When I was 5 years old, I decided that what I wanted to do with my life is become a pro soccer player. For the next 10 years, until I turned 15, I’d try and do everything to work my way towards that. At age 10 I’d train 5 times a week and use the weekends to play more with my friends. At age 14 I’d train 8 times a week and there was basically nothing else in my life that mattered as much as playing soccer.
As unbiased as I can be, although my ambition was high, I’d say my skills were mediocre, which made me ultimately stop trying to become a pro, after struggling with an injury for a while. Much later I learnt that skill is only one part of doing what you love to do well, and there may have been ways to succeed with my dream at the time in my own unique way. I still believe that quitting trying to play soccer professionally was the right thing to do.
Out of all the time playing soccer, there was one lesson that I learnt from it, that had such a profound impact on my life, that I wanted to share.
The idea of training
In high school, and later on in the short time I lasted in College, I saw an interesting way that people studied for their exams. It seemed a lot more efficient than my method. Students would study almost nothing throughout a long period of time, and then, a given number of weeks or days before an exam, would memorize and cram as much knowledge into their brains as possible.
This was surprisingly effective, a lot of my friends using this technique would get incredibly high marks. The education system itself – one that tests knowledge at set intervals – also seemed to lend itself very well for this.
Somehow, I could never do this. From my experience of playing soccer, I had learnt, over exactly 1 decade, that there was only one way to do well at the “exam”, in this case, the “game”. And that way was to train. Training meant to do much of the same movements, techniques and exercises over and over again, until they would become effortless and intuitive. Then in a game situation, you could use all that built up energy and skill to your advantage. Oftentimes, the person that trained most intelligently and consistently for an extended period of time would perform the best.
Finding joy in doing the same thing over and over again
The one example that most people can relate to I’ve found is video games. In almost every video game, you are largely doing the same thing over and over again until you get better. Whether that’s a driving game, a shooting game or anything similar. In small increments you improve your movements until you are comfortably able to master each level. Whenever we do this, we are essentially training, and most of us that have ever played a video game know that it’s very enjoyable.
In fact, some of the best entrepreneurs and programmers often have a deep background in online gaming, before they embark on their first startup journey. I think it’s no surprise that often after we’ve learned that doing the same thing over and over again can we become truly successful. Ira Glass put this really well:
“The most important, possible thing you could do is to do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap.”
Falling in love with the way instead of the destination
As a lot of people set goals for the new year to come and I think there are a lot of good things that come with that. For myself, I’m more excited than ever to explore a way of life that ignores goals as much as possible.
At the core, I think that goals for me obscure the focus on the way. The block my view on the individual steps that we need to take to get somewhere. I’m instead trying to setup simple habits that help me to keep making steps. It seems very likely to me that that is going to get me somewhere and to a place that I greatly enjoy being at.
Interestingly, finding something that we truly enjoy doing over and over again isn’t hard. Almost every person I meet already has at least one activity where this holds true. What seems to be much harder is to decide to make that activity our life’s work, and to allow ourselves to focus on it that much, even though it doesn’t feel like “work”. That’s probably where we can make our best contribution to the world.
I’d love to chat with you about this on Twitter:
I tried to be a pro soccer player for 10 years, this was my biggest lesson: “Sports, video games and success” http://t.co/L4fU9dkv2x
— Leo Widrich (@LeoWid) December 31, 2014