Thursday, June 11, 2009

Take It To The Limit

Playing little league baseball was a fun and educational experience. Hanging out in the sun, joking around with my friends, I got to learn a wide variety of skills, from the proper throwing technique, to how to track a pop fly, to the value of being a good teammate.

I also learned that, because of my pre-game nausea, I needed easy access to a bathroom approximately 10 minutes prior to the first pitch.

And while I benefited greatly from all of those (who needs vomit in center field?), there was another lesson in particular that stood out above the rest:

Try your best.

In a world of fanatically possessed coaches and my-son-is-the-next-A-Rod parents, you would have thought the primary message would’ve centered on stats and scoreboards. But from a young age, I was taught the only thing that mattered was that I tried my hardest.

I mean, even when we lost, we still got a Capri Sun after the game.

As I've gotten older, that lesson has stuck with me, but it’s continually gotten harder to determine what my “best” is. Dealing with open-ended, grown-up situations, the measurement of maximum effort is more complex than simply diving for every ball or running out every grounder. The line that separates “giving up too soon” from “time to move on” can be a blurry haze, leaving me constantly wondering:

How do you know when you’ve given something your best?

We’ve all been there before. Sometimes it’s with a dream, an out-of-the-box ambition. Maybe you are trying to start your own business. Maybe you move to a new place. Or maybe you…I don’t know…quit your secure, Corporate America job to go wait tables and play competitive golf.

Sometimes it’s with a relationship. You meet someone who moves you, someone you connect with, and thoughts of falling in love and living happily ever after begin dancing through your head.

In both instances, you are putting your heart on the line in hopes of achieving something great.

After a while, though, you hit a wall. Things stop progressing. Your intentions are right, and your effort is full, but you are just not seeing the results you want to see.

Frustrated and discouraged, your steely-eyed conviction begins to waver. What was once something you were certain of is now not so clear.

With your plan at a standstill, embarrassment sets in. Looking in the mirror is enough of a challenge, so being around others can be especially distressing. It’s like you’re carrying around the “elephant in the room” on your shoulder, and everyone has an opinion. Even if they don’t say anything, you imagine what they’re thinking, projecting your insecurities onto them. And while you know they mean well, and you know they want you to be happy, you long to be anywhere but here.

Eventually, the ping-ponging between those outside voices and your inner-dialogue becomes too much. On the verge of taking orders from your neighbor’s dog Son-of-Sam-style, you can’t help but ask yourself:

Should I hang in there and keep trying? Or is this simply not meant to be?

It’s only natural – and oftentimes healthy – to question the state of your union, to conduct your own personal review. Like Forrest Gump looking at a person’s shoes, you can see where you’ve been and where you’re going, giving you a fair assessment in determining what to do next.

Unfortunately, we often end up focusing on all of the wrong angles, from our preconceived notions of how things should be progressing to our daunting fear of the what-ifs. We turn up the volume of the naysayers. We compare our circumstances to others, and we wonder why it can’t be as easy and effortless for us.

The process leaves us even more perplexed than before.

What we tend to forget, though, is that each situation has its own path and its own timeline, both of which are unique and completely independent from anyone else’s. Just because a friend knew her guy was “the one” because he took care of her when she was sick doesn’t make “playing nurse” a universal soul mate indicator. And just because you weren’t on national television at age two like Tiger Woods doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful golfer.

These matters of the heart – the things we truly care about – are messy, and they don’t adhere to any hard-and-fast rules or married-by-30 mandates. They’re illogical and irrational and unpredictable, and the more we try to make them objective, the more we spin our wheels, because matters of the heart cannot be solved with our head.

You can apply all of the logic and pros-and-cons lists to them you want, but when it comes down to it, you just have to go on that indescribable, individual sensation of what feels “right.”

And you’re the only one who knows that.

People may think you’re crazy, and some may question your level of self-respect. But luckily, you don’t have to answer to any of just have to be honest with yourself.

So the next time you’re faced with a fight-or-flight predicament, picture the future version of yourself, lounging on the porch in a one-piece jumpsuit, with the story of your life in the rearview mirror. Will you be able to look back at this moment and know that you didn’t leave anything on the table?

If you can do that, you can move forward without any regret and enjoy a hard-earned Capri Sun in peace.

About Me

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?