For most of my youth, I never imagined that I would become anything other than a professional baseball player. I’m told that I was throwing a ball from about 18 months old. The only studio pictures of me as a small child feature a flannel, pinstriped baseball uniform. I developed a strong throwing arm by having catches with my friend Phil before I was allowed to cross the street to his house. When nobody was around, for hours at a time, I’d toss the ball in the air, off walls, off roofs…anything to be playing. And before I was old enough for any organized league, I went to my brothers’ games, eager for the opportunity to run the bases – and slide, of course – when the games ended. As the saying goes, I lived and breathed baseball.
By the time I was 11 years old, I was playing on a team based in Brooklyn, an hour+ from my Long Island home. It was a serious team with many fantastic players. We were dedicated to baseball…dedicated enough to practice in gymnasiums through the winter and travel the country for tournaments during the summer. Ohio, Connecticut, San Francisco, Maryland, Seattle, and Iowa were the places we played by the time I was 15.
Something happened, though, between the ages of 14 and 15. I found that I wasn’t growing and building muscle like the other guys, and, for the first time, I stopped hitting. I worked at addressing both issues. I ate and ate and drank late night milkshakes to put on weight, but I couldn’t gain a pound. I worked out, but I couldn’t add mass. And all my hitting practice didn’t translate into success in the batter’s box. It got bad enough that, to compensate for my ailing bat and to more fully utilize the vast talent on our team, my coach put a designated hitter in my spot in the batting order. Though my love for playing middle infield never deteriorated, nor did my proficiency with the glove, I found myself playing half of the game, and I didn’t like it.
This is around the part of most stories where the hero presses on, works extra hard, overcomes the difficulties, and reaches his goal. That’s not my story, though. In the off-season after a disappointing tournament finish, my Brooklyn team folded, and I decided it was time to hang up my metal spikes. I played my last game in Cedar Rapids, IA at age 15.
What accompanied my lack of growth and my hitting woes is the same seed that germinates whenever potential goes unrealized: I didn’t believe – any longer, at least – in the possibility of attaining my goal. It wasn’t good enough that my mother still believed; I didn’t. And without the belief that it was possible, I decided that continuing to try just wasn’t worth it.
Though seldom told, and never glorified, my story is quite common. In fact, it is played out everyday. It’s told when a child, criticized at every turn, becomes unconsciously convinced that nothing he does is good enough and, so, tries nothing. It’s told when inner-city youth fail to see how education can possibly help create a different reality and, so, contribute to alarming rates of educational underperformance. It’s told when an employee sees only the paycheck connected to his job and, so, fails to give his best. These are stories about a lack of inspiration.
If potential is to be realized – UNLEASHED – inspiration must be present. It’s inspiration that leverages other assets to unleash potential. What inspires you? How are you staying inspired? How are you inspiring others?