One of the first Halloweens I remember, all of my girlfriends were princesses and fairies, and I was Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. I was obsessed with baseball at a very early age, and after seeing A League of Their Own, I set a long-term goal. For some crazy reason, I believed my parents when they said I could be anything I wanted to be, and I wanted to be the first female to play in professional baseball since World War II. So in first grade, you can imagine my disappointment when I found out my small school didn't even have a softball team. I'd never make it to the MLB if I didn't practice towards that goal day in and day out. I sharpened my negotiating skills, and one day after school I presented the athletic director with some points on why I should be allowed to try out for the boys' coach-pitch team. He laughed, and reluctantly agreed (I'm sure mainly because he didn't think I'd make it). The joke was on him though, because I did!
I was not only the only girl on the team, but also the only girl on any of the teams. You'd never know it by just watching though, as I held my own on the field. One of my favorite things was to keep my hair tucked inside my ball cap until after I scored, and then pull my long hair out and surprise the young gents on the opposing team. I focused all of my energy into playing to the best of my ability. On top of practicing with my team, I spent nearly all of my free time perfecting my game. I remember spending long summer nights in the backyard keeping my eye on the ball and swinging for the fences.
By the end of my sixth grade season, the boys were becoming really good, and our capabilities were starting to diverge. I had become more interested in them than the sport, and I decided I was better suited for other endeavors. I started reevaluating my goals.
Fast-forward 15 years. A coworker said, "Hey Emma, we need one more girl for our softball team, would you be interested?" I felt like she asked me in slow motion, like a dramatic scene in a movie. Of course I was interested!! I bought a glove, the bare minimum of what it takes to play, and showed up, ready to be an all-star. By the end of our third game, as I struck out again, I had a single tear in my eye that I refused to let fall only because I kept thinking of Tom Hanks yelling, "There's no crying in baseball!" Seriously, that really happened.
I couldn't believe I wasn't this amazing softball player... But why? What made me think I could go half of my life without honing a single skill, and think I'd be good? I hated it and wanted to quit. But then I thought of something my father used to say: "When you don't like something, you have two choices: change your attitude or change your situation.”
Which brings me to my point... You can't expect to be good, truly good, at anything you aren't willing to commit time to. It was absurd to think that after 16 years of not playing, I'd be any good. The fact that I had practiced endless nights as a child was now irrelevant. My current results were a direct correlation to the amount of time I had invested in improving. Everyone makes time for his/her priorities. When it became a priority to me to do better, I suddenly found the time to make it happen.
I bought a bat and softballs (and not just because shopping is always my first attempt at finding a solution, but because having the right equipment really does matter). I did some research online to figure out what I was doing wrong. The weeks my team couldn't fit in a practice, I talked my husband into going to the park and hitting pop flies to practice catching. I went to the batting cages weekly, kept my eye on the ball, and began to consistently make contact.
Two months later I'm still not good, but I'm so much better compared to how not good I was in the beginning. Practice doesn't necessarily make perfect…but it IS the first step to improving.
Be competitive, but be competitive with yourself instead of those around you. Ernest Hemingway said, "There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self." And though no one on my team will think of me as the MVP at the end of the season, I've mentally awarded myself the Most Improved Player award. The “Me” at the end of the season would dominate the “Me” that started!
It's okay to change your goals along the way; I haven't wanted to be the first female to play in the MLB for the better part of two decades. I've changed my immediate and long term goals many times since then. Reevaluate your goals from time to time, and put everything you have into the ones you're working toward.
Take a minute to think of something you’ve spent time wishing you did better, whether you want to perform better at work, communicate better with your spouse, compete better on your co-ed work softball league - and either change your attitude or change your situation. Decide you're content with the current results and stop complaining about whatever it is you don't like, OR put the time into getting a different result. Determine the goal, invest in the right equipment, and do the research on what it takes to do it well. And then… practice.