Earlier this month, I had the peculiar experience of seeing my son live out a dream that went unfulfilled for me when I was his age. Patrick was announced as a starter in his first varsity football game, in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd that held many of his friends and family.
I was ecstatic for him, but it’s easier for me to identify with the guys on the sidelines. Like them, my dream was to hear my name called over the speakers by the announcer and to run out on that football field, before those fans and under those lights. I vividly remember playing that scene in my mind, as I rode hills on my bicycle in the predawn stillness before my morning weight-lifting sessions.
Though it provided plenty of motivation, the dream for me was never realized. Instead of my years of intense training being rewarded in grand fashion, in front of friends and family, my dream of being a high school football star died quietly in an Omaha orthopedist’s office with my parents as the only witnesses.
This juxtaposition of heart-warming success and heart-wrenching failure plays out not only on athletic fields, but in offices, classrooms and elsewhere every day. Some succeed, while others fail. Dreams are fulfilled, and dreams are crushed. Some of these dreams are abandoned, while others are reconstructed.
On the football field, the drama is amplified, literally under a bright light. You practice and train beside your teammates, always trying to find your place in the hierarchy. You compete together, but also against each other for those precious few spots. Some are going to win, and because there are winners, there also have to be losers.
It’s the same way in life. We don’t get the job for which we feel we are perfect or we’re passed over for a promotion. A love interest leaves us in puzzled rejection. The invite gets lost in the mail.
Failure and disappointment are part of life, and fear of them can be crippling, unless you can put them in context. If we learn from it, failure is an event that will pass, rather than a condition that will last.
Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” Failure gives you a chance to evaluate yourself and your approach, and adjust or even change direction. The experience makes you more likely to succeed somewhere further down the line.
In his last year of youth baseball, Patrick played at a high level, but rode the bench a lot. It was frustrating and disappointing for him. Like his football teammates, he did everything the coach asked, but someone at his position was better than he. Ultimately, at the end of the season, he and half his teammates were cut from the team. That experience hurt, but it also helped him understand losing in a competitive situation, and ironically, it pushed him toward success in football.
Though he enjoyed baseball, most of that enjoyment came from playing with his friends on that team. Without that option, he decided to hang up the cleats. Because high-level baseball required so much dedication throughout the spring and summer, he had already disciplined himself to sacrifice, and he simply shifted the focus to football training. I’m convinced that shift in focus enabled him to earn that starting spot on the football team, and had he not been cut from the baseball team, he would not be a starter on the varsity football team.
Despite my best efforts, I never experienced athletic success, but I attribute a lot of the success that I have experienced since to my pursuit of that dream. My dream drove me, disciplined me and taught me more about myself and my place in life than anything else in my childhood.
That’s the value of dreams. They give you a reason to believe and achieve. They encourage you to push yourself harder and further than you think you can go. They incite passion. They nurture dedication.
Don’t be afraid to dream, and don’t be afraid to fail. You never know what you might achieve.