Every year of high school had its own feel. Freshman year I started at the bottom. Bottom floor of the school, first year of high school, first everything. We were even taunted by the seniors for being freshman! Way to kick a guy when he’s down right?
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been there.
Becoming a sophomore was new, but also sort of familiar. Being a sophomore is kinda like being invisible. I wasn’t quite a freshman but being at the botto
m of the middle I wasn’t ‘cool enough’ to be seen as much different than the freshman.
Still, It was nice being a little older, a little bigger and a little more independent.
There were a thousand small moments during this time that defined me in that year. They appeared while I was in class, walking through the halls, talking with teachers, learning, growing up, falling for the girl, and lots of self doubts and internal thoughts.
The small points, as important as they are, don’t symbolize the major shifts.
The major shifts would end up changing my flow through life, not just minute details of my day. I remember a specific group of decisions which created the groundwork for the next two years of high school and right into college.
Basically I gave up who I was so I could become more of who I wanted to be. From what I’ve noticed, this seems to be very common through life. (Think about it for yourself for a moment to see if it’s true for you.)
The decisions I’m talking about you might have already guessed at. I decided to drop soccer, drop band class and invest all my extra time into my running career. At this point all I was focused on were these few decisions, more accurately a cross road. I didn’t know what I would do with the rest of my life, but I knew I wanted to run, I wanted to move, and I didn’t want something in my life that felt like it was holding me back. This was my first attempt at focus, and I wasn’t even aware of it. Focus often has helped me to move forward faster even if it was accidental.
Giving up To Go Up
I didn’t sign up for soccer. I didn’t care for it by the end of the year. I got along fine with the guys on the team and I did enjoy playing but there was something I couldn’t digest.
I didn’t feel like I belonged, and I had this nagging feeling I should quit. When I finally told my mom I wasn’t going to sign up again next year this huge wave of relief washed over me. I knew right away I made the right decision.
Instead of soccer I decided it was time to sign up for cross country. I found out that it’s a sport based around one race, 3 miles (or 5K) over various terrains. Road, woods, rocky hills whatever. A lot of people called me crazy for choosing the one sport that appeared to be the one sport that attracted insane people. Crazy or not, I found my decision to be natural. I didn’t consciously say ‘I want to run a 3 mile race’. I just followed my gut.
I remember the first time I knew I chose my spirit sport. It was a hot sunny day early in the summer/early fall season. I was running past the practice fields. Soccer was in full swing, the band kids were getting together and I was calmly running by. I remembered what it was like to put all my soccer gear on, feeling anxiety about practice. I glided past the fields and turned toward the hot sun. It was hanging low and hot. So low that I felt like I could run right into it, and all I had was a feeling of peace. Lots of sweat, some leg pain, but overall peace.
Although I dropped soccer that year and picked up cross country, I was still part of band and marching band. I don’t quite remember how that marching season went but I do remember a slow feeling of separation. This feeling started somewhere in the middle of our marching season and escalated beyond what it should have later that school year.
That feeling of separation changed me and my experience with band. I think it was from two factors. We lost our previous band teacher, Mr. Hagan, which gave us abandonment issues.
Mr. S, who was my teacher in elementary school, came up through the ranks. At first I was excited about the change. I had worked with him throughout the years since our first lessons, and I knew him pretty well.
Turns out not everyone else felt the same way, which didn’t bode well for me either. A socially hostile crowd usually stifles the chance to adapt to a new teaching style, especially if it’s… kinda dry.
Regardless of the change, our season went off without much issue. We had a good group of teachers and supporters and had good music to play. The fall season ended but a long school loomed ahead, and things started to change.
Something changed in us that I can’t really describe. I guess we became restless. We started getting rowdy, disrespectful, and Mr. S, no fault of his own, didn’t seem to be able to play along. To this day I still feel somewhat responsible for some of the rude things I would do. For example, I earned a B in band for the first time. Because I always had an A in band class this really bothered me.
‘With Mr. Hagan I never had a problem!’
‘Mr. S just doesn’t like me, that’s why he gave me a B.’
Which then gave my mother enough fuel to call him up and ask about the grade.
Even at that time I knew how much of a brat I was being. I knew inside I earned a B. I was a good musician, but when it came down to it I wasn’t living up to my potential in class. Mr. S knew it too.
And so… more misplaced resentment grew when he did NOT change my grade.
His demeanor was dry and it rubbed most of the students the wrong way. I have a natural dry humor myself and was able to understand the jokes he tried to tell, but I held back from laughing out of misplaced resentment.
I knew deep down that all he wanted our class to do was succeed. I knew it, but I knew that we resisted him at every step.
So naturally I faulted to goofing off and joking around. I didn’t practice like I used to. I knew I good enough to get by, and would opt to practicing only the things I enjoyed. Which turned out to be less and less.
It was half way through the year and even through my complaints to my parents about the class and a fairly constant uproar about the type of music we were learning I was ready to quit class. Thankfully I was told by my parents to see the year through and if I still felt the same way I could quit band.
I was happy about that, but I wasn’t necessarily satisfied with my decision and I knew I had become lazy. As with most issues I pushed it way down deep and ignored it. I can’t say for sure but I believe because I ignored it and didn’t turn myself around I eventually hurt my drive to succeed in the long run. You’ll see what I mean.
Even with my now lazy ways I wanted someone, like Mr. Hagan, to challenge me. I was hungry for it, but I was too far gone from band and Mr. S to even notice a challenge.
Ironically, when one path starts to close another usually looks better and better.
I shoved all my anxieties and stress into my running. Not only did I have someone who was ferociously passionate about the sport, and he had no trouble putting us in our place. I felt like I found my place again.
Then Something Came in the Mail
It was late winter early spring. There hadn’t been much snow that year, I remember because even though it was freezing cold I didn’t have to wade through icy hills of frozen snow. You remember shit like that.
I had gotten a piece of mail inviting me to a meeting. It wasn’t completely clear why or how I had been invited. What was clear was the trip to Australia that I could potentially be going on.
I found out later that we were all chosen, at random most likely, as athletes from various states to go as ambassadors to Australia, compete in a big track meet and then share cultures with each other.
Heading home after the meeting I felt different.
I stared out the car window at the clear dark sky. I was imagining myself on a plane headed to a far away land. It was exciting to dream about the possibilities that awaited.
The money, I needed money, and I didn’t have a job and my parents made it very clear they were NOT going to pay for the whole thing.
What to do?
My parents chipped in some cash, then proceeded to outline a few fundraising ideas. The classics like asking for money from family, collecting bottles or… well I can’t remember what else because I zoned out.
I was… naturally resistant to doing things on my own. I wasn’t necessarily afraid to go out and fundraise. I tend to think my purpose for getting the funds wasn’t translated enough into the techniques we used to collect money.
Case and point, my bottle collecting story. I’m not proud of this, but it happened. Bless my Dad wayyy in advance.