Our FC Kansas City team recently started a book club. Well actually, it's more of an essay/book intro/excerpt club. An entire book was too much of a commitment (I know, stereotypical athletes).
One of our goalkeepers, Cat Parkhill, chooses the readings and leads the discussions. She's very well versed in the topics we are reading and discussing because she majored in psychology and is currently doing research.
One of the pieces we read recently was from “The Road to Character” by David Brooks. It's about resume virtues versus eulogy virtues, and how our society often over-emphasizes the "resume virtues" (e.g. degrees, money, accolades, possessions). The "eulogy virtues" are more of the internal, intangibles that arguably matter more at the end of the day. A lot of these are a bit paradoxical. “You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself…”
I've thought a lot about these paradoxes when it comes to my life and soccer career. Some people may argue that to truly get to the top you need to be completely ruthless. Maybe that's true. I guess it all depends on where you view the "top" to be, and what it means to get there.
This season, I've come to a few realizations.
1. I get energy through expending it. Anson Dorrance, my college coach at UNC, always used to tell us that our energy is not to be saved, and that we should "burn it out like a comet" and then find more. I had a few years of my career post-college when my health wasn't great. I had a ton of stress, dealt with being hospitalized with pneumonia and the recovery from that, and a lot of stress-induced physical symptoms following that. I continued playing at the highest level throughout it all, but was constantly fatigued, needing coffee and naps to get through my day. I felt that my energy was so limited I had to go to extreme measures to conserve it. My road back from that feeling has been slow. This past offseason and during this season I’ve done more (training-wise and business-related) than ever before in my life. And I feel more energized because of it. Don't get me wrong, I'm still barely functional with fewer than nine hours sleep, but I wake up energized, have replaced my coffee with tea, and can be on the go all day and comfortably recover for the next day. I'm excited about what I'm doing and my stress levels are SIGNIFICANTLY lower, which has served to give me more and more energy, even as I expend it. It's amazing to consider the emotional and mental implications of energy levels, beyond just the physical.
2. The hardest things to do are often the most important. This season hasn't been easy for FC Kansas City. We've lost far too many games and won too few. We're working to claw our way back up the rankings, but have dealt with many disappointments along the way. It's easy to bring joy and laughter when the team is winning, but this season we have to work for that joy. Our staff and entire team shows up the day after a tough loss and is able to laugh and enjoy one another nonetheless. It's hard to do, but I appreciate that our coaches don't make us feel guilty for being happy. That's an easy place to come to as a team--when it's looked down upon to be too resilient. The fact of the matter is that it's tough to put on a smile some days, but that's why it's even more important to do. And because of that, this season has been full of joy, whether we're ranked 1st or 8th at the moment. It definitely eats away at us to look at our current ranking, and we have a dogged determination and focus to turn the season in our favor, but that doesn’t mean we have to be miserable while doing so.
3. The core of how I feel about myself is reflected in everyone and everything around me. It's amazing how differently I perceive other people depending on how I feel about myself. I've gone through many years of my professional career feeling insecure, not trusted, and not fully respected. It influenced the way I perceived everything--both praise and criticism. It's uncanny how we all attribute outside circumstances differently depending on what's going on with us internally. A simple coaching point directed at me now is much appreciated as a pointer to learn and do better next time, whereas before it was perceived as another reason I wasn’t good enough.
4. I must experience some bad to truly appreciate the good. My career has been full of wonderful honors, experiences, and moments. But, as I share openly with the players who attend my clinics and camps, I have not had a smooth road. I care very deeply about what I do, and have had a number of disappointments and discouraging situations. I spent a lot of time as a bubble player and on the bench, or in and out of lineups. And I've had quite a few people point out my inadequacies--so much so that I began to believe things about myself that, at my core, I knew weren’t true. As tough as these situations were at the time, I am so grateful for them because now I have such a deep appreciation for even the most minor successes. Whether it's starting for my team, executing something in a game that I’ve worked on in training, or providing guidance for a younger teammate, it is difficult to express my gratitude in words. My main focus recently has been to feel the satisfaction--even in the smallest ways-- of the thousands and thousands of hours I've put in to get to this point. I'm constantly grateful that I ended up at FC Kansas City and for the opportunity to be myself and be respected for that.
Big shout-out to Cat for taking charge of the book club and for the group as a whole (Nicole Barnhart, Mandy Laddish, Shea Groom, and Tiffany Weimer) for reminding me the value of self-reflection and for being brave and thoughtful enough to share ideas on some difficult topics.