Missed the Boat?

I guess there’s a certain point where people just have their lives figured out. Scratch that. They at least think of how they want to spend it, or tell themselves they think they know what they want to do. Long story short, I’m not there yet. I wish I was, sometimes I even think I am, but I’m not.

It’s been said by many people that you can’t dwell on the past, you can only move forward. Well, there’s been more than a few things that I wish I could change that seem to have a huge effect on  my current conundrum. I was a B-C student in high school, which didn’t lend itself to a particularly high GPA, nor a particularly high SAT score, nor  to a particularly prestigious college. Fast forward a few summers and I wasn’t getting internships, let alone interviews. Before you knew it I was a rising junior operating an ice cream truck with my brother (no, really).

Another thing happened around that time. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, much like now, so I did the thing that I thought made the most sense. Nothing at all. My rationale for this was simple; I didn’t want to get caught going down a track that didn’t interest me and have it be too late to do something else.  The irony in this was my fear of missed opportunity turned out to be the precursor for my missed opportunities. Not joining clubs and different organizations on campus made my resume appear rather bleak.

By the time I graduated, my fate was essentially sealed. I spent the next six months looking for work, much like Oklahomans who headed west during the Dust Bowl for a brighter future. You could say I found it, as I got a full-time, salaried job. But not the one I wanted. I was shunned from the advertising industry for, you guessed it, no relevant internship experience. I had internships, albeit not great ones, in marketing. My resume had been bulked up a little. Even after a salaried marketing job, no love for an entry-level ad agency. This boy was missing the invite to the boys club, or whatever they call it these days.

I’m not dumb. Far from it. I may have a penchant for self-loathing but I know that much. I know that you have to throw yourself full throttle into areas you may have no clue whether you’ll like. And that’s where I differ from most people. I always had to gauge my interest in a potential hobby or job before fully immersing myself in it and diving head-first. Looking back, if I had done that I could be where I wanted to be. Interested in advertising join the advertising club. Don’t have one at your school? Start one and give yourself a lofty title to throw on your resume. Those words never crossed my mind a few years ago, but I sure wish they did.

The first thing I ever became truly passionate about (and I haven’t found anything to replicate it since) was track and field in high school, specifically the hurdles. I didn’t start out great, as a freshman I’d occasionally get in a varsity meet for the 300 meter hurdles, while a full-time “starter” in the high jump. After a successful freshman year jumping, I promptly peaked my sophomore year. What was I good at? Apparently I’d just be OK at both. Fast-forward to junior year. After two years of basketball, I decided to ditch varsity try-outs for two-sport track stardom. I was all in.

Indoor went off without a hitch. I proved myself as one of the better athletes on the team, earning most improved and picking up steam in the post-season, making both the league and state finals.

Outdoor was where I took off, so to speak. But not before the most pivotal two or three weeks in my high school career, a few weeks that would have implications that forever changed the trajectory of my life and my perspective on what was possible. I spent every day hurdling chairs in my basement that were conspicuously and fortunately enough exactly 39 inches (high school high hurdle height). On days when global warming was doing its’ job, I was on the track. But every day I was hurdling. Every day, for hours. Just repetition, getting the form down and perfecting my muscle memory.

Once the season started, I took on the 110 meter high hurdles in addition to my usual 300 meter hurdles spot. It took me the majority of the year to iron out spacing issues and run a clean race that I knew I was capable of. The 300’s were different. I dominated from start to finish. I was nearly undefeated and established myself as the best hurdler in the league and one of the best in the state. Before the end of the regular season, everything would come together in the 110’s and the school record would fall.

The season still did produce some setbacks. I broke a bone in my foot after leading the entire race and falling over the last hurdle in the 300’s at the league championship. I would pick up the pieces and finish third. It was also the last year the 300 meter hurdles would be run in the state of Massachusetts. So try as I might, I never did break the school record in the event. But I managed one better. On a beautiful spring day, I managed to win the state championship, diving at the finish to break the tape one hundredth of a second before my nearest competitor.

I wanted more. I thought repeating was all but guaranteed my senior year. I also thought I had a chance to be the best overall hurdler in the state of Massachusetts (I essentially won the small school division). Settling was never in my mind. I wanted to be the best ever. My high school, Masssachusetts, New England, you name it. I wanted to run at an SEC school. To hell with all the other athletes at my school that thought they were hot shit going to a tiny D3 school. I was going to be different. D1 All-American followed by an Olympic appearance? No question. But my body had different plans for me. I spent the majority of my senior year nursing knee injuries as persistent as I had been on this journey. I was relegated to watching my senior pass me by, in the role I had never been more sure was what I was put on this earth to do.

Was I ever going to the Olympics? Probably not. But I found success and achieved goals that others scoffed at because I didn’t take no for an answer. I worked harder than other hurdlers, it didn’t matter if someone was faster than me. My form would kick your ass.

My senior year foreshadowed my stark future. It made me think about what I would actually do with the rest of my life. What would I major in? What would my career look like? I didn’t have answers and I wasn’t interested in searching for them either. Out on the track, everything was clear. I felt high on life. My problems disappeared for those seconds and minutes and I morphed into, if even for a fleeting time every practice or meet, the person that I saw myself as and wanted to be. I vividly remember thinking about the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life while warming up before the 300 races, looking across the track and beyond to Route 62, watching cars whizz past and wondering where they were going. I was clueless and couldn’t have been happier about it because I knew in that moment that I was exactly where I belonged, even if I wouldn’t belong there much longer.

In the end I decided not to run track in college. The injury took away some of my explosiveness, but ultimately I just wanted the run-of-the-mill college experience. I wanted to be my own person and break away from my inherent shyness, to embrace and take in my school without the convenience of a team and the built-in friendships that it created. In a sense, it helped me accomplish that. But not a day goes by that I don’t wonder if I made the right decision. It would’ve been nice to have the camarederie, along with the additional network for post-college opportunities, professional or otherwise. Want to give coaching a shot? Just ask one of your old coaches. They’ll welcome you back with open arms. As is a theme, I didn’t consider the opportunities I could’ve created for myself.

I can’t go back, I can only go forward. I intend on giving myself as many opportunities as I can in the future, but I realize that they are numbered from here on out. My calling in the real-world is yet to be discovered. In the years since I’ve thought it was to be a sportswriter/blogger, screenwriter, “mad man”, college athletic department staffer, trainer, and a host of other things. But I don’t know. All I can do is not be afraid to say yes to a new opportunity. And I may have skipped it in my nostalgic diatribe, but I did end up finding another thing to go “all in” on. I started writing during my previous marketing job a few years ago, starting a blog (this one) and even gaining a little momentum.

During a job gap, I started writing for an SB Nation affiliate and got an article featured on another pretty big one (Elite Daily). I covered a high school football game for a local daily paper (lucky for me it ended up being my own high school, oh how full circle things have come).  I was supposed to get paid but the check never came, what are you gonna do. Either way it’s the closest I’ve come since my high school days of feeling completely passionate and fulfilled doing something. Sure, I didn’t see myself as just a writer. I knew there was more to me. I wanted to podcast and do interviews. I didn’t just want to write about sports, I was too intensely curious about other people and places and things that I hadn’t experienced and wanted to learn about. Reality set in. I got further than I ever thought I would with it, and I admitted as much to family and friends. But it became clear with time that I would never get paid to do it as a career. I got another job in marketing but knowing what you really want to do, especially something that you like to think you’re pretty damn good at is out there, and for whatever reason you’re not doing it? Not making yourself better and practicing your craft? It sucks but eventually writing in my spare time, even for my blog, became a chore once it was simply a hobby and not an opportunity. I came to resent it, as it represented my failure to launch.

I knew the need and hunger to write would never completely go away, and that I’d end up back on here eventually. So here I am. The passion inside of me will never die, even if my passion isn’t explicitly for the work I do. Even there I’m pretty damn good. I raise ideas and concerns, stay on top of my duties, and look for ways to enhance efficiency at my company. I’ve started entertaining the possibility I may be in line for a raise or promotion of some type, or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking. Such things don’t tend to work out in my favor. But all you can do is put in the work and hope for the best.

I’m hoping and hopeful that one day it’ll all be clear to me. What makes me happiest personally and professionally will just morph and I’ll be the best version of myself. Everyone is probably waiting for that day. Maybe it’ll never come, but in the meantime I’ve got a girlfriend that I love very much, a job that pays me and allows me to travel the world (quarterly) and a family that’ll listen to me while I figure it out.

Did this make anything clear to you? I don’t care, it wasn’t for you or for anyone, just me. This is my personal diary after all, and it should be, seeing as I pay $100 to renew it every year.

Did I truly miss the boat? Sure, but so did a lot of people. Does it make me feel any better? No, but life isn’t supposed to just work out for everyone. I’m just one person with one story. Not even that good of one, just an upper-middle class kid from the suburbs who never found his way.

My brother and I both feel similarly. We weren’t supposed to be living in every-day society as just another person taking up space. I was supposed to be a pro athlete and he was supposed to be a best-selling novelist. And he still could be. He did just finish a first draft of his first novel. Maybe we both will be, in another life if not in this one.

In this one, maybe all I’ll be is a good son and husband and father and brother. It doesn’t sound sufficient to me but it might have to do. I’ve wanted more, I want more, and I’ll always want more for myself in the future. Success in every way. Respect, education, money, corporate ladder-climbing, you name it. I want it. I’ll never stop improving until I die. I read and work out almost every day. Every waking second is spent agonizing over the most productive thing I could be doing at that exact moment. That’s probably not even healthy, but it’s just how I’m wired these days. No one knows how much time they have until they’re underground and I’m not going there without a better story and a shrine of accomplishments. Even if I die trying, at least I’ll have tried.

Until next time,

 

Matt

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