Hello everyone. For the last week or so, I’ve started about ten different articles for DCIAB, but I didn’t feel confident enough in any of them to finish. I was getting a bit tired of picking away at low-hanging fruit (idiots on Twitter, Facebook, etc.), so I decided to write something a bit more serious/emotional. Essentially, I’m putting on my 18 year-old big boy pants and telling you how to live your life. What kind of useful insight could such a young person possibly possess, you may ask. I don’t know.
Take a step back for a moment, and imagine that life is a highway (yep, we’re doing this, just humor me). Every so often, amidst the bumper-to-bumper traffic, there lies a tollbooth on this seemingly endless road. Each person spends a bit of his/her time collecting the necessary change, tosses it in the basket, and slowly moves along to the next checkpoint. Each of these tollbooths represents a benchmark in life; a significant achievement to check off your list. “Graduated from High School”. “Got Married”. “Retired”. Through the rear view mirror, the time spent in traffic before the last tollbooth often looks pretty nice.
From the age of 4, I could never stop playing baseball. Each spring, I’d follow my dad into his car sporting a new Major League Baseball uniform, chosen for my team by the neighborhood baseball association. My dad would select one of a number of musicians to play (Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Journey, and Tom Petty were among his favorites), and we’d head off to the local fields to play. I spent countless hours sitting on the bench with my teammates, fielding ground balls, hitting into double plays, and doing my best to make my dad feel proud. You might think that the monotony of the sport would dampen my love, but I never once dreaded a baseball practice or game with my team.
For me, fielding was an absolute joy. I spent every single at bat completely locked into the batter’s every move. I watched the angle of the bat and the timing of his swings, I remembered where he hit the ball on his previous at bat, and I played out as many scenarios as possible in my head so I’d be ready for anything. I thrived on making the right play at the right time. While fielding during baseball games, I experienced a feeling that has always been incredibly rare for me: cockiness. I wanted the ball hit at me every single time, because I knew I could get the guy out. Fielding was fun.
Batting was a different story. I was never a great athlete, and being a pretty small kid throughout my time in elementary and middle school didn’t do me any favors. I did my best, but I never had much success hitting. In fifth grade, I started going to private lessons each week. The goal was to improve my hitting, and hopefully become good enough to play for a travel team in junior high, maybe even the high school team. “Keep your head in, keep your eye on the ball, don’t forget to load your swing, make sure you “squish the bug” with your pivot foot”. All of these phrases would become ingrained in my head, and I couldn’t stand them. I just couldn’t hit, and I knew it. My mechanics improved over time, but my confidence did not. Worse than that, I started to dread those hitting practices. I looked back on my time in elementary school baseball and think about how much fun baseball used to be.
Fast forward to my freshman year of high school. I had a pretty good inkling that I wouldn’t be able to make the freshman baseball team, and I was right. Sometime in mid-March, I was called into the coach’s office and told they didn’t have a spot for me. 11 years of baseball down the drain, just like that. My expectations weren’t exactly high, but this was as disappointing as anything I’d experienced in my life. A week later, I tried out for volleyball and made the Freshman B team, because nobody was cut. Fast forward again to the spring of sophomore year. By some ridiculous amount of luck, I was offered a spot on the junior varsity volleyball team. I was one of only two Freshman B team players to make the team. Proud as I was, the season wasn’t all that exciting. I sat on the bench for most of the important points (rightfully so), and practice frequently turned into a track meet, with constant running and drills. At this point, I looked back on my baseball years and wondered what might have been, had I tried a little harder. I thoroughly enjoyed volleyball, but I never felt as passionate about the sport as I did baseball. I longed for the days when I could go practice hitting each week. I wanted those days back. I wanted a do-over. I wanted a chance to be better than I was, and I wanted a chance to go back and truly enjoy every minute of it.
Looking back now, this is a terrible way to live. It’s nice to have fond memories of simpler times, but that’s settling for mediocrity, and I’ve always been a perfectionist. Instead of waiting five years to look back and say, “That was fun”, I should have savored each moment as it passed. I should have taken a minute every time I went out to shortstop to think about how much I loved playing baseball. This is obviously too much to ask of a kid, but it’s not too much to ask of a high school graduate. Too often in life, people (including myself) get caught up on reaching the next tollbooth as quickly as possible. People want to drive on the shoulder of the road for a little bit, to blow by all the losers who can’t keep up, to move on into adulthood the fastest.
As you go on to the next great achievement, the next great moments of your life, I encourage you to take a step back once in a while. Zone out for a minute and think about all the little things in your life right now that make you happy. Closer to the end of your life, there’s almost certainly going to be a moment where you look back and wonder: “Should I have done anything differently? What did I miss out on?” I recently set a reminder on my phone to ask me this question every year, so that I don’t forget to appreciate all the good parts of my life. You don’t have to find great meaning in every single day, but enjoy these times, with these friends, because there’s a chance you’ll never have the opportunity to experience these feelings again.