I can still hear her words clearly in my mind. I was 9 years old and my teammate's mother was trying her best to console me after we lost a tyke football game. I played well, but not well enough for us to win, and I took it hard.
I shriveled up on a seat at the very back of the school bus and sulked the entire ride back to our home field. When we finally arrived and started clearing the bus, my teammate’s mother rubbed my back with a cynical smile and uttered those unforgettable words: “It only gets worse.”
I had absolutely no idea what she meant. She didn’t explain or elaborate and I wasn’t in any mood to ask for clarification. Plus, I couldn’t understand why she was smiling when she clearly saw how upset I was.
However, her words stuck with me. Every time I ripped up a paper because my printing wasn’t neat enough, or when I begged teachers to redo assignments after receiving less than A's, those words echoed in my mind with no more understanding than that day I first heard them.
Admitting is the first step.
I know now that I’ve always had to endure this battle with ambition. From even before that episode on the back of the bus, my ambition grew into something with which I struggled for my entire life.
I would always want more. I'd kick, scream and push to get ahead. I would always fight for the titles and recognition I deserved, but through it all, I was plagued with the thought that it will never be enough.
Growing up, people criticized me; they said I thought I was better than everyone else. They said I always thought I knew the best way to do something and whined when I felt things didn’t work out my way.
Friends didn’t understand why a getting a “B” was so discouraging for me, or why I wouldn’t say a word all day if the teacher didn’t agree to change it or give me another chance.
I couldn’t understand how or why my friends were so accepting of everything; how they seemed so comfortable with their average grades or how nothing in their lives seemed to bother them. By high school, however, my friends meant everything to me, so I hid my ambition to better fit in.
I skipped classes to smoke weed behind the portables, gambled away my lunch money in the bathroom before and after school and pretended to be okay with C's and even D's that appeared on my report card.
Can't kick the habit...
I thought I overcame my battle with ambition, but secretly, I knew. I knew that trying to calm my ambition to accommodate my friends just wouldn't work much longer.
I knew because I hated those moments when I knowingly pretended to be someone else, someone less than whom I wanted to truly be, just to feel that I was part of something I thought meant so much.
I began withdrawing. Even being just a teenager, I couldn’t keep those urges at bay. I heard a voice whispering to me, “You can do more.”
I felt that overwhelming need for an injection of ambition; to feel that euphoria running through my veins and giving me the confidence to believe I can do anything, that I can be anyone I choose so long as I keep that ambition close.
Well, I didn’t want to control it anymore. I didn’t want to be comfortable or content or take solace in everyone telling me how intelligent I was or how happy I should be to be going to school on a full athletic scholarship. None of it meant anything; none of it felt real and none of it was enough.
I wanted to be that person I saw in my mind every night and every morning my eyes were forced open.
I didn’t know exactly what it would take to become that person, but I knew what I was doing wouldn't get it done. I needed to refocus, to take a step back and figure out practical steps that would satisfy this renewed yearning that really never left.
“What would it take?” I asked myself — and I slowly started finding the answers.
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