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 an embarrassing and devastating halt. A pitcher, who once thrived in high pressure could not play a simple game of catch.
Baseball had been my refuge. So, I kept trying. I did everything possible to beat it. I once threw for 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 lost and desperate to find peace.
I loved playing baseball and overcame a lot during my career, but kept finding ways to move forward. The problem was my identity was wrapped in it. My self worth was dependent on it. The game defined me. I was tough and handled adversity well on the field, but when it took the game, adversity attacked me where I was vulnerable. I despised mental issues and this brought me to my knees. I simply could not stop my wrist from seizing with tension during the release. I lost the game I loved, I lost my pride and felt I had lost my purpose in life.
I woke up in the hallway of my apartment foggy from a binge and knew something had to change. I remembered a lesson from my youth, Victimhood produces more victimhood. I decided I would not allow failure in baseball to define who I would be for the rest of my life. I refused self-pity and stopped viewing the failure as having taken my purpose and started viewing it as having 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.
Desperate for direction and unable to drink myself to sleep, I relied on God and prayed as deeply and said, "Just please give me something." Then I felt God spoke to me. He told me to wait, because something better was coming. I had believed since I was four years old, that I would be a Major League Baseball player. I was defiant when people told me I wouldn't make it. Now, for the first time I accepted that playing professional baseball would not be my future.
I began a new adventure and joined the Navy intent on becoming a SEAL. When you near college graduation people naturally ask about your plans. My answer had always been to be a professional baseball player. Many of my teammates were drafted and encouraging me to attempt a comeback. When you tell them your plans are to attempt to complete special operations training many think you’ve lost your mind. Some told me why I shouldn’t try. I can’t say that I blame them given the failure rate hovers around 75%.
However, critics only have the power we give them. I believe everyone is born with intrinsic purpose. You don’t need anyone’s permission to honor it, just the courage to try. Courage creates freedom. I could be imprisoned by the opinions of other humans and the odds, or I learn from my failure and keep moving forward. I would no longer be defined by what I do. Who I am defines what I do. I would no longer be dependent on affirmation from peers, or anything else other than my faith and conviction in purpose. My confidence would have no external dependency.
To drown the noise , I focused on why I wanted to do it. Our why gives us the courage to face the odds. It paid off. 135 men started. We finished Hell Week with 20. I never would have been one of them without failing in baseball. It was necessary.
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 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. My only regret is that I didn't do as much as some of my teammates.
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, professional athletes, to the high 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.