This was a struggle for me, and I know it is for lots of others as well. So I think it is worth some discussion. Allow me to elaborate…
As I have referred to many times in my blogs, being a professional racquetball player was my obsession from age 16 to 30. Everything I did, every decision I made, was measured against whether or not this moved me towards the goal. In some ways, this mindset is necessary to reach the top level. A certain amount of obsession is necessary, as you have a narrow window of time physically to accomplish something in a sporting endeavor. Other life goals like starting a business don’t necessarily have the same timeline, although there is a case to be made that a younger person may have more stamina to tolerate the physical demands of working non-stop to get a business off the ground.
The problem with this mindset is that your identity easily gets tied directly to the thing you are pursuing. For me, wins on the court validated my journey, they confirmed I was on the right track and all the decisions I had made to be on the journey. Remember, I left college to pursue this dream, with no money and no future prospects of money to be earned within the sport itself. There was a lot to justify, and defend in some ways, and every win was a stamp of validation. BUT…every loss was the polar opposite. It was a reminder of all of the downsides of that decision. On top of that, it was a kick in the proverbial groin in terms of my self esteem. I put too much emphasis on the results in direct conjunction with how I viewed myself. I was miserable when I lost, and even worse when it was a loss I didn’t think was “reasonable”. Any loss to someone who was an underdog was like poison to my system. I loathed myself for losing…
The wins were glossed over; I expectedto win many of the matches I played, and doing so was “my job”. I didn’t sit back and enjoy the wins or pat myself on the back. I did my job, and I was already looking to the next event. There wasn’t a ton of joy in the wins or the process in general. This is a bad operating system, it leads to burn out, depression and early retirement. It certainly did for me.
Let me say this and save you a ton of time and maybe some therapy:
YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB
You are not your sport, your record, the car you drive, the house you live in. This stuff does not dictate your worth as a person. PLENTY of people with lots of money are complete hack human beings, self centered and shallow. And some of the best people out there barely have a shirt on their back to give someone else, but they would do it anyway.
None of the material trappings, accolades and trophies make you a better person. Fame and fortune probably amplify a lot of the bad qualities people have, I know it did for me. I was a jerk on the court and someone with a raging (and unfounded) superiority complex off court. I used to go to the mall with my racquetball shirts on because my name was on the back and I wanted people to know “who I was”. Ridiculous, and so laughable at this stage of my life. But, that is what 20 years of life experience and 15 years of coaching others will do for you. It changed my perspective almost 180 degrees, and thank goodness for that.
I am so much happier now than I was back then, and I am a far better person as well. As I made the shift from being so focused on myself and showing that to the world, over to helping others, my life shifted in ways I never saw coming.
If you are hyper-focused on your career in any form, that is great and it is necessary to really achieve the highest levels possible. But if you are also equating a promotion or winning a tournament with this making you “better” than those around you, you are SADLY mistaken. For one thing, if this is how you measure yourself, what happens when you don’t win the next one, or you are no longer capable of winning an event ever again? If you behave in this manor, the people who tolerate your behavior are likely not to be real friends, but along for the ride as long as they think something is in it for them. If you are a football player who signs a huge contract out of college, be wary of the “old friends” that come out of the woodwork now that you have been touched by fame. They are clingers, hanging on to gain benefit that they could not get for themselves.
Allow me to save you a bunch of time, soul-searching and heartache…get wise to the fact that your status being tied to WHAT you do is a bad way to live. WHAT YOU DO DOES NOT MAKE YOU WHO YOU ARE. For one thing, it is a superficial measure that will obviously fade with time. Second, and more importantly, if you have a raging superiority complex like I did, you will alienate good people right out of your life. Again, I lived this and I am trying to impart my mistakes to anyone who will consider listening. I want you to understand that it took me years to work past and to overcome that part of my life. It was wrong to begin with, and it never got better.
Do the right thing from the start, or at least start now. No one sits on top of the mountain forever, especially in the context of sports or other forms of fame. Monetary pursuits and material possessions will not fill the void left by being all alone. If you are not a good person overall, you will have to contend with people who are not in your life for the right reasons. This is a tough place to be, and it can be avoided if you start correcting your actions now. It is a long road to travel, but the reality is, if you do not, things will be alone and empty.