Letting Go of Dreams

In my last post, I asked “Is there such a thing as too curious?” and at the end, I reflected on an old post in which I decided, “You can’t do it all.” I’m not quite sure why this sort of thing has been on my mind so much lately, but it has. Perhaps it’s a miniature “quarterlife crisis” of sorts (though, at my age, it would probably more like a “thirdlife crisis”). As I get older, I guess I feel the need to narrow my focus somewhat. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy lots of things, but I feel as though if I want to actually accomplish something, I can’t be skittering around constantly. Luckily, I do feel as though I’m gaining clarity on the pursuits and pastimes that matter most to me. Along these same lines, I’ve been thinking recently about letting go of dreams. I’m not talking about giving up on one’s dreams—that is different, I think—but rather, outgrowing them.

Case in point: When I was sixteen years old, I knew that I wanted to be a high school baseball coach. More precisely, I wanted to be a high school baseball head coach. (To be honest, that dream is what initially drew me into education.) I devoured articles on drills and strategies, printing them out and saving them in a notebook, which I still have to this day. I read books and watched videos, and I have an entire bookshelf devoted to coaching, which my wife finds unfathomable.

Even before I began my career, I made coaching a priority. While in graduate school, I e-mailed the coach of a local American Legion team, told him that I wanted to be a high school coach, and asked if I could help out. He said sure. (I’ve learned over the years that people will let you do almost anything if you offer to do it for free!) When I left with my Master’s degree and found a job teaching at an all-girls’ school, I made it clear that while I was happy to coach a fall or winter sport, I would be going elsewhere to coach baseball in the spring. Luckily they were supportive (though they did try briefly to recruit me to softball). During my time there, I volunteered at two different schools.

After five years of being pulled in different directions, I felt it was time to find a single school where I could both teach and coach, so I moved on to a coed boarding school. Though not the only factor, coaching was a major factor in that career move. When I took that job, I thought there might be a possibility of a head coaching opportunity developing in the next couple of years, and that was appealing. I also coached basketball there, initially as a JV assistant, and when the opportunity to become the JV head coach developed, I jumped at it. I was so hungry for the opportunity to lead a team, to try out my ideas, that I was thrilled to do it even in a sport where I didn’t know half as much. Some of my ideas worked well, and some didn’t, but I was much better the second time around. Had I stayed and coached the team for a third year, I am confident that we would be even stronger.

For lots of reasons, though, it was time to move on from that job after three years, and that brings us to the present. Ironically enough, shortly after I announced that I was leaving, the head baseball coach announced that he, too, was leaving, so the opportunity I anticipated when I moved there did indeed come to pass—just a few weeks too late. Meanwhile, the athletic director at my current school called me to talk about where I could be of the most help to the program, and I was a little surprised—maybe even a little miffed, if I’m being honest—to learn that I would be coaching middle school. I understood his rationale, and I’ve made my peace with it, but I find it almost comical that I’ll finally have my opportunity to be a head baseball coach, and half of the stuff I’ve learned over the years is probably too advanced for the age group I’ll be coaching.

There’s still a part of me who wonders if I could be a good head coach at the varsity level. I enjoy the competition and camaraderie, and I would appreciate the challenge. And yet, I find that I don’t have the drive that I once did. If the opportunity presented itself tomorrow, I would probably take it and be excited about it (at least for a few years), but it’s no longer my dream. I realized not long ago that I don’t plan for that day in the way that I once did.

As I’ve learned, again, you can’t do it all, and there are now other things in life that I want more. I want to be a good teacher, and I find that consumes a lot (maybe too much) of my time as it is. I’m frequently busy planning and grading during the week, and so I want to spend more time with my wife on the weekends. Baseball, especially at the higher levels of competition, can be an all-encompassing lifestyle for the months of the season (and in Florida, I’m learning, the season is nearly year-round). There was a time when the idea of spending my weekend at the ballpark would have thrilled me–not anymore.

I still love the game, and I think I’ll probably stay involved with it in some way for a long time… but I think maybe I outgrew my dream. Who knows where I’d be had I gotten a head coaching job at age 25, as I once hoped? I would probably be consumed by the sport and loving every minute of it. But that’s not how it played out, and I’m OK with that.

I sometimes tell my students that if they’re the exact same people 20 or 40 years after graduation, they will have failed at life. Maybe I’m practicing what I preach.

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