When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, I played an awful lot of soccer. Starting at the age of eight years old I played on local teams, all-star teams, traveling club teams, and later my high school team.
I went away every summer for a week long soccer camp to further improve my skills. Not only that, but I actually had talent; the fastest player on every team I ever played on and always one of the stand-outs. Still, when one of my teammates told me that he wanted to be a professional, I thought he was crazy.
Professional athletes, in my mind, were super-human. They were like another species entirely. Surely there was no way that I could ever reach those heights. Right? I mean, for one thing, I sometimes made mistakes. Errant shots on goal, defensive breakdowns, bad passes. It happened. Despite my skills, I wasn't perfect and never would be.
By the time I got through high school I was so sick of all of the training, almost year-round, that I simply didn't want to even look at a soccer ball anymore. I'd had enough. And so I quit. Cold turkey.
Cut to seven years later. I was now 25 years-old and I started to realize how terribly I missed the game. I began to look for an amateur team to join. Eventually I found one, and while I was a bit rusty at first, before long it became clear that I was a much better player after my hiatus than before. Perhaps it was the maturity that came with age.
In any case, I once again became highly involved in the sport. I spent several years playing in some very competitive leagues in both California and Virginia. After a few more years I began to think about the prospect of going pro myself. But how to do it, after so much time off? Maybe if I'd played in college it would have been one thing, but to make the leap after so long, where would I even start?
The truth was, I still didn't have the confidence. I didn't believe in myself quite enough. Sometimes I would play with former or future pros in my amateur games and I was always sizing myself up against them, trying to determine if I had what it took.
When I joined one team in Virginia, a former player had just been drafted by DC United in the newly formed MLS. A bunch of us went to see his debut. Could that be me out there next? By then I was already 30 years old. Way too old for a rookie, I knew.
And so I never made that push. I never really went for it. Of course I knew it would have meant a lot of hard work, and sacrifice, most likely starting out on a team in a second-rate, semi-pro league if I was lucky.
I tell myself that it wasn't so much my fault. After all, there was no major professional soccer league in existence in the U.S. from the time the original North American Soccer League folded when I was 18 until the MLS was founded when I was 30. My prime playing years.
But still, there were lesser pro leagues around. I could have tried harder, if I'd really had the guts. And if I'd tried, I'd know one way or the other if I really had what it took. Instead I'll forever be left wondering.
Or course this all comes to mind because of the current European championships underway at the moment. Whenever these major tournaments come around, I love to watch the games but it is a little disturbing for me as well. For one thing, I realize that these pros are actually human. They make mistakes, too. Lots of them.
Just look at the Champions League semi-finals last month when three out of four players on Real Madrid missed their penalty kicks, costing them a spot in the final. And these are some of the best players in the world, making tens of millions of euros each per year!
So I suppose it will be a tough few weeks for me while this tournament is going on, but why bring it up here, you ask? Why bore you with details of me crying in my beer over childhood dreams gone sour?
The reason is that I've learned something from all of this, I hope. I also still have at least one dream left that I can potentially accomplish, and I'd like to think I can apply this lesson here. I'm 46 years old now, far past sporting age, but the dream that is still alive is to make a decent living and survive as a fiction writer.
Today on a writer's forum, someone posted a link to an article from Forbes magazine titled Why You Shouldn't be a Writer. Basically it said, to all aspiring writers out there, 1) You have no talent, 2) It's too hard, and 3) You'll never make any money.
Now maybe these things are true, for me and the majority of other aspiring writers out there, but one thing I learned from my soccer experience is that it's an awful lot better to try and fail than to never try at all.
If you try and fail at something, you know that you simply didn't have what it took. If you don't try at all you'll spend the rest of your life wondering, and there's not much worse than that.
So far I've been writing fiction for more than 20 years and never had more than a few short stories published here and there. I started self-publishing my novels 18 months ago and have two up to date. Earnings have averaged about $1,100 per month, but have now trickled down to about $3 per day lately.
It has been a tough road, but despite what the author of that Forbes article has to say, I'm not ready to give up yet. Not by a long shot. I've got another novel, Natalia, due to be finished in the next few weeks and lots of other projects on tap after that.
I sometimes think that if I'd had someone who really believed in and encouraged me more when it came to my soccer career, I might have believed more in myself and really gone for it. Instead, this belief had to come from within, and that was a very tall order.
The same is more or less true of my writing, but this time I'm not going to let anything stand in my way. I know I can do it, and if not, it's a whole lot better to try and fail than to never try at all.