One of the most challenging concepts to master in our lives is the rare and powerful ability to pursue goals with an open hand. As young man growing up I had dreams that looked very different from the place in life that I am today. You all know the story of weight loss by now but what I haven’t talked about much is my desire to be a professional athlete. I discovered Baseball in the summer before I started High School. I loved watching the major sports when I was growing up. Being in Alabama, Football, Basketball, and Baseball were embedded in the culture. I think I liked athletics because of all the underdog stories that we tell about athletes. Stories of being too small, overlooked in drafts, struggling to find a right fit on a team, personal loss while playing for big games etc. There’ something heroic about those narratives. Of course as a kid I was experiencing regular verbal abuse from my peers and something that I regularly heard about was my slowness, weakness, and lack of athleticism. Yup, I was one of those kids that got picked last for sports, if I got picked at all. In athletics I saw my own underdog story. Sports was a source of hope in the midst of chaos.
Part of my working out to lose weight involved an obsession with someday being able to run as fast as the other kids. Someday being able to have as much endurance as the other kids. Someday being as strong and athletic as the other kids. In the summer of 1996 I saw the Homerun Derby for major league baseball. These guys were unloading on the baseball. In my mind I thought, “Big guys hitting a baseball as hard as possible? I can do that!” Well, as with many things in life, it would prove to be a lot more complicated, but, being who I am, I was up for the challenge.
With money I had saved from cutting grass, I bought a batting tee, a glove, a baseball, and a softball bat (I didn’t know the difference then). I also bought some clothing line that people use for drying clothes outside. I took the line and duct taped one end around the ball. I tied the other end to the batting tee. The space I had was my backyard so I would hit the ball off the tee and the clothing line would stop it. Just like with weight loss, it was a trial and error process. Mostly error. When tryouts came around freshman year of high school, I was way out of my element. A lot of guys had been playing baseball since they were 4 or 5 years old. I hadn’t been playing any sports other than at school in PE class. That was a little Basketball that I wasn’t very good at. I was behind. Big time. Hitting a moving baseball is hard for a well coached, experienced, naturally athletic person. So you can imagine it was hard as hell for a person who has never been coached on the skill, no experience playing the game, and very limited athletic abilities. Oh yeah, I also had a strong nearsightedness and wore glasses, so that made things interesting sometimes.
I struggled and classmates who weren’t even at the tryouts would let me know how bad I was. I guess I was so terrible that the guys at the tryouts had to tell somebody. Tryouts lasted about a week and I was allowed to be on the JV team. I think the coaches appreciated my determination and lack of cockiness. I couldn’t throw, could barely catch, and hitting was almost non existent. However, when I do something, I shoot big. In my mind I was going to play Major League Baseball. If not for anything than to make everyone that was doubting me put their foot in their mouth! I worked hard year after year, on my own. Just as hard as I worked on weight loss. Even when I went off to college at the University of Houston I held on, going to Walk On tryouts for the Cougars Baseball team 3 out of the 5 years I was in college. That was even crazier because UH had an excellent Baseball Program and recruited top level talent from around the country. Again, I was out of my league.
Baseball was heartbreaking for me. So many young men dream of being a professional athlete when growing up. Though an unlikely candidate, I was no different. I worked hard for it. I bought my own pitching machine in highschool and in college during the summer I would spend lots of time in the batting cages. I actually got really good at hitting in the batting cage compared to where I started. I got better. I often think about what could have happened had someone introduced me to the game when I was small. Or if I just had been in a more supportive peer group. I wanted so badly to prove people wrong. To prove that I was athletic and that I could play with everyone else. It was heartbreaking to work so hard year after year on my own, and I just couldn’t catch up to the skill level of others. The last tryout that I went to in college was a wash. I barely hit the ball and I was totally outclassed by guys who had been All State, high school standouts. I went back to my dorm and I asked myself, “Travis what have you learned from this process?” It very much mirrored the weight loss process in the sense that I put in so much effort trying to achieve this goal year after year, and not only was I not seeing the results I wanted, but I never saw the result I wanted. I lost the weight but I never did more with baseball than ride the bench in high school. My answer to the question I asked was simple: No Regrets. I had done all I could, with what I had, to be the best baseball player I could be. I got better and a few people recognized it. There were points in high school where a couple of my teammates who were regular starters asked me to break down their swing mechanics. Why? Even though I was still so far behind, they saw how much I improved on my own and respected my opinion on hitting. I guess I’ve been a coach all my life. When I finally put baseball down I left it with total peace. I had given it all I had, with what I knew to do. Was it disappointing? Massively. It felt like I was giving in to all those voices from childhood, “You’re fat! You’re weak! You Suck!” But I was satisfied with my effort. I swung baseball bats until I ripped big tears in my hands and then tapped the wounds up and kept hitting. I got up early in the morning before classes in college to hit balls off the batting tee. I watched pro players and tried to analyze their swing mechanics. I did shuttle sprints and threw baseballs into fences to try to work on my arm. All seasons I put in effort. 99% of the time on my own. No coaches. I left no stone unturned. I emptied the bucket. All out pursuit.
In the end, I realized that you can come up short on a dream and rest peacefully if you can say that you gave it everything you had. Even when the process isn’t giving you anything. That’s what baseball taught me. To day I’m 36 and I’m more athletic than many 20 year olds who we would consider to be good athletes. I’m 6’ 3” and I move with the grace of a gymnast. I’ve learned so much over the years about body mechanics. Today, I’m still interested in Mixed Martial Arts. I like the challenge and all the skills and I’m confident I can learn it if I decide too. Still not sure if I’ll give it a try…
I tell people that goals specify action. There are so many distractions in the modern world that if you don’t intentionally create a vision for yourself, the modern environment will create one for you. You’re going somewhere, wouldn’t you rather try and define that place for yourself? But people struggle with the potential for failure. “What if I set a goal and I miss?” Life is a process of Self-Discovery. You must test your limits against a process in order to know what you are made of. It’s easier to not have goals. Then you don’t have to deal with the pain of disappointment because you will come up short often. However, I believe that a lack of experience with true all out effort is like robbing yourself of your own potential. It’s easy to take mediocre results from your own life, when you put forth mediocre effort.
I walked away from baseball disappointed with the result but satisfied with myself. I have closure with it. I had the courage to dream big. Massive, actually. I had the courage to fail, spectacularly sometimes. I’ve heard people say, “I hate it when people say you can be whatever you want to be. That’s Crap!” My friend, don’t be so cynical. True, you can’t do whatever you want in life. Every kid that wants to be a pro athlete isn’t going to make it. However, we shouldn’t shield kids or adults from the process of intense longterm sustained effort, in a failing attempt at a goal. Failure is a wise teacher. Are we only going to shoot for things that we are likely to hit? There is no courage in that. There is no humility in that. There is no daring in that. I always shoot big. I will be the #1 Personal Development Coach in the World! That’s my goal. Big and Audacious! And I’ma go all out! But I hold it with an open hand because I don’t what tomorrow may bring in new passions discovered, new tragedy faced, or a limitation realized. It’s paradoxical to pursue big goals with all out ferociousness of intention, whilst also having the humility to let life, fate, God, time, and destiny, reshape what we see in our mind.
I never wanted to join the military growing up. I ended becoming a member of One of America’s Elite Military Combat Units. I never wanted to be a public speaker growing up and now I am comfortable in front a Division 1 College Football team and coaching staff… giving them the business! Public speaking is widely held as one of people’s top fears and I am perfectly at home with it. How did I discover those things? I dared to be, and dare to be whatever I want to be. I love y’all!