I was twelve when I announced that I wanted to play basketball. It was music to my dad’s ears. Especially since the closest I’d come to a sport at that point was running away screaming while my cousins chased me with baby lizards. (Though I could run very fast in that situation.) My dad got even more excited when he handed me a basketball and found out that my shot wasn’t half bad.
He signed up to coach my team.
We were an awkward collection of girls—most of us short and inexperienced, but we also had a few girls who had hit their growth spurt and were suddenly composed of mostly gangling arms and legs with very little torso. Still, my dad was optimistic. His daughter could shoot. And he was going to turn me into a youth basketball superstar.
The day of the first game arrived. Our team got the jump ball and then, a couple of good passes later, the ball was in my hands. I did what I’d been trained to do. I took the shot. And it was all net.
I’m not sure I’d ever seen my dad so proud.
But his joy was short-lived, because that was the last shot I ever made in a game. It was the only shot I ever took. Because there was one thing that I had not factored into my love of basketball: the other team. Being nose to armpit with a sweaty opponent. Having a hand shoved in my face every time I tried to move. I hated that part. I hated it so much that the other stuff wasn’t worth it.
As the season progressed, I got more and more miserable. While other coaches were yelling things like, “hustle” or “butt to the baseline,” an actual thing my dad had to shout was “Breeana, unfold your arms!” I wish I was exaggerating for your amusement, but I’m not.
I told my dad that I’d be happy to unfold my arms if the huge, mean girl who was guarding me would just get out of my personal space. (Personal space, I was yet to discover, is not a thing in any sport except golf.)
My illustrious basketball career was a short and entirely unsuccessful one. I still love to watch basketball. And my shot is still decent—I have at least a fighting chance of winning a friendly game of horse. But I wasn’t any good at basketball because I couldn’t handle the opposition.
I think our success in any endeavor comes down to that one question. Can you take the heat? Is this thing you want–whatever it is–worth the hand in your face that will shut you down and tell you no? Life is not The Princess Bride–there is no “only the good parts” version. Adorable babies come with sleepless nights, endless diapers and projectile vomit. Piano concertos come with hours of practice, aching hands, butterflies in your stomach. A medical degree comes with 80 hour work weeks and very little free time for a decade or more. The question is, are the good parts so good that you can tolerate the times your nose will be pressed against a sweaty armpit? Does the exhilaration of watching the ball sail from your fingers to the basket compensate for all the rest?
My answer to those questions for basketball was a resounding no. But my answer when it came to writing was yes. Yes, and yes and yes again. There are a lot of smelly armpit parts of writing—waiting and rejection and crippling self-doubt. But nothing quite matches the joy of creating. Of being in the zone and having the whole world disappear for a few hours.
So what is worth it for you? Music? Art? Business? Find your thing and then ignore that hand in your face and take your shot.
It’s totally worth it.