Writing about Anna’s potty training goal and thinking about setting and achieving goals in general, made me begin to think about times in my life when I have failed to reach my goal. Much of our wisdom and strength comes from how we handle our failures. Do we get lost in the disappointment, or do we examine ourselves and the situation to make necessary changes? Do we chalk it up to bad luck, or do we try to find out what God might be trying to teach us through circumstances that didn’t go the way we planned? How do we distinguish between “goals” and “dreams”? I had the opportunity to ponder all of these things as a freshman in college, when I tried out for the (Division I) tennis team.
I began playing tennis when I was five and a half, and it became more and more of a focused activity as I grew. Group lessons, private lessons, summer camps, and local tournaments were all regular parts of my life. I was pretty good, but I never chose to give up a “normal” childhood and adolescence to pursue it further. I was content with my level of commitment, yet I know I always had a dream in the back of my mind of playing professionally or playing on a college team.
By the time I settled on Tulane as my college destination, I knew my chances of playing on the university’s team were slim. Tulane is a Division I school, which meant that the players on the team had been a lot more serious about playing tournaments and achieving local and national rankings. However, slim chances were better than none, so I showed up at the open tryouts at the beginning of my freshman year. Tryouts went on for about a week or two, and involved daily workouts and drills, culminating in playoffs among the current team members and walk-ons. I ran, worked out, showed up, and gave my all for that stretch of time. If nothing else, I think I gained the respect of the team players for my courage and effort. My skill level rocketed, playing for hours with such talented opponents. There was a limit to my talent, though, and I did not make the cut. I lost to another walk-on, which meant my time with the team was over. I remember as I shook her hand at the net after our playoff match, feeling some disbelief. I suppose in the back of my mind I thought that maybe I would make it, or maybe an exception would be made and I would be allowed to stick around. Realistically, I knew it didn’t work that way. Truth was, I didn’t make it. Everything had been done fairly and kindly. Someone else won, and I had lost. There was no subjectivity about it!
I left the courts for the last time that afternoon and went for a really long walk around and around Audobon Park. Had all that effort been in vain? Why had I tried? Had I made a mistake, putting it all on the line like that? What now? Freshman year in college is about settling in and finding one’s niche on campus. I had thought that being on the tennis team might have been my niche, but apparently that wasn’t the case. I thought about whether I would try out again the next fall. I was sad, disappointed, and full of “what if’s” that stretched all the way back to my childhood. It’s fine to think about things like that, but we can only move forward in life, never backwards.
College life went on. I began to realize that as much as I loved tennis and would have had the time of my life being on the team, that being a Division I athlete really is all-consuming. There were countless outings and opportunities to do other things as a student that I would probably have missed out on, had I made the team. My days as a walk-on became happy memories, of how hard I’d worked and the friends I’d made.
This certainly doesn’t happen all the time, but in this situation, the door to my dream happened to re-open during my junior year. Out of the blue, I got a phone call in my dorm room from the tennis coach. Their division championships were coming up, and apparently many of the team players were injured…could I be available to help fill the team roster, since they needed a certain number to go to the tournament? Talk about a dream! My answer was yes. My mind swirled with excitement, thinking about this amazing opportunity that might as well have been a winning lottery ticket, and with nervousness over how little I’d been playing!
On my 21st birthday, I was on a tennis court, playing an NCAA match against another young lady from University of Alabama-Birmingham, if I remember correctly. For a few weeks, I was a member of Tulane University’s Women’s Tennis Team. Daily practices quickly got my game back in shape. Thankfully, I’d been running and working out on my own consistently. I was able to soak up those moments to treasure them forever. My status as a team member was not conventional or permanent. But, I still consider it a dream fulfilled.
Sometimes, what we think is right for us might not be what is best. I realize now I wouldn’t have been thoroughly happy committing four years to an athletic team, even though I love tennis. I also realize that sometimes when a door closes, it doesn’t always close all the way. There are surprises in life, and I’m glad I was ready and available to take part in the surprise I received. I have no regrets about trying out for the team my freshman year. I’m glad that my friends and family encouraged me to try. I hope that I can encourage those around me to stick their necks out and try whatever it may be they’re dreaming about in life. My experience is proof that we never know just how it will turn out.