Top 10 Tips to my Younger Self - From a Professional Volleyball Player
It’s your first season in Europe I see, you finally made it. The road has been long since that young man first began to day dream about playing professional volleyball for the best teams in the world. From almost playing Division 3 to barely being recruited by the second smallest Division 1 university in the country. From almost transferring three different times to graduating with the most successful season in program history. From playing in just ten matches your freshman year to finishing with three All-EIVA honors and an All-American Honorable Mention. You finally made it, you got your first ever professional contract and here you were, on your first night in Finland, scared, sobbing in a bed without any bed sheets or pillow cases after having a peanut butter sandwich and eggs for dinner. You’re really living the dream.
You have adapted fairly well considering the first night, but there was only one direction to go from there to be honest. “Adapted” is speaking in relative terms of course because we both are aware that there was a lot more to get use too. You will realize down the road that you are where you’re at for a reason, and that reason is simple. You belong there. I know it’s intimidating for you right now, you’re playing with a teammate from the United States in his first year overseas as well, who came from a much better school than you did and had an extremely successful career there as well. Don’t worry, you guys will become great friends, and both of you will always have tremendous respect for each other. And this other American arriving soon, he’s only going to add to the memories that the three of you will never forget and have a life long bond from. If you receive this letter in time I want to tell you this now as my first bit of advice, you do not have to prove anything to anyone other than yourself. I understand you want to try and play on a Ligue B team in France in hopes to one day play in Ligue A. I also understand that you want to show your ability and maintain good relationships in your first season abroad, but you have nothing to worry about. The more you let go of all these insecurities, and the more you embrace who you really are as a person and the more you play without pressure and self criticism over every bad play, the better off you will be.
If this letter doesn’t get to you in time that’s okay, because I know in a few years you would have figured this out. You’re not going to be perfect about it but you’re going to be much more aware and intuitive on making the change. Acceptance is going to be one of the biggest challenges you’re going to face, not just in acceptance of yourself but in volleyball and in life in general. There’s going to be times where things are completely out of your own control, whether it’s a coach’s decision, a player getting signed over you, more rejection from the national team, bad matches, or the endless struggle with your situational anxiety that has brutally escalated since this whole experience started. It will also creep into more sensitive areas of life, such as when the girl you thought was the love of your life decides to end things abruptly over a FaceTime, or receiving a phone call after a practice from your mother, crying hysterically over the sudden death of a very close family friend. All of these things that will happen are things you have no control over and some you can’t even influence in some sort of way. None of these things can be affected by you alone, and that will likely trigger some of the worst feelings for you. Shame and grief. But the gifts you’ll receive from the lessons these feelings give to you are going to elevate your life dramatically. You will learn how to accept the absurdity when it is thrown at you and cast away any shame, and you will learn that love in an energy that can never be destroyed and that love will always heal any sort of grieving you may go through.
I wish I can say that’s as dark as it gets but, it’s not. Sadly it’s not nearly as low as how low you will get in your future years playing abroad. Volleyball will be fine, you’ll most likely start seeing success begin to take its form but you will be constantly struggling to find that happiness, because you’ll eventually find out that it starts inside you, and not from external entities. You know that new thing you just figured out? The whole meditation thing that you’re doing to help with your anxiety? This is the time where that will truly become life changing for you in your journey to find balance within. And you will explore it to every area of your life and the lessons and practices you will learn from it will not only help you but it will begin to be something intriguing for others that you will pass on without much effort. And eventually, other people will be asking you for guidance and you’re going to find yourself helping people more than you will ever know just by passing on the knowledge you will gain. I know I don’t have to tell you this but what you felt in that first mediation the other day was a type of awakening for your true self to finally live freely. Take on this practice whole heartily and never give up on it.
I know by this point in the letter you must be asking yourself “this sounds like I’m just torturing myself pursuing a dream over here, why would I do this to myself? Is this really worth it then?” Yes and I understand, there’s a lot of hard times, but what else would you expect? Nothing in life has ever been given to you or made easy for you, and now you’ve started a very difficult and selective career, when did you think it would start to get easy? Are you not passionate about this game and all the work that goes into it? Is this not what makes you purposeful every morning you get out of bed, and haven’t you already experienced sacrificing nearly everything to get to this point? I wish that I could tell you for once it will be easy, but I’m afraid the higher you climb the harder it’s going to be. This is where your relentless determination to better yourself in every way imaginable will continue to pay off. This is what will get you to where you’ve always dreamt of being, and this is also what is going to put some of the most special people you’ll ever meet into your life, and this is why it’s worth it.
You may be at the beginning now but the heights you are going to travel to are unimaginable. Far past the limits of your own thoughts. You just might go from one of the worst teams in Finland to becoming a Ligue B France champion, under the most unexpected circumstances possible. And you think that’s something, just wait until you experience the Ligue A semi-finals. You’re going to go from having crippling anxiety about many different social situations, to introducing yourself to your idols and creating relationships with them that will send you on the path you’ve always been searching for. You’re even going to go from barely being able to do a podcast to inspiring others about mindfulness, via a podcast. And most importantly you’re going to grow so much as a person and finally come out of that shell of insecurities, and finally live a life through quiet confidence and joyfulness.
So if this letter does get to you in time there’s a few other things I’d like you to try before the end of your first season, and maybe you’ll even surpass me from where I’m currently writing to you from, because I’d like to hope that where I’m at now is still in the early chapters of this whole thing. So, the things are as follows:
- Meditate everyday. You will gain so much from it especially the quiet confidence that can boost you not only in social situations but on the volleyball court as well.
- Talk to yourself as if you’re talking to a friend. You, my friend, have always been way too hard on yourself. It’s good to hold a good standard but not when it becomes damaging to your own well being. Encourage yourself, love yourself. This also goes along with the need to stop judging and comparing yourself to others based on their own success and their path. You have your own story, don’t let others write it for you.
- Do not give a single care to what people think about you. This can go both with the negative and positive thoughts you are hoping people have or don’t have about you. It literally is a waste of energy, just always do your best to strive to be the best version of yourself, if not a better version, and let people think whatever they want. It’s only within your influence not in your control. Waste no energy on it.
- Practice a mindful diet. Cut out dairy and gluten, cut alcohol 95%, try going vegetarian, try going vegan, or even settle for only two meat dishes a week. It will make you a machine and more importantly allow you to consider a mindful practice of compassion daily.
- Watch the greats. Watch the best do what they do, every single day. Both on and off the court. You’ll find that you will start playing in similar ways and also you will grow your I.Q. and knowledge of the game.
- Play the $300k game. It was reported that a top middle blocker on Zenit Kazan has made in the past around $300k. Whether that’s true, I’m not sure. Possible? For sure it is, and if you want to make just 10% of that you have to play the $300k game and develop the same work ethic as those players. Go all in on yourself with recovery, workouts, sleep, nutrition, and everything else that is a primary focus of someone at the highest level. Try different things and be open to new ideas, see what works for you the best. You never know when you’ll get this opportunity again.
- Read. Reading will empower you with new ideas and skills to practice in everyday life, it can help you become more financially responsible, create better habits, learn life lessons, and practice skills that make you the best version of yourself. It will also send you into more research learning more about certain topics and even satisfy your creative side by introducing you to different artists and philosophers. My recommendation, start with The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
- Tell people you appreciate them. Life’s too short, tell the people you admire how you feel, maybe a friendship or a mentorship will be created out of it.
- Always be grateful. There’s so much to be thankful for, everyday you should wake up and list three things you’re grateful for and you’ll likely experience more joy throughout the day.
- Don’t write headlines. Whether in volleyball or in life do your best to not think too much about the future. This is only going to either put unnecessary pressure on yourself or create unnecessary anxiety about situations that may or may not even occur. Stay in the present moment, and just flow.
If you start practicing these things now, I would like to hope that you would have travelled much farther than I have within this amount of time. Everyone’s journey is different and you should expect yours to be just that. Keep charging along your own path and no matter what life throws at you, trust that it’s all going to work out and you’ll get to exactly where you want to be in the end. This is only the very beginning for you, and I can’t wait to see not only what kind of player you will eventually become, but what kind of man you will also evolve into when it’s all said and done.Your Friend,