Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite writers online. In one post, he describes a time running where someone came in to the track well ahead. As Ryan approached the runner, he ran to the right to pass but the other runner sped up. Eventually, as the runner realized he couldn’t maintain his awkward stride and fast pace, he exited the track ahead of Ryan, but at the cost of self-determination. Instead of maintaining his own steady pace, this anonymous runner allowed himself to be defined by Ryan’s pace and an underlying ego problem. In reflection of this situation Ryan wrote, “You run to define yourself, and when you allow a short term challenge to alter your pace and long term strategy, you’ve just been defined by someone else.”
I’ve never taken time to define myself, but I’ve understood for a while that it’s important to do so. Like many other things in life, there’s been a lag in understanding an idea and embodying that idea. I’m not sure why that happens, but that’s a whole other discussion.My self-definition will come, but not here in these words. Instead I want to write about something I allowed to define me and how, now, I realize I should never have let this happen.
I started playing hockey in second grade. Up until high school, hockey was a sport I played for fun and competition. I improved gradually over the years but never received notoriety. By seventh grade, the teams I belonged to had begun to win the majority of our games and during 8th and 9th grade we had won the travel league we belonged to for consecutive years.
It was in eighth grade I became a manager for our high school varsity team, along with the same friend who made me interested in the sport back in primary school. At this point I began to notice that my involvement with the sport I’d grown with also enabled me to meet more people and have more friends, just because I was relatively good at skating around slapping at a puck.
Junior year our hockey team had a lot of talented returning players and we had gradually been improving our record since I was a freshman. By the end of the season, our team had achieved many things for ourselves and for our high school. We won the school’s first sectional championship and regional championship. We had also lost in the state finals to a very good team from downstate, but all of these feats are only asides. The next season, my last in high school, we set a school record for most wins in a season… and then lost in the first round of sectionals. Our loss left a bitter taste in my mouth and this, along with preparing for college, led me to distance myself from the sport for the first time in years.
Going away to school, I had no plans of playing hockey in an organized, competitive league again. I was ready to meet new people, embrace my new freedom, and live the party-crazed life of a college freshman. As time went on, I did everything I had set out to do along with adjusting to the college workload, but I still felt something was missing.
So I did what I thought was logical: I joined the college’s club hockey team. This experience started out as a positive one because I was again playing a sport I loved with good teammates. Eventually, though, that sort of emptiness returned and I finally realized I needed my own life, separate from being defined as a hockey player. All of my friends were from hockey and I had no sense of what would happen once life moved on and hockey inevitably occupied a smaller part of wherever I was headed.
To some this may not some like a big deal, but I had basically never lived without hockey since early childhood. On top of that my parents had dedicated an immeasurable amount of time and money to allow me to play hockey. I couldn’t expect my dad to come see me off on the two study abroad trips to China while I was away at school, but you could certainly bet he’d be at the majority of home games we’d had.
Don’t get me wrong, I regret very little about playing hockey. Many of my greatest memories are tied to the sport, but, for whatever reason, I came to a point in my life where I needed to step away. While at that moment it was necessary, I realize now the problem wasn’t playing hockey, or even accepting the social benefits that came with it. I’ve recognized that hockey was a part of me, that it didn’t comprise the whole me.
And this subtle distinction is paramount to living a more content life.