By Jason Kuhn
My dream of playing professional baseball would soon be a reality. I was a senior and closer for a top 25 nationally ranked NCAA Division 1 baseball team. Now a case of performance anxiety, more commonly known as the “yips” brought that dream to a screeching, embarrassing, and devastating halt. A pitcher, who once thrived in high pressure, now could not play a simple game of catch. I was lost. I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes I drank. Sometimes I prayed.
I was desperate to find peace. I had always found it in baseball. So, I kept trying. I did everything possible to beat it. I once threw for about 6 straight hours until I could hardly move my arm. I talked to a sports psychologist. Everything I tried seemed to make it worse. It culminated in 6 wild pitches in 1/3 of an inning. That was the last competitive game that I ever played.
I was crushed. My identity was wrapped in baseball. My self worth was dependent on baseball. It defined me. I handled adversity well on the field, but when it took the game, I was brought to my knees. Adversity attacked my life where I was vulnerable, and I felt as though I had lost my purpose.
I woke up in my apartment foggy from a binge and knew something had to change. I recognized that victimhood was producing more victimhood. I was going nowhere fast. I decided I would not allow failure in baseball to define the rest of my life. I stopped viewing the failure as having taken my purpose and started viewing it as having an intrinsic purpose for me to be forged into a stronger person and fulfill a greater calling. The problem was, I had no clue what to do next.
That fall was September 11, 2001. I watched two airplanes kill 3,000 people on live television in my dorm room. Through much prayer and reflection, I felt God spoke to me. I had believed since I was four years old, that I would be a Major League Baseball player. Now, for the first time I pivoted and accepted that playing professional baseball would not be my future.
I began a new adventure to become a Navy SEAL.When you near college graduation people ask about your plans. My answer had always been to be a professional baseball player. My friends were trying to set up tryouts encouraging me to attempt a comeback. When you tell them your plans are to become a SEAL, many think you’ve lost your mind. Given my failure was more mental than physical, critics told me why I shouldn’t try to become a SEAL. I can’t say that I blame them.
However, it wasn’t up to them. I believe everyone is born with intrinsic purpose. You don’t need anyone’s permission to honor it. You just need the courage to try and conviction in purpose. I learned from my failure and kept moving forward. I would no longer be defined by what I do. From this point forward who I am would define what I do. I would no longer be dependent on affirmation from peers, or anything else other than my faith. My confidence would have no dependencies.
To drown the noise of critics, I focused on why I wanted to become a SEAL. Our why gives us the courage to face the odds. It paid off. 135 men started my SEAL training class known as BUD/S. We finished Hell Week with 20. I never would have been one of them without failing in baseball
I learned everything I needed to become a Navy SEAL at the sandlot, to include my failure playing it. The failure provided opportunity to gain necessary self-awareness and motivation to graduate what is often referred to as the most difficult military training in the world. At the time, the yips felt like the worst thing that ever happened to me. It almost broke me.
Now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Just when it felt hopeless, a door opened. A door I went through and never looked back. It forged me, and lead to a life I would have never imagined possible.
My time overseas is over. Now, I get to travel the country using my experiences to help teams build mental toughness and a team-first mind with clients ranging from high schools, MLB players, to the highest levels of corporate America, and just about everything in between.
You can’t control the amount of adversity you will face. But in the face of the adversity, you have a choice: To Be Broken or Forged. If you’re providing the fuel, but don’t get the results you desire, have conviction in their purpose. Let short-term failure create long-term success. It’s how winning is done, and it pays to be a winner.