Shawn Harper, former NFL player turned motivational speaker, inspires young leaders of TJC and Chapel Hill ISD with his seminar of “Breaking the Chains” that hold people back.

Harper started life in a broken home with five siblings and four learning disabilities, including dyslexia and a stutter.

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Teachers and fellow students told him that he wasn’t good enough for college, which became the first “chains” to hold him back.

He tells a story of a baby elephant chained at the leg, trying to break free. “At some point, that baby elephant decides he’s never going to break those chains,’ said Harper. When that elephant is an adult and 12,000 pounds, those same small chains still make him believe he can’t break them.

Harper graduated at the bottom of his class in high school then went to North Iowa community college for football where he envisioned playing for the NFL.

Harper recalls his coach setting him aside and asking him the difference between a diamond and coal. He teaches that adversity breeds success, “no pressure, no diamond,” he says.

He placed the letters “NFL” on a page above his headboard to remind him of his goal. “People told me, I’m not good enough – I’m not strong enough, and I told them to get out of my room,” said Harper.

After graduating from Indiana University, he was drafted to the NFL and played for such teams as the Rams and Colts, blocking for two Heisman candidates.

Harper suffered an injury after 7 years of professional football and had to rethink his direction.

He’s become a motivational speaker, life coach, and CEO of two companies. He said that it was hard to choose between the practicality of running a business, and the joy of traveling to speak to future leaders.

He demonstrated how small problems not dealt with early when they’re easier could become heavy burdens later in life. He did this by carrying a smaller boy on his back, then an older, heavier young man, followed by an older gentleman.

His advice to the students, he said “Never let others create your world, they will always make it too small.”

At the end of his speech, Harper held up a phone book and said that it represented everything that gets in the way.

He had the crowd chanting, “Rip my book” as he tore the phone book in half.

Harper closed “we’re not born winners or losers, we’re born choosers.”

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