For all of you none-sports fans out there, I promise the greater message behind this short story is worth the wait. So, bear with me!
At some point last year, I had just finished watching the Chicago Blackhawks knock out James Neal and his Nashville Predators in game six of their first-round NHL play-off series.
It was one of the most exhilarating play-off series I’ve seen in a very long time. It was full of goals, hits, skill, clutch plays, over-times, heroes, villains, and drama. In short, it was everything that sports fans watches hockey for.
When the game ended, Chicago being victorious, I couldn’t explain why I felt a deep sense of injustice inside of myself. That injustice followed me around all day, a looming shadow constantly nipping at my heels. Why was I so rattled over the result of a game?
It bothered me until I was forced to stop and face the feeling in an attempt to understand it. I wanted to sit with the emotion in the hope that eventually I would let it go. Catch and release.
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On the surface, the source of that feeling seemed fairly obvious. Nashville had done everything that every young player is taught would result in their success on the ice. Not only had they done everything right, but they had done it better than Chicago.
And yet there they were, eliminated from the play-offs.
I felt as though something had been taken from Nashville. Like they deserved better. But why?
The more I took a deeper look at this feelings, the more I began to realize the root of the problem wasn’t specific to sports. It’s something we all deal with, every day, a humans.
In this particular instance, my negative feelings lay in a strange idea of hockey “justice” that had been indoctrinated into me at a young age. As athletes, we are taught to place all of our faith into the notion that if you play the game a certain positive way, a specific positive result will follow.
The problem with investing so much faith into this belief is that in sports, as in life, there is no actual guarantee of that desired result.
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In life, we’re faced with these false promises every day of our lives.
If we just follow these simple academic guidelines, we will get into a good university and find a respectable job. If we just master these certain athletic skills and systems, we will soon be playing in the big leagues.
If we find a beautiful or handsome spouse, own a white picket fence, a family dog, two new cars in the garage, and make six figures, we will find happiness. If we act in this holy manner, we will go to heaven when we die.
Most of the time it is either implied, or explicitly stated, that not following these guidelines will lead to the opposite result. We will fail out of school, get cut from the team, be unhappy in life, or burn in hell.
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I think that these inferences hold merit on a basic level.
If you refuse to attempt a mastery of your athletic skills, you probably won’t make the show. If you refuse to dedicate yourself to reading and writing, your academic pursuits will definitely be more difficult. I think basic instructions on the improvement of dream-specific tools serve as strong groundwork for anyone pursuing those dreams.
There are certain things you can’t ignore while chasing your dreams. Things like hard work, passion, and sincerity will always be crucial to your success.
So why do I think our “How we should do things” sense of justice is such a potentially dangerous set of beliefs to put our faith into?
Because we ignore the possibility that a team like Nashville can follow the age-old formula, preached by hockey clergyman, and still lose the game.
We ignore the possibility that we can obtain that corner office and own the dream house in the suburbs and still be unhappy.
We can experience hell on earth even if we are morally good people.
We can have a chiseled six-pack and still be unhealthy, or unable to truly love ourselves.
We ignore the possibility that we can wake up at twenty nine years old in peak physical condition, be highly skilled, but still be in the minor leagues.
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It is in our ignorance of these very real possibilities that we create very real suffering for ourselves. We see life as unfair or unjust. We’re shocked and appalled when these negative possibilities come to fruition. We waste years pursuing something because someone else told us it will bring us joy. Then we feel as though life isn’t fair when that joy doesn’t magically appear.
Yet, there is absolutely no logical basis for us to feel this sense of injustice when these perverse results occur. The injustice lays only in the vast faith we’ve put into the doctrine of “how things should be.”
In cases where one acts correctly but still suffers disaster, one is left bewildered and unable to fit the event into a scheme of justice. The world seems absurd.” – Seneca the Younger, as quoted in The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton.
This may seem like a negative perspective, but it’s not.
I believe that understanding these very real negative possibilities gives us – as human beings – real strength.
If you can fail by following the rules then you can succeed without fanatically following them.
You can be a respectable person without pursuing a traditionally esteemed occupation. You can publish an influential academic piece without attending Harvard, or topping all of your classes. You can be a great champion without a pedigree or without following the traditional path of your respective sport or discipline. If heaven is your goal, you can still find that stairway if you step outside of the three thousand year old guidelines written in scripture.
You can be a happy person without following the status quo or chasing the American dream.
I can’t give you a blueprint that guarantees success for your pursuits in life. I can’t tell you the way to happiness. But neither can anyone else.
So break the chains of expectation. Free yourself from the prison of how things should be, the shackles of how we should live. Stop wasting time following other people’s blueprint for happiness, achievement, success, or spirituality.
Carve the path that calls to you. Follow your dream whether or not convention considers it probable, because convention can’t guarantee you success or failure. All you can do in chasing your sun is keep your feet moving and your eyes on the light.
And let come what come may.
Be good to each other,
Photo Use Courtesy of:
(1) Cover: joecoculo.tumblr.com
(2) Boy Praying: ministry-to-children.com
(3) Girls at Bondi: blog.ishine365.com