One of my rock bottoms, learning beyond just showing up.

March 27, 2024 by Joshua
in Fitness, Stories

A friend told me about a difficult situation for himself at work. The person he reports to suggested that he lacked assertiveness. He listened to being told the information calmly, but when he reflected afterward, he felt a lot of different things, including feeling “twisted up inside” and “frustration, anger, disappointment, feeling misunderstood.” I can’t say for sure if he would benefit from learning the skill of assertiveness or whatever he could use, but his experience reminds me of a comparable moment.

In my case, that moment turned my life around.

It was sophomore year in college, at an ultimate Frisbee tournament. I was playing with the college team. We were past halftime in a game. I went to the captain and said I hadn’t played yet that game, to nudge him to put me in.

He said, “Josh, I don’t know any other way to say it, so I’ll be direct. This is an important game. It’s very close and we want to win it. We have to play the best we can as a team to win. When we put you in and you cover someone, he still gets the disc. We can’t have that, so I can’t put you in.”

Until then, I never missed a practiced. I didn’t think it consciously, but figured if you show up, you get to play. Here I learned that for fun games, yes, it worked that way, but for games when it counted, I wouldn’t get to play just for showing up.

After he said those words, I walked along the sideline. Tears started welling up. I grew up listening to Free to Be You and Me, so I was free from overly constrictive gender roles, but I knew I did not want to start crying on the sideline of a game. I left the fields and went back to the vans. There I cried. Bawled even.

Then it turned out the women’s team’s game ended, which I found out by their returning to the vans. I somehow managed to suppress the tears. I don’t remember how I answered why I was in the vans instead of playing, but suppressing the tears only augmented my shame and misery.

I saw I had to decide: did I want to be a player who showed up to practice and played fun games but was sidelined in the big games or did I want to be a player the team could depend on? Did I want to choose ease and fun or challenge, dedication, and perseverance? I chose the latter. The short version of the results was that I chose to work at it. By junior year, the team voted me co-captain. Eventually I played at nationals and worlds.

I’m sure I’ve posted about running sprints in the rain by myself to improve at the sport. I was surprised to find that whatever fun I got from just showing up and playing, before I learned about other levels of play, I got all of that level and more. Plus I learned the meaning of competition besides winning: reaching my potential, learning who I am, discipline that I could apply everywhere in life.

I still think almost daily of the fun that college team taught me to find in striving to reach my potential. I wish I’d learned that lesson earlier. I’m still have to work to overcome resistance and complacency, that voice in my head and heart saying, “You’ve already done enough. Take a break. Sure, maybe you could squeeze a bit more out of life by striving more, but it’s not worth the effort.”

Often I give in to that voice and take it easy. When I don’t, when I persevere, I always find it worth it.


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