What You Are – and What You’re Not

I’m never going to play in the NBA.

That’s an unrealistic goal for me, and I knew it to be an unrealistic goal when I was ten years old on the playground. I wasn’t fast enough and didn’t have the natural reflexes of the other ten year olds on the court.

It was a painful thing for me to realize. I loved playing basketball. I still do. For me, basketball is a beautiful game.

The realization that I wasn’t NBA material didn’t mean I couldn’t be an effective basketball player. I had other skills that I could certainly utilize at the playground level. I was very solid and could plant my feet well, which meant that I could be a good defender, especially under the basket. I was willing to scrap for the ball. I was often more proud of a rebound or an assist than I was of a basket. I wasn’t fast and I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn more than ten feet away from the basket, but I did have at least some skills I could utilize and work on.

It also didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy playing basketball. I wasn’t going to be the next Michael Jordan. So what? That doesn’t mean playing basketball wasn’t – or isn’t – enjoyable. As I grew older, particularly during my later high school years and especially my first two years in college, I really enjoyed playing basketball. I knew what my areas of expertise were and I focused on maximizing those and being part of a team. It was a lot of fun and I had a set of experiences from those days that I’ll always remember.

It also didn’t mean that, if I committed to it, I couldn’t have spent my life around the game. Sure, I couldn’t actually play the game at a high level. However, I could coach. I could be an announcer. I could be a scout. I could be a basketball blogger. I could be involved in sports marketing. I could be involved in physical therapy. All of these were options that could have kept me close to basketball throughout my life. Each would have required me to add some additional skills to my repertoire beyond just the ability to play ball, of course, but that’s to be expected.

What’s the point of all of this?

First, some goals are too audacious. It is not realistic – nor has it ever been – for me to set playing in the NBA as a goal. It simply is not going to happen. It would simply be a path to failure for me to set being in the NBA as a goal.

Having said that, there is often some large element of even the most audacious of goals that you can achieve. It might not be realistic for someone to be President of the United States, for example, but it is certainly realistic for that person to aim to be mayor of the town in which they live or to be part of the White House press corps. It might not be realistic for someone to be an astronaut, but it is realistic for someone to become a NASA engineer.

If you find those initial but still fairly audacious goals easy, then aim higher. For example, if you decided that being President wasn’t going to happen, but you found yourself going from nothing to assistant Parks and Rec director to full Parks and Rec director to city council to mayor in a six year span, you might just have a gift for politics and might want to look higher. If you’re young and you decided to not shoot for the NBA but just be the best rebounder on your high school team and you set state records for rebounding during your sophomore year of high school, you might just want to aim higher.

One way to achieve this is to set goals not based on achievement, but based on performance. Let’s say you dream of a political career but are just getting started with a chance to be an assistant parks and recreation director, look at that position and ask yourself what kinds of things you can do in that position to hit a home run in that position while also setting yourself up for higher steps. Make a plan to succeed in just that regard. Set specific short term goals that will define your success and build the relationships you need to climb from there.

Similarly, let’s say you decided you wanted to be a basketball announcer. As I mentioned before, I have a friend who goes home in the evenings, turns the television on mute, and practices announcing the games he sees on television. It turns out that he records these sessions and then listens to them, noting what he’s doing wrong along the way. He’ll watch games while listening to his recorded coverage of them, and he’ll also listen to the straight audio in the truck.

His big goal might be to be announcing games on TNT and hanging out with Charles Barkley, but his short term goal is the priority. His goal, every single day, is to record a play-by-play of a basketball game, listen to another play-by-play, and critique it. Beyond that, he’s making connections in sports broadcasting at every level, using Twitter and personal interactions to meet people who are actually in the business, particularly production folks.

Those are goals that are based entirely on the process of achieving his big goal. Even if his big goal doesn’t come true exactly as he envisioned it, I don’t think anyone would argue that he’s not creating a very compelling path for himself in sports broadcasting.

It gets better. His medium-term goal is any paid job broadcasting basketball games. Anything. It can be for a local radio station broadcasting high school games. It can be voiceovers for a website. Whatever it takes. Again, he has a plan for that goal that’s loaded down with the things he can do today.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have the skill set needed to be president or the skill set needed to be a Major League Baseball all-star or the skill set needed to be CEO of a Fortune 100 company. That’s okay. There’s still nothing keeping you from having a life filled with doing the things you love. Focus instead on who you are, what skills you can build, and what you can do.

You might just find a better path than you expect.

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  1. Coree says:

    This is such a fantastic article! I think so often people think that if they can’t be the best or at the highest level, it isn’t worth shooting but this article really lays out how to take that passion and make it something realistic and meaningful. So much better than many of the self-help books out there!

  2. Rafiki says:

    Hi Treant, I kind of disagree with you to a point. I don’t think, especially at 10 years old that being in the NBA was an unrealistic goal, yes you may not have had the natural reflexes but once you had the will and put in enough practice I believe you would have had a greatly increase chance at making it in the NBA, maybe not as legendary as MJ but still be able to play in the NBA and I am most sure that in one of your post you said you agree with the 10000 hour rule. Now if you only had one leg then playing in the NBA becomes an unrealistic goal. I also want to add that I like the angle you took with this post. Yes a goal may be unrealistic but it doesn’t mean you can’t reform it to a more realistic achievable related goal.

  3. Rachel says:

    Very inspiring. Thanks Trent!

  4. Tahlia42 says:

    It’s a little freaky that this ran today, the same day that I finally pulled the plug on my competitive ballroom dancing career. I’ve been doing it for 5 years, and I have suffered rather severe injuries on both knees in the process. Do I love ballroom dancing? Yes! Is my body built to perform at the level I have been? No. Can I continue to be part of the dancing scene? Yes, as either a vendor or an instructor of beginning classes that aren’t as physically taxing.

    The hard part is understanding that letting go of a long held goal doesn’t mean that all the work that went into it was wasted. Once I finally came to terms with that is when I realized that it is okay to let that dream go.

  5. Danna says:

    Wow! What a timely post! I have always wanted to be a lawyer. Life got in the way and I never pursued it. Now at 42 I realize that going to law school at my age would not be prudent. So I am going to school for my Paralegal degree. While I won’t be a lawyer I will be in the legal field. Just as good!

  6. Dash says:

    Nice to know I have more things in common with you Trent, although we’ve never met. I too really enjoy playing basketball, granted I have not done it in a couple of years, but one day I hope to get back to it.

  7. Johanna says:

    This is a timely post for me as well, since I’ve just started taking steps toward going to the next level as a singer.

    I’ve always loved singing, but since my earliest attempts (auditioning for solos in high school choir and such) weren’t very successful, I figured I didn’t have the talent for much more than singing in the shower. But over the last few years, I’ve done more and more social singing with friends, and people keep telling me what a nice voice I have, so I finally decided I should do something about it. I started taking voice lessons, and I’ve started looking into open mics and other places where I can get my feet wet as a performer.

    I probably won’t be the next Joan Baez, and I’m not sure I want to be. But if I can make some music that people want to listen to, that’s what it’s all about.

  8. Amanda says:

    You’re good at this types of posts.unfortunately most of the ones you’re good at are irrelevant to me. I enjoy your writing style. I love reader questions. Maybe if u did less than 10 at a time you could give thought provoking answers that are well researched like this one.

  9. Brandon says:

    Great post, its always good to remind ourselves that we can pursue our passions to at least some degree if we think outside of the box.

    Many people give up on their dreams to work completely unrelated jobs when they could have been doing something they actually enjoyed, even if it wasn’t what they pictured in the first place. And we all know the old saying, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

  10. Martha says:

    Thank you Trent for posting this today. The chance & timing of me reading this is unquestionably divine.

    I am recently divorced and I am forced to start a new career path. This morning, feeling that I have failed and totally missed my calling and purpose in life… wasting precious years on what is now gone ~ I opened Wordpad ready to write, plan, and re-assess my goals for my life ~ and then I became distracted and opened your email.

    It has spoken volumes to me and has reminded me that all is not lost. I cannot possibly express how I thankful I am for this article in my email TODAY! Please continue to share your gift with others…

    I have printed this out to put in my planning notebook for a daily inspirational reminder, and will also pass it to my children and friends!

    Thanks again Trent for sharing your gift of wisdom and inspiration. May God bless you and your family mightily Trent.

    Martha

  11. Doug says:

    When I used to play basketball when I was younger, I got nervous everytime I tried to make a shot. There was always this pressure of what if I didnt make it. So, instead when ever I got the ball I would pass it to whoever was the better shot and try like hell to get those rebounds.

  12. Glen & Shirley says:

    Trent ~ I very much enjoyed this post! So timely, as the other Readers commented! But, I do believe this is the first time that I also enjoyed the Readers comments!!! The rudeness and negativity was gone and it was so pleasant! I loved hearing about each one’s goals and how they would achieve them/rearrange them. It seemed everyone got into the “spirit” of the post in the way it was intended by the poster! Trent and All, I really appreciate you letting us into your personal thoughts and lives! This is the kind of blogging/commenting that makes me want to investigate my own life and goals! Thanks all! Shirley

  13. Dave M says:

    Professional sports of nearly any kind are unrealistic for, practically speaking, 99.9% of amateur athletes. (Of course I understand the possibility of being involved in some adjunct capacity while still participating at your own level.) A meaningful goal would be for you to be the best you can be, and if that meets the standards for some level of team competition, then so be it. Within biophysical limitations, you can always be a better “you.”

    Individual sports like golf and running give everyone the opportunity to compete against themselves. Running even gives you age groups, so every 5-10 years you have a new “you” to compete against. I may not be a race winner, but I could be a race organizer and local sport booster.

  14. Russ Smith says:

    Great post. Just wondering, is there a way to just “like” this and have it show up on my facebook status. “russ likes ..this article name…”. That would be really cool. Maybe i’m not seeing this, but I would like to publicly ‘Like” this article. :) Thanks!

  15. Kenia says:

    Great post, Trent. Very inspiring. I have to disagree slightly though…

    “There‚Äôs still nothing keeping you from having a life filled with doing the things you love. Focus instead on who you are, what skills you can build, and what you can do.”

    I agree with you, 100%, that you can definitely involve yourself in some other way (i.e. sports blogger) even if some goals are unrealistic for you (i.e. be an NBA player). But there can still be things keeping you from what you love. There can still be things keeping you from becoming an avid basketball blogger: Family. Responsibilities. I am a firm believer that you don’t necessarily have to be rich to succeed in life: with enough **time** and commitment you can succeed at almost anything…but the key is to have the *time.* Many people, for example, would have to take extra time on top of their day jobs to make a career transition – but with family obligations, and making sure you are prioritizing time nurturing relationships that matter (family, great friends), this is just not possible for most. Lucky is the person who (if in a loving relationship that you’re not about to compromise for a career) has a partner who fully supports them in their pursuits & passions – because it takes time, and that time is usually time taken from the relationship.

  16. Pattie, RN says:

    I had to giggle over this post…In this age of entitlement to have everything and be everything at no cost to oneself, my running patter of (totally mock) indignation and frustration has been that there is not a SINGLE representative of my demographic in the entire NBA! There is clearly bias and discrimination against five foot four fifty-something year old chubby females!!!! The unfairness of it all!! (And we are under-represented in fashion modeling as well :-)

  17. Judy says:

    Trent – another brilliant post. This has made me rethink my own position and will allow me to do what I love just from a different angle. You have opened my eyes to a whole new possibility. Thank you.

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