There are days when you don’t have it in life, whether it be in my experience in the pro sports world, in online dating (the gregarious Bumble peasant I was), relationships, startup success, or all the in-between-stuff.
Before I joined civilian life after my 14 years of pro basketball abroad, there were games when everything seemed to go wrong, when LeBron James dunked on me, or the ball bounced off my foot in front of thousands of people, and the shots that typically go in, rim out, and I’d get that feeling that the Universe is cursing and spitting on me simultaneously.
What the hell Universe, just work with me here.
But reflecting on my suffering, I learned the worst part about the process of struggle isn’t the struggle itself, it’s the fact I allowed myself to lose focus, my Zen, and my goddamn mind at times.
As I’ve gotten older, I pause when the struggle bus hits me because a pod of growth seeds lay dormant, waiting to sprout.
I stop and take a breath, look at the wind move the green leaves, or the sun peeking beyond the horizon, and I thank the Universe for being alive, for even having the chance to be here to struggle and grow and learn how to do more with my life.
I lose my focus too much, and with all the distractions millennial life offers us, it’s no wonder when things feel tough, go wrong, or when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and there is no stopping the onslaught of negativity or anxiety that comes rushing at my brain, there is always a choice to make:
Say yes (in that moment) and embrace the struggle — good or bad — or start binge-watching Netflix.
Pro sports taught me you couldn’t control everything. I can’t control if I’ll meet my future life partner today. I can’t control if a pigeon shits on my shoulder. I can’t control if it rains. I can’t control the people that lose their minds while driving to work.
I can only control the one controllable:
In dating, I can manage asking a beautiful woman what time it is (or out to eat).
In relaxing, I can control breathing.
In self-awareness, I can control writing out my emotions, thoughts, and patterns in a journal.
In health, I can control the 4% of my day to work on my fitness.
In relationships, I can control the amount of times I interact with my loved ones.
In anger, I can pause and reflect before rabid squirrel biting a person’s neck.
Yet today, the Universe is cussing and spitting at me, what do I do in the moment I feel like I lose control of myself?
As my mind races forward about an eviction I don’t want to make, a to-do list I don’t want to start, a marketing flier I need to finish, a thousand emails I need to get out, a sailboat I can’t afford, tickets that are unpaid (shit Chicago, C’mon, $100 for a wrong side of the street cleaning ticket?), I ask the, “Who’s in control?” question.
Because when I woke up today, I didn’t have it.
In my experience of learning positive self-improvement habits, mindfulness, Zen breathing techniques, anything and everything that will help me focus…
The fact always remains I’m the only variable of controlling my self control in any situation — of my attitude, of my judgment of right wrong, of my erratic thoughts on what is good or bad about my life. I’m the only variable aware enough to allow the bad thoughts, feelings, and emotions pass by like leaves floating down a river.
Just like reading this won’t help you, you will help you.
Just like this writing this, I think, “This is shit writing. No one will want to read this.” I’m the only one that can deal with those shitty sabotage thoughts.
I am the one that can work on controlling my attitude, effort, mindset, and enthusiasm. I played basketball because of the pure joy of competition, of being in the moment, concentrating on the task, and sharing my expression of creation.
Is life any different?
Well, actually, yes, to be honest, life is harder than failing on a big stage in front of millions of people, but the patterns for focus and growth remain the same.
What habits help me let go of attachment to thoughts about my life being good or bad?
Does working harder at building good habits make me a happier, healthier, grittier human?
Being self-aware helps me change course. Practicing meditation directs me to less technology. Taking nature walks puts me in touch with the Universe. Putting my phone away helps me focus on my friends. Inverting my life makes me practice gratitude for what I have. These are all self-improvement habits I try to practice in my daily life (some better than others), but it still all comes down to me.
Today, I may be floating above my body, but these are the moments when I take a deep breath and remind myself the struggle can be the crucial part of life that helps me grow the most.
As a young athlete, losing to my older brother hundreds of times was that struggle. In fitness, not being able to feel my legs after a tough weight room workout and making myself go for a run the next day was that struggle. In relationships, failing to cultivate or nourish a relationship because of my lack of awareness or desire to grow was that struggle.
Oh, you want me to get off my phone or computer and interact? Why didn’t you just say so?
Oh, you want me to spend some quality time and engage your mind or body?
Oh, you want me to work out and go run in a third world country because your mind is shutting down?
Embracing the struggle is a really, really hard thing to do.
Is it because of my bad habits I fail to embrace the moment? Is it my mindset? Is it because I played pro sports for over a decade and I was built for failure in the real world?
It’s just life!
My successful basketball habits after my pro career ended have deteriorated. I wake up later. I write more. I work out less. I am on my computer more. I explore other cultures more. I procrastinate constantly. I waffle between new careers and jobs and states and cities and women, but the truth is, all of this is struggle, which means, all of this can be a source of growth, of habit building, and self-improvement. I skip fitness workouts.
I’m lazy. I feel like a failure at times. I ask myself, “What happened to that guy that was hungry, motivated, ambitious?”
Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, a typical career, a house to live in, which is funny because even as I type it, I can feel a pang of guilt about not having them.
Why is there a reason I should have all those things right now if I’m still struggling with dealing with the emotions they bring with them?
Dealing, accepting, and acting on the thoughts, emotions, and struggle are real-time battles that will allow me to come out on the other side a stronger, more resilient person.
On certain days, maybe even weeks, I can feel heavy, slow, sad, angry, anxious, or nostalgic about wanting something else that I can’t even understand in my consciousness.
These moments of lucidity are the miracles.
When you don’t feel it, when you don’t want to embrace the struggle, but rather, want to curl up and drink hot cocoa with marshmallows and binge on Netflix for two days, is when you should feel it and decide to change your focus.