“What are you doing?” the blinking cursor on the white screen questioned me. “What are you hoping to accomplish with this writing stuff?”
At lightning speed, I bit my lip and tapped out my defiant response in Times New Roman:
“I don’t know, but I’m not going to quit.”
The slim black line of the cursor waited patiently next to the last period. Time was of no importance to it. It could blink all day and all night, waiting. I stared at my foolish sentence, feeling my bravado weakening. Nothing was happening. No words would come forth. I’ve been learning this often happens to writers. I wonder if they call it “writer’s block” to compare it to a block of ice, frozen and unyielding.
I could stop. No one would know if I didn’t write today. My eyes squinted with determination, and a memory of a day in 8th grade announced itself in my mind. A day I’ve regretted for decades.
Thinking back, I could see my 13-year-old self sitting on the bleachers in a school gym that smelled like a mixture of sweat and old basketballs. Every open door teamed up in silent resolve to get the stink out. Even though it was Fall, the Central Valley summer heat hadn’t left yet, which didn’t help matters.
The boys were in motion on the court, and the unfamiliar chorus of squeaky tennis shoes scraping against the gym floor was intimidating. Would I be able to move quick enough to make that sound with my Reeboks? I sat among a large group of girls while we waited for the boys to finish their turn. We were all there to try out for the junior high volleyball teams.
“Hey, Josh wanted me to give this to you.”
I looked up, surprised. A blond girl I didn’t know yet was walking toward me wearing the same P.E. clothes the rest of us had on—gray shorts and a cobalt blue T-shirt with the school’s name in bright yellow letters. Somehow an outfit that made me look frumpy turned out really cute on her. A matching ribbon was tied around her ponytail. It bounced up and down with each step. Her bright green gum peeked through her teeth as she smiled. Her blue eyes held excited secrets.
She held a tiny white bundle in her hand. I looked closer and saw it was lined notebook paper that had been folded a billion times over until it formed a small, thick triangle. It was the standard structure for passing notes in class. My heart sped up a bit.
By the time my eyes left the note in her hand to look up at her face again, she had already moved on to the girl sitting a few feet away from me. The beautiful one who had the long straight hair and the perfect shiny lip gloss. She was in my science class. I envied her Esprit backpack and the way she got along with all the boys so effortlessly. Back then, I was an expert at having crushes on boys from a distance, but I didn’t have a clue how to talk to them. Looking in the other direction, I pretended I never once thought that note was for me.
Trying not to be obvious, I pulled at the hem of my shorts, hoping to hide another inch or two of my chubbiness. Hoping to hide entirely. I was sure I’d never be like them. What was I doing here? I wasn’t very active. It took all my energy just to walk the two blocks to school each day. In the short time I’d been there, I’d seen these two girls all over the track working hard every day to train and stay fit. It took me sixteen minutes to run the mile last week. That was nearly twice the time they could run it. But I really enjoyed when we played volleyball in P.E. There was a certain satisfaction in serving the ball and watching it soar over the net.
If I made this team, it wouldn’t be like soccer in second grade…when I quit the team after the third practice because I hurt my ankle (which recovered in a week). And nobody in this town would know about my sixth grade year at my old school when I was written up in the newspaper as “the losing pitcher” for the softball team. I didn’t have to mention that we didn’t win a single game that season…did I? I mean, softball…volleyball….totally different, right?
An extra gaggle of girls entered the gym as the boys left for the locker room. Scores of girls. All there for try-outs. In that moment, I decided it was over. I didn’t stand a chance against all of them. Resigned, I stood up when the coach asked us to gather around and followed the crowd. But when it came time to play for a spot on the team, my effort was little to none. My ambition was put on the shelf. And not among the trophies.
At the end of the next day, when the new team list was posted in the locker room, I wasn’t surprised at all when my name wasn’t on it. Beneath my lashes, I watched the two girls from the day before jump up and down in a victorious hug, hair ribbons celebrating, too. The walk home was slow and full of sighs as I clutched my science books to my chest thinking of what went wrong. I was too this, too that. I was sure I wasn’t good enough, and well, technically, I wasn’t. I never tried out for any sport again.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized what went wrong.
- I didn’t prepare.
- I didn’t practice.
- I gave up before I even started because I compared myself to others.
When it came to ambition, I fouled out. I just went in there on a whim, hoping to succeed without putting in the hard work. Those girls made the team, but they deserved it. They didn’t make it because of their pretty looks and their cute style. Now that I’m older, I realize they weren’t perfect–because none of us are–but the difference between them and myself was this: they worked for it.
Yeah, maybe they had opportunities I didn’t have. Maybe they had older siblings to help them learn or maybe they had lessons to improve. Maybe they played volleyball on the beach every summer on family vacations. But my adult self knows this: where there is a will to learn, there is a way to make it happen. It might not look the same as everyone else, but it’s possible in some form. Our choices are everything. It takes courage and some cleverness to figure out the way there. It’s also important to not compare ourselves with other people who are (or who have been) on the same path. Each of us is unique in great and small ways.
So now, my ambition is simply to keep writing. I don’t really know where it will take me. I don’t necessarily need to write a book. But my main goal is to improve as a writer and connect with others through writing. It takes a lot of courage for most writers to show up each day and write what’s on their heart…to write about pieces of their lives. Or to overcome the perfectionist in them that shouts, “This isn’t good enough!”. There have been times when I’m tempted to throw in the towel. But that memory of those volleyball tryouts often crowds in when I’m so close to logging out of my blog or my Google Drive without getting words on the page. In this, I choose to not foul out on my ambition.
I’m thankful to have that tough memory to cheer me on. Because this time around, for however long it takes I hope to do what I can to prepare, practice, and not give up before I even begin. Now, if only I could transition this will power into my exercise and nutrition lifestyle, that would be fantastic. 😉
What are you hoping to achieve? Whatever it is, I truly wish you all the best. For so many of us, it’s not always easy to stick with it…but I believe with my whole heart that if you put your mind to it you will get there. We will get there.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” -Phillipians 4:13