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When I was a kid, I used to set up different soccer challenges around my house using a tennis ball. I’d make a small goal to pass the ball through from across the room, or set up a bin that I would try to pass the ball into after juggling it 10 times. With each, I’d half-jokingly tell myself that if I succeeded it was a sign that I would also succeed in playing professionally, and if I failed it was a sign that my career would also fail. Of course I didn’t actually believe this. If I succeeded in the challenge then I’d have a moment of excitement and fake re-assurance, or if I failed a moment of sadness, and then I’d try again as if it had never happened. It was my way of coping with uncertainty at the time. While I did stop doing these challenges, I don’t think I ever actually improved at dealing with the uncertainty. In my mind I had one dream, playing professional soccer, which was my only gateway to happiness. It was all I wanted to do, and my odds of succeeding were extremely low simply by the statistics. I never did find out how to be comfortable in that situation. It always felt like too much consequence riding on too little probability.
Looking back however, I can see the struggle I faced was partially a product of my perspective. There’s an old adage: ‘Know your why’. The theory is that it’s very motivating if you truly understand why you want something and you keep coming back to that reason. You get there by asking yourself what you want, and then the question ‘Why?’ for your initial desire and for each subsequent answer you have until you get to your deepest reason. It works for any area of life. Pick some belief or desire you have, ask yourself ‘Why?’ five times in a row, and see where you end up. I would always think my ‘Why’ for trying to play pro was that I could not be happy doing anything else. The problem was that this is contingent on the outcome: succeeding in playing professionally. By obsessing too much over an outcome, always living in the future instead of the present, you doom yourself to be unsatisfied along the way. It was also a very negative way to view my actually deepest reason for playing, which I think is everyone’s reason for playing: because I loved it. I wouldn’t have cared about playing professionally if I didn’t enjoy it, but somewhere along the journey, especially in the more competitive years, I forgot that completely. The question of my future happiness hanging in the balance made me unsatisfied in the present, and in that mindset there would always be an uncertain future to worry about. Even if I made it pro, that struggle wouldn’t have changed until my perspective did. It makes sense to want to play professionally in order to spend as much time as possible with soccer, but if it comes at the expense of the enjoyment it undermines the point. It’s not to say that trying to play professionally shouldn’t be a struggle, or that isn’t worth it if it is, because neither of those could be farther from the truth. The point is that it’s essential to not lose sight of the fun, the real reason you started, amidst the ambition and competition. If you’re enjoying football nothing will make you more motivated to train harder and push further in the pursuit of a playing career than that. So never forget why you started. No matter how things go, a competitive playing career is relatively short, and while it will never be easy it’s a tragedy to let the pressure drown out the fun. Giving regular attention to why you started and how much you enjoy playing can make all the difference.