You Can’t Always Get What You Want

How old where you when your first dream died?

It’s an uncomfortable question.  It admits failure and implies disappointment. But I don’t know a single person that doesn’t have an answer. Perhaps you count the instant you found out that Santa Claus was a hoax. Maybe it was a surprising death. The answer I hear most often to this question is the answerers particular experience of finding out they can’t be whatever they want to be. Maybe that’s my fault because that’s the context in which I answer the question, so related conversation is usually the prompt for me to ask it in the first place.

I was 13 when I realized I wouldn’t be able to be a pro basketball player. I was 16 when I verbally admitted it to another person. I had been a good ball-player as a child and figured with a lot of practice and a few breaks, I could play in the NBA. I was mostly just naïve. The moment came all at once, and I knew I was born for sales instead of sports (My dream actually withered from athlete to commentator to writer to sales, but who’s nitpicking?). I had about 12 points in the first 15 minutes of an AAU game. I was a 6’2” 13-yr-old being guarded by a stocky kid who would simply never be able to block my shot. The other team’s coach decided to make a change. He placed a gangly black kid with grace and wings to cover me. The kid was beautiful. He glided along the floor like a bird in flight, and he immediately enjoyed calling me “Cake”, a diss that still stings even though I still don’t understand it. He shut me down. Completely. My first real dream was murdered by some nameless kid from Oklahoma with no offensive skill set. I wonder what he does now? Maybe he’s in the management program at Enterprise (great corporate structure). Maybe he’s dead.

It took me a few humbling years to admit I wasn’t as good as I wished I was. Those birds showed up in more and more games, and they simply had athletic gifts that I did not. Basic white-guy problems, really (right up there with having too much sway in marketing demographics). I get it now. I was a fairly coordinated kid with inflated hopes because I grew too much on the front-end of life (there’s enough evidence to prove it’s better to hit your growth spurt later. See Michael Jordan, and more recently, see Anthony Davis). But that failure, that disappointment, was probably the beginning of the best thing I’ve ever learned.

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need 

That naïve kid had the right drive and the wrong directions. Turns out that desire to play basketball wasn’t meant to put me in the NBA, but the game still took me somewhere. I played basketball through college and met three of my closest friends on that basketball team. One of those guys referred me to a job in North Carolina after school. I still work for that company, and I’m betting a lot of you reading this right now wouldn’t be reading this if I hadn’t taken that job. Hell, I wouldn’t be writing it.

How old was I when my first dream died? Old enough to get what I needed. God bless providence.

dr

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