Imagine if you will an athlete: gifted by God, the fates, or good genes with a strong physique, a good eye, and a unique understanding of his chosen game.
Picture his childhood, playing first with his friends, then moving up to Pop Warner. Becoming a little “star” in his own small firmament, the child is praised for his skills, and is frequently encouraged to practice, grow stronger, get better at his game; and when he does so, he is rewarded.
In middle school, with good coaches and parental encouragement, the boy’s talents start to bloom. By his second year in high school, he is already being scouted for college teams. His studies suffer, but his teachers and his coaches help him scrape by with “respectable” scores. By his senior year, he is the star of the town, adored, feted; but he knows that even better things lie ahead.
An athletic scholarship to a Big 10 college puts the young man at the top of the world as he knows it. He learns more about his game, tactics and strategy, including how to intimidate opposing teams, physically, as well as by more subtle means, perhaps by revealing embarrassing information about a key player or two. He seeks out other like-minded players, and learns from them.
He also learns to accept as his due the praise that is heaped on him. He now expects it, needs it. He also needs the accouterments of the heady life he is leading–a free college education; cars; money; gifts; the adoration of fans; girls who throw themselves at him. And the guidance of those he trusts: coaches, father figures. Life is very good, even if his grades aren’t.
Junior year comes, and with it, a significant trophy. The young man has achieved everything he has imagined; the world is aglow with adoration of him. The scouts and coaches court him. Could he turn pro? Of course he could. The man is a bit uncertain… he’s still young, and hasn’t even finished college yet; he somehow feels that he’s missing something, but he doesn’t know what. His mentors scoff and press. “No time like the present,” they say. “Carpe diem.” He is very easily persuaded.
And so the talented young man decides to turn pro after his junior year. His dream is fulfilled; he won. The thrill of being the number one draft pick of the year lasts throughout training and pre-season; the warm glow of being himself lasts until his first actual game. He suddenly and brutally discovers that much of the real world is not, in fact, swooning at his feet. The coaches and scouts are now out looking for the next best thing; his team members frequently snub him; and the man is bewildered. He’s in the big leagues now, and he is discovering that his life is not as wonderful as it should be. It’s much, much harder.
He wonders if his expectations were unrealistic, and if so, what he should do about it. Those trusted friends who remain scorn his uncertainty; is he not still the gifted one, the golden boy? At the top of his game and in the golden job? But he is slowly discovering that when you have lived in a world full of “Yes”, the word “No” can be difficult to understand. And if your enablers continue to insist that each “No” is meaningless, the insulation remains as strong as ever and your isolation from your peers continues to grow.
And so this golden man now sits sadly on his throne. He wonders if all his mentors and advisors were honest with him. He wonders if his “gift” is really all they told him it was. He thinks maybe it isn’t.
He realizes it’s going to be a very long four years.