I’ll Trade Ya…


I read a news article recently that hockey great Wayne Gretzky’s rookie trading card sold for $3.75 million.

A trading or “collectible” card, if you’re not familiar with the concept, has the picture of an athlete on one side along with a short bio and his or her sports stats printed on the other. The cards are printed on heavy stock and measure approximately 2.5” x 3.5”.

When I was a kid growing up, the cards usually came in a pack of 5 along with a thin slice of pink bubble gum. Many an afternoon on my way home from elementary school, I would stop with my chums at “George’s,” a slightly larger than a telephone-booth sized emporium that purveyed every type of penny candy imaginable.

We would gleefully rip open the packs and either add cards to our shoe-box container collections or trade them among each other for cards we didn’t have.

And yes, we chewed the gum. And we made an art of disposing those sticky pink blobs.

I have nothing but the highest regard for Wayne Gretzky. I saw him play several times against my beloved Chicago Blackhawks, and he absolutely deserved his nickname, “The Great One.” At the time of his retirement in 1999, he held 61 National Hockey League records: 40 regular-season records, 15 playoff records, and 6 All-Star records. At the time, he was the only player to score 200 points in one season. He did a lot as an ambassador for a more refined style of hockey, not the melee pit that it sometimes lowers itself to.

Gretzky had a simple playing philosophy — “Find open ice.” — which he honed into one of the greatest pieces of sports wisdom that ever graced our haloed stadiums of ice, grass, or AstroTurf:

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.

That phrase has since become a guiding mantra for savvy business strategists or recent MBA graduates trying to impress company leadership with their first PowerPoint.

But still, $3.75 million is a lot of money for some paper!

I guess what irked me about that figure is that these and other types of sports memorabilia are just another way we elevate what are already highly elevated sports figures. I‘m not advocating that we deny subsequent generations of young kids the rite of passage that comes with collecting cards or that we close down the enormous convention hall gatherings of buyers and sellers. I would soon be dodging anonymous social media arrows or worse accusing me of “cancel culture.”

But I did start to imagine what collectible cards would look like for some of the remarkable people I’ve had the privilege to work with or met if only virtually via my career, podcast, and book.

  • What if there were a collectible card for JoAnne who led an elementary school through COVID and was just awarded administrator of the year in her district?
  • What if there were a collectible card for Dennis who has started a series of award-winning forums that bring people together from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives for civil engagement?
  • What if there were a collectible card for Sarah who through her podcast, writing consulting, speaking, and coaching helps people frame their personal stories and the skills that speak to them?

There would also be cards for Kimberly, Evan, and Christine! Carol, Laura, and Mac! Kirsten, Frank, and Mike!  Susan, John, and Joe! Hannah, Barbara, and Ken! Charlotte, Ariel, and Jim! Melissa, Shelley, and Diane. And there would be still more cards for. . . .

So many everyday people deserving their own collectible trading card. So many everyday people doing extraordinarily meaningful things, all connected via the universal theme of supporting others.

Yeah, I know; it’s not going to happen. But that reminds me of another great Gretzky quote:

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

So, in that spirit, don’t pass up the opportunity to recognize your “collectibles,” and let them know you wouldn’t trade them for the world.

Hey, and you won’t have to worry about your mom pointing to a sticky pink blob with “Is this yours?”


Jeff Ikler
Jeff Ikler
The river that runs through my career lives – as teacher, publisher, coach, podcaster and author – is helping individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and self-awareness so they can better achieve their desired results and impact. • As Director of Quetico Leadership and Career Coaching, I work with individuals and leaders to overcome obstacles and make sustained changes in their behavior. • I co-host the podcast “Getting Unstuck – Shift for Impact,” where I bring to light inspirational stories of transformation in the field of education. • I am the co-author of the soon-to-be-published book for school educators, Shifting: How Educational Leaders Can Create a Culture of Change.

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. What a lovely idea. Pondering my most valued collectibles, I see an eclectic group. My friend Trish who is patient and kind; my cat’s vet Dr. Jones who is a treasure to cats and people; the cashier lady at Dollar General who looks out for my Mom and the other elderly regulars; some obvious choices like Mom, Dad, my high school English teacher, and my husband, most of the time. Of course there would be a Jeff Ikler card for providing me with such fun, thought provoking observations.

  2. What a wonderful idea Jeff! Imagine??

    When I was a kid they started creating cards for the police officers in town. They were called “Cop Cards” and they distributed them in different local businesses. The kids and their families would head into each place to try to collect them all.While none of those cards would be worth much now, it was a wonderful way of getting new people into local businesses and familiarizing kids with the police in town.

    Thanks for sharing your idea. It made me grin to think about the younger me eager to collect them all. I’d want a Dennis card to frame!

    • JoAnna — Thanks for reading and sharing your story. What a great idea. I’ll bet more than a few of those cards found there way into folks’ scrapbooks.

  3. What a beautiful Monday morning greeting, Jeff. (And I never thought I would say that to anybody who as much as hinted that he would put me in a box…)
    I don’t think it is either or – but I absolutely agree that we should keep telling people that they make a difference to us.

    I hope that the people trading collectibles have as much fun with their “buddies” as I have with mine. I think they did when they swapped cards, but when big bucks are part of the swap, I much doubt the heart is in it the same way.

    • Charlotte — For some folks it’s undoubtedly just “business.” Some of those cards are never even removed from the original wrapper, so the owners don’t even know which cards they have. They just know they have 5 cards from 1947. For others, and I was among this group as a kid, it was as close to a star as I was ever going to get. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. I love this essay so very much, Jeff! High quality relationships mean the world and some of us will not ever be famous like Wayne Gretzky-because that simply isn’t our path. Rather than cardboard card collecting, I’ll continue savoring experiences of you and many people inside a heart/mind/being filled to overflowing with gratitude & love for what I continue to learn and feel on this boat ride down the stream. The savoring seems priceless with or without blowing pink bubbles of sticky gum. Thank you so much for seeing, valuing, hearing, listening, and celebrating many people’s lives. You are a treasure, my friend!

  5. Your card would be one of my greatest prize possessions, Jeff Ikler! I love this! I think Sarah accomplishes some of card- stat- thing when she puts the headshots on the NLV wall… When I couldn’t make it last year, she unexpectedly send me the notes people put on my picture and I cried and cried… It’s a powerful thing to have people “see” you that way. That’s what you do for people every day, my friend. You make others visible.

    • Kimberly — Thank you so much. I’d have your card pressed in an acid-free acetate sleeve, propped up on a pedestal, lit by a single spot light!

      A lot of the time, most of us live “George Bailey” lives. We go about our daily business, but except maybe coming from our immediate family members, we never really know the value we provide others. Thanks for being an exceptional card in everyone’s collection.