody but Roger Bannister because he was the first. I want to encourage and implore people, just go be the first of whatever it is that you want to do when you want to do great.

Zibby: I don’t think I could even walk to the kitchen in less than three minutes and forty-three seconds. That’s no time. That’s nothing. That’s really fast. For the business, I was just sort of like, well, why not me? It could be anybody doing these things. I think that’s the whole thing. Why not me? If everybody said, it shouldn’t be me, nothing ever would get done. If you said that to yourself, it’s not like somebody else would’ve stepped in and done your conversation series and ended up with all the success. It just wouldn’t have happened, so why not you?

Emmanuel: There’s so many voids in our society because people don’t often ask themselves that question. Why not me? The true answer is, it is you. Why not me? is a rhetorical question. The answer is, no, it absolutely is you. Zibby, you were the one to start that publishing company. Emmanuel, you were the one to have conversations about race and racial reconciliation. There is no, why not me? The answer is, it absolutely is you. To everyone listening who’s saying I can’t or it’s not me, no, no, no, I promise, it is you.

Zibby: I don’t know about you. I was like, this might be a total failure, but it won’t be a failure if I know I’ve tried and I’ve tried to do everything. Then that’s not a personal failure. It might fail as a company. I don’t think it will. If I tried, that’s all I can do.

Emmanuel: I love that. I’ve failed so many times, as you have, as we all have. We will continue to. Then I finally had to realize I didn’t fail. I fell. As long as I get up, I win.

Zibby: You have so many of these great little nuggets. When are you coming out with a T-shirt line? This is perfect.

Emmanuel: I live by quotes and things that come to me. One day, I realized, I was like, wait a second, I didn’t fail. I fell.

Zibby: I love that.

Emmanuel: As long as I get up, I win. To your point, even when you don’t succeed, you didn’t fail, guys and gals. You just fell. The beauty of falling is we can always get up and keep moving forward.

Zibby: What is the next thing coming from you? Oscar? Where are we headed here? What’s coming?

Emmanuel: My objective — I do not believe in goals. That is the hottest topic I write about in the book, Illogical. I don’t believe in goals. I believe in having an objective without limitations. I just want to be considered one of the most creative people the industry has ever seen.

Zibby: Just? That’s all you want? I just want that.

Emmanuel: It’s interesting. If you have an objective, an objective is subjective. An objective is subject to people’s opinion. People say, Acho, what the heck? What’s the difference between goals and an objective? A goal, by dictionary definition, is the end towards which energy is directed. A goal literally starts with an end. An objective is just simply energy directed towards something. When I say I want an objective, I have an objective with no limitations, I’m directing my energy towards being one of the most creative people the industry has ever seen. Because there is no end, I cannot fail. That’s why I start the book very simply with its own dedicated page. Imagine a life without failure. I currently live, Zibby, in a life where I can’t fail. I can’t fail because I don’t set goals. I just simply set objectives. I don’t work with an end in mind. I just work with an infinite number of possibilities ahead of me.

Zibby: I will keep my eyes peeled and follow every second because you never know what’s coming next from you. I’m very excited to see. I think having an objective to be the most creative person in an industry, that’s pretty awesome. You just can’t top that as an objective, not a goal. Good luck.

Emmanuel: Thank you so much. Get all those postcards. Turn them into T-shirts. I’ll partner with you on the business. We can start it like your publishing company.

Zibby: Done. I’m in. I’m not even kidding.

Emmanuel: Zibby, thanks so much.

Zibby: Bye.

Emmanuel: Bye.

Emmanuel Acho, ILLOGICAL

ILLOGICAL by Emmanuel Acho

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