‘Always in life an idea starts small, it is only a sapling idea, but the vines will come and they will try to choke your idea so it cannot grow and it will die and you will never know you had a big idea, an idea so big it could have grown thirty meters through the dark canopy of leaves and touched the face of the sky.’
He looked at me and continued.
‘The vines are people who are afraid of originality, of new thinking. Most people you encounter will be vines; when you are a young plant they are very dangerous.’
His piercing blue eyes looked into mine.
‘Always listen to yourself, Peekay. It is better to be wrong than simply to follow convention. If you are wrong, no matter, you have learned something and you grow stronger. If you are right, you have taken another step toward a fulfilling life.’
-Bryce Courtney (Page 157: Power of One)
My freshman year of college, I used to play a game usually in the late evening as a study break, called “International Boom” with one of my friends in the dorm who went by the nickname, “Danimal.” The game was in the squash court in the basement of our dorm, and consisted of kicking the soccer ball as hard as we could against the wall and having one bounce to return it. We coined the name “International Boom”, since I was from Canada, and Danimal was from the US, it was an international game, and “boom” came from the sound that would happen, every time that we hammered the ball against the wall, as the sound would echo loudly in the small confines of the squash court.
Yes, we were a creative pair. And yes we spent a good chunk of our freshman year in the squash court playing “International Boom.”
Danimal received his name from his very funny suitemates, the same ones that would tease me incessantly about being Canadian, quoting classic Canadian movies like Strange Brew every time they saw me, and asking me with serious faces, if my family ate baby seal for dinner every night.
His suitemates felt that the fervor he went about taking science classes, and his determination to get into Harvard Medical School, that he was very clear about from the first day we stepped on campus, made Daniel a science animal. Hence another creative name “Danimal” came to life from our Entryway J and I don’t think I’ve ever called him anything else from our first days on campus.
It was one evening well after midnight study break, as we both took a pause from hammering the ball against the wall to catch our breath, Danimal and I got into a conversation about what our hopes and dreams were after we finished college.
I unabashedly told him I wanted to play soccer. He scoffed at me, and said “Ciara, you’re graduating from Yale, and you want to play soccer? That’s really your plan?”
I was a little taken aback by his concern of my career plans and told him I didn’t care, that soccer was what I loved, and I was going to play when I was done. I asked Danimal what he wanted to do, and he said he planned to go to Harvard and become a doctor (I obviously momentarily forgot why he was nicknamed Danimal). News spread to Danimal’s roommates about my post college soccer plans, and my favourite boys who were convinced I ate baby seal in Canada predicted that at our ten year reunion I would be living by a river, in my VW van, my only possession being my soccer ball.
Three years later, as my college career crept to an end, one day I ran into one of my friends, Mara, who was dressed in high heels, a business suit and full make-up. She was coming from an interview with one of the financial institutions that blanketed our campus recruiting new employees. I looked at myself and my own outfit which included sweatpants, a bandanna and a sweaty t-shirt, fresh from a workout at the gym, my ball in my hand, and I thought to myself, how this picture of us talking on the street encapsulated the different directions that we were heading after graduation.
And sure enough when college finished, I spent an extra year going to grad school at UConn and getting my grad degree, while playing my fifth year for the Huskies, before heading off to Denmark to embark on my professional soccer career, while many of my classmates went out to put their Yale degrees “to use”.
Those first couple of years that I spent over in Europe, were a huge adventure, as I travelled around the continent playing soccer, meeting people from around the world, and learning a new language. Most importantly I woke up every day invigorated about my life, and loving every second what I was doing.
A couple of years later I was flying through New York and stayed with my above mentioned friend Mara, who had gotten a sought after job at an investment bank. I was filled with stories and adventures since we had last spoken at graduation, and asked her excitedly to fill me in with her life since we had last seen each other 3 years before.
She said very matter of factly, “Ciara, I’ve had about 4 days off a year since I graduated and got this job. It’s kind of sad, but really, all that I’ve done these last few years is work.” She then detailed to me 13 hours days spent in front of a computer, justified with the promise of climbing the ladder at the investment bank with the hope that in a few years she could have a high paying job with less hours. My choice to play soccer at that moment was reinforced, as despite my lacking bank account, I knew I would never be happy slaving away in an office no matter how big the potential rewards could be, no matter what society around me was encouraging.
I couldn’t help but think of all my Yale friends that gave up their 20’s to work in these kind of jobs when the economy fell apart a few years ago, and the invisible ladders they were climbing fell to dust in all too real a fashion. The message was clear, and reinforced my own beliefs: Don’t live in misery now, on a promise of a better tomorrow.
I thought of these stories when I received a very touching email from one of the seniors on the team that I am coaching this fall, who was planning on heading overseas after graduation, and who definitely has the ability to do so. She tore her ACL in one of our first games of the season, and not only was struggling with the cruelness of the timing of her injury, but also feeling like her dream of continuing her soccer career was crashing down around her.
She spoke about the struggle of being at a school in the Ivy League, a place where people climb an invisible ladder usually surrounding the financial industry, or med school or law school, and the idea of “putting your degree to good use.” Playing sports doesn’t usually fit the bill.
To her I said what I say to everyone.
Do what you love.
Do what makes your heart sing when you wake up.
Do what doesn’t feel like a job at all.
It seems like such simple, stupid, cliché advice, and yet so many of us on a daily basis drown out the voices in our heads that speak the truth. We replace these voices that lead to fulfillment and joy with one that screams loudly of the silent code of a society that is filled with people full of regret who didn’t follow their own dreams. I often wonder how better off our society would be if people did what truly made them happy and planned their lives out accordingly. For some that may be, traditional avenues such as finance, or law or medicine, but for many others it is something different.
That being said, beware of those that rail against your dreams the hardest; they usually are the ones that didn’t have the courage or ability to follow their dreams, and your ambition is a painful reminder of their own choices.
People’s dreams are all different; don’t ever shut down the voice in your head that leads to your heart or be influenced by a path you are “supposed” to follow. Although our paths were very different, Danimal was clearly set on following his heart as much as I was.
And as fate would have it, I had to miss my ten-year reunion. I am happy to report that my dorm-mates were right, I was still happily playing soccer unable to go, but with digs that were a little better than a VW van (although not much). I was happy to hear from my friends that my international boom buddy had also followed through with his freshman year aspirations, and Danimal had become a successful Harvard Med School educated orthopedist in Boston.