Sometimes We Need To Be Told That We Suck
When I was at UCLA and UC San Diego, I played intercollegiate hockey.
Well, not really.
There is no NCAA hockey in California. It was a club-level program, and we only played other schools on the west coast (Cal, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, and so on).
The league was competitive, but nowhere near the level of play you’d see in the NCAA. No one had aspirations of ever playing professionally, and even within my own team from season to season, I was far from a star player.
Still, I took my hockeying fairly seriously (a fact belied now by my referring to it as “hockeying”). When I was on the ice, I was pretty much looking to kill someone. Anyone. Hopefully, on the opposing team. I compensated for my lack of natural talent by skating harder and just playing more intensely than everyone else.
Eventually, I developed a reputation for being a tough hitter and fearless (though some would also say reckless) physical player. I wore the reputation with pride, mostly because I was always a wee bit on the small side for a hockey player. Hey, I said I was serious about my hockeying.
And I kept that intensity up for almost a decade…. until the day one of my best friends came to a game, and afterwards, he only half-jokingly pointed out that I kinda sucked….
If you’re a fan of Calvin and Hobbes, you may have come across this inspirational quote by Bill Watterson. In it, he describes how we shouldn’t be afraid to abandon an unrewarding career and pursue our passion, specifically referring to the fact that he gave up a job as a political cartoonist to create a comic strips instead.
Now, contrast Watterson’s inspiring words with these words by actor Mike Rowe, which I can only describe as… de-spiring? Perspiring? In sharp contrast to Watterson, Rowe basically says that you shouldn’t drop everything to pursue your passion, because you just might suck at it. Instead, you should figure out what you’re good at, and turn that into your passion.
As big a fan as I am of Watterson, Rowe’s words resonated far more with me, because that’s exactly what happened to me. All through college and and grad school, I was passionate about hockey. Sure, I knew I would never have a career as a professional hockey player. But I still treated hockey as though I were an aspiring pro.
It wasn’t until my friend told me how much I sucked that I started to realize how ridiculous my mentality was.
It took a few years for the sting of the comment to wear off, but once I fully accepted that hockey would only ever be a hobby, all of a sudden, the sport became fun again. I could play hard, but I didn’t have to skate every shift with the goal of trying to take someone’s head off. I could be intense and competitive, and go out for beers with the other team afterwards.
Once I learned to treat hockey as a hobby, I found time to devote to new passions — viable interests that I could actually pursue as a career. Eventually, I landed on teaching and writing, and I found that I was actually pretty damned good at both (certainly better than I was at hockey). They were skills the 22-year-old me would never have thought he’d be passionate about.
That’s why, looking back now, I have to thank my friend for being so blunt that random day. He was the one guy in my life who wasn’t afraid to cut my hockey ego down a few notches. And despite how awful it made me feel, it was exactly what I needed to hear.
At some point in our lives, I think most of us need to be told how much we suck, especially if we suck at something that we’re passionate about. Otherwise, we’ll end up wasting our lives pursuing a passion that we have no business pursuing, and then we miss out on something else that we could have been productively passionate about.
It’s easy to be inspired by a famous person who pursued their passions and found raging success. We read about how many times JK Rowling’s idea for a magical world of wizards was rejected, or how Tom Brady was a fourth-string quarterback in college. We see how they persevered despite the setbacks. And we think, “Wow, maybe if I just work hard enough at my passion, I can be successful like them, too.”
Well, we can’t all be JK Rowling or Tom Brady. Or Bill Watterson, or even Mike Rowe. Ultimately, these folks had talent. Tons of it. And some of us — actually, the vast majority of us — have to occupy the “sucking” end of the talent spectrum.
And that’s why, alongside their success stories, I’m throwing in my own anecdote about an abject failure at hockey, who gave up his first passion and found others to pursue instead — and even ended up carving a career out of them.
Now, will someone please just tell me how much I suck at Words With Friends, so I can stop taking this damned game so seriously?