I want to thank my son Charley, for writing this article. I want to share it with you, not only because I’m proud of what he wrote, but, I think he shares insights that we can all learn from.
Why I Gave Up On My Childhood Dream
When I was six years old, the neighbors considered me a notorious threat to their homes. Not because I did anything shady or intended to do any harm, but because I had a childhood dream. I wanted to play baseball in the Major Leagues.
Whenever the ground wasn’t covered in snow, I had the same routine. If my Chicago Cubs t-shirt was relatively clean, I put it on and headed outside. I grabbed my half-dented, half-scratched-up baseball bat in the garage and made my way out to the front yard.
A big oak tree that hung above the side of the driveway scattered acorns everywhere. In my mind, I was taking batting practice with an infinite number of baseballs. It was the same process each time; I would emulate Sammy Sosa’s stance, hit ‘acorn home runs’ swing after swing, and celebrate leading the Cubs a World Series victory.
Each time I hit an acorn over the street, it was a home run. If I put enough into it and hit a neighbor’s house, it was an added bonus. I would go on and on until it was too dark to see, or if I hit a neighbor’s window and had to make a quick escape.
Eventually, Sammy Sosa was replaced by Charley Gould. Each and every day, my dream of leading the Cubs to a World Series victory became more deeply ingrained in my head. It was all I ever wanted. My dream never wavered. I became old enough to stop crying whenever the Cubs broke my heart, but I would never become too old to give up my dream of becoming a big leaguer.
Following My Dream
Many kids who played travel baseball in middle school were weeded out by high school. Many of the rest were then weeded out by the time I made it to varsity. Ultimately, only two of us were fortunate enough to eventually lace up our cleats in college.
While in the earlier stages of our careers, we are often told how slim our chances were. Only 2% of high schoolers play in college and only 2% of college players get drafted.
I took it as a challenge, the minuscule odds only strengthened my motivation. My dream was still alive and well.
Younger players hear all about professional athletes who overcome incredible adversity and defy the odds. We love those stories because they remind us that we all have hope, great athletes are made and not born. If they can do it, so can we!
While my college career might not have been as dramatic as many of those stories, it did provide me with my fair share of adversity.
As a freshman, I went from being a day-one starter to a regular bench player after breaking my hand from punching the ground.
As a sophomore, I started the season on the bench but eventually earned a consistent starting spot en route to receiving first-team All-State honors.
I continued to improve in my junior season and put up statistics that would typically get a player drafted, but I broke my thumb with a few weeks left to go and wound up headed back to school for my senior year.
Though I didn’t play as well as I had the previous year in my final season, I was fortunate enough to fulfill my childhood dream when I was chosen by the Oakland Athletics in the 2016 MLB draft.
While my baseball career and my progression as a person overlapped rather subtly, neither side could have taken its respective path without the other.
Along the journey, my perspective had changed.
When I wasn’t drafted my junior year, it crushed me. It was my childhood dream; I was devastated.
But it was also the best thing that could have happened to me.
It forced me to look at my ‘why’s.’ Why did I want to play professional baseball? Why had my childhood dream stuck with me all of my life?
I knew I loved baseball; loved playing it, watching it, studying it, talking about it; anything that involved baseball, I was for it.
But amidst that disappointment, I knew I needed to make a paradigm shift. There was no epiphany or a-ha moment, I just realized that I had been blinded by my childhood dream; a baseball career.
And yet, as my dream grew near, I realized I couldn’t put my finger on why it was what I had always wanted.
My parents had been beyond supportive throughout my career. Whether I was a baseball player, CEO, or an artist, their view of me wouldn’t change. My friends, my girlfriend, my teammates, would have been happy to see me fulfill this dream, but my value to them would be the same either way.
In terms of my view of myself? Baseball didn’t define me.
The disappointment of not being drafted after my junior year, didn’t cause me to blame or question myself for a second. I had worked hard to be successful, and I wasn’t immediately rewarded. Life’s not fair, and that’s fine with me. It’s better that way.
Yet, I came to the realization that my childhood dream stuck with me throughout my life because it was just that: my childhood dream.
It wasn’t about the money, it wasn’t about the fame, and it wasn’t even about my love for baseball. I didn’t need the recognition and, since baseball didn’t define me, I didn’t need any sort of personal validation to feel fulfilled. I invested such a great deal of emotion into not being drafted, but for all the wrong reasons.
I held onto my childhood dream because that’s what I thought we were all supposed to do. Strive to be whatever you want, because you can be anything you want to be.
Or something like that.
I never expected to be chosen in the draft after my college season ended, and I had come to terms with the end of my baseball career. So when I received the texts and calls congratulating me after I was drafted, it was a bit of a shock.
Of course it was exciting to hear my name called by an MLB team, but my reaction was conflicted. My childhood dream had been fulfilled, but perhaps it was just that: a childhood dream. I had already prepared myself to move on, and was excited to take the big step into the next stage of my life. And that didn’t include baseball.
Receiving the opportunity to play professional baseball is pretty amazing, not many people get the chance. And so I played, and I did pretty well. I ended up receiving postseason All-Star honors in the Arizona League receiving an invite to the team’s fall instructional league.
Everyone says to keep playing until they don’t let you play any longer.
I didn’t. I retired. I gave up my childhood dream.
A Pros and Cons List
The cons: I wasn’t supporting myself financially. Not a huge deal, but still a ‘con.’
I was older than most of my teammates, and my chances of making it to the top were slim.
But on the list were two particularly significant points.
First, continuing to play would mean putting off the things I valued most. It would mean holding out on a career outside of baseball, which would prepare me for the next stage of my life. It would also keep the people closest to me from being able move forward given the uncertainty of my future . This was hardly appealing.
Second, my pursuit of self-development was lagging.
In The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson writes, that if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards. And I was moving backwards. There are four categories: career, health, relationships, and spiritual/personal growth.
I wasn’t going to play in the Major Leagues, so my ‘career’ hadn’t started. And contrary to some people might think, the minor leagues aren’t particularly conducive for one’s health, so that aspect certainly wasn’t improving.
My relationships weren’t getting any better, either.
Though everyone was extremely supportive, I was slacking on keeping in touch with my closest friends, and I was making my girlfriend wait around for me while I toiled away at an uncertain future.
And finally, my spiritual/personal growth was at a standstill; or as Jeff Olson would put it, moving backwards. The things that kept me moving forward; waking up early, spending time in silence and/or prayer, reading, listening to podcasts, and all things that have been crucial for my self-development, were getting much less of my time.
The list of pros? There was one: I love baseball.
Playing in the big leagues is sexy. Those guys are elite athletes and have earned the right to be treated like celebrities. I have the utmost respect for them because they endured the minor league lifestyle in order to relentlessly pursue their dreams. No matter what anyone says, the players who make it to the top don’t do so out of luck or pure talent. All of them have to be 100% committed to endure the inevitable struggles that come with the game of baseball.
I’m also 100% committed. Developing my self, reaching my goals, and investing in my relationships is my top priority. I’m 100% all in.
I will forever love baseball, and I’m grateful for all the things it has given me. But in my case, baseball wasn’t moving me towards my goals and what I value most. To accomplish what I plan on accomplishing, I need to be 100% all in. I need to be 100% consumed.
And I am. I’m 100% all in to becoming the best version of myself that I can possibly be.
That’s my dream.