Have you ever had a dream, something big that means so much to you that the idea of not following that dream seems impossible? I’m not talking about “I’ll work all summer and do anything necessary to earn the money for the new X-box One or a new iPhone!” I mean something like going to medical school to become a doctor or law school, or making a Paralympic/Olympic team or winning the World Championships, or something along those lines. I mean something big, something that initially seems impossible. Ever have a dream like that? I have! Ever share that dream with someone – family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, or your spouse? How did they respond?
I’ll admit, when I first told my mother I was going to the Paralympic Games and then explained to her what the Paralympics are all about, I don’t remember what she said. She knew, however, that I had been really into wrestling in high school and had been working really hard and had been somewhat successful in judo. I don’t think she gave it a lot of thought in the beginning but she was supportive, and believed in me, so whether I made it or not, she was behind me. I don’t think she really got how serious I was, though, until I made my first world team in 1995. I think the fact that I had to have knee surgery a month before worlds but worked hard and won a bronze medal showed her that it was more than just a phase.
She was rightfully concerned and didn’t want me to go to worlds because of my injury but that was just because she is my mother and didn’t like to see me hurting, but she was always there for me. While I have always been self-motivated, the support of my family and friends means a great deal to me. When I started really pushing for the World and Paralympic Games, my family and friends got behind me 100% and I certainly could not have done it without the support of my Sensei and teammates from my old judo club at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana Lafayette). Many of them put in extra time, which benefited them as well, to help me train. I did not drink alcohol for several months before a big tournament but I liked going out with my friends. We use to go out to the college bars and when the bar tender would ask what I wanted to drink, my friends would always tell them “He’s not drinking, he’s the designated driver!” They didn’t know I was blind and that we walked from campus so they would give me free soda – or water if I was cutting weight.
The point I am getting at is that even though all the support in the world would not have helped if I were not self-motivated and a hard worker, having a great team of people you care about behind you, supporting your dream sure does make it easier. These people are “Dream Builders” – people who through their actions and words build you up, pick you up when you fall, and believe in your dreams! I was so fortunate to have such supportive family and friends/teammates.
The flip side of Dream Builders is “Dream Killers” – those people or things that get in the way and either intentionally or unintentionally impede your ability to achieve your dreams or make you believe you are not capable of achieving them. The worst part about dream killers is that they can often be your family, friends, teammates, boyfriend/girlfriend, spouses or even yourself.
Anyone who has dared to dream and further dared to share that dream with others has faced dream killers. One of the biggest dream killers is fear and self-doubt. I battled with both of those throughout my judo career, both as an athlete and as a coach. One of the things that helped me was the belief others had in me, and my ability to talk myself into just about anything. There were of course people who didn’t believe in me or thought it was just a silly pipe dream, or those who just didn’t care. They might say, “good for you, but why should I care?” My response was, “you shouldn’t!” Then I would avoid those people. If you don’t believe in or care about what I am doing, that’s ok, it doesn’t mean we can’t get along, but it does mean that to the best of my ability I will avoid being around you. Of course this is not always possible. Sometimes you work with these people, or you are related to them or you might even be dating or married to them. I could never date someone who did not support my dream just as I would support her dreams. Of course I am very lucky, I married a judoka (person who does judo), who had very similar dreams. A good friend always tells me how lucky I am because his wife hates judo and is very jealous of all the time he spends away from his family for judo. I can’t even imagine how hard that must be.
Negativity is another dream killer. Not even necessarily someone who is negative about you or your dreams specifically. I always thought that if I was going to be successful at something, I should hang around like minded people who either have similar goals or who have achieved what I am trying to achieve. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another!” Negative people do not sharpen anything. Again, I can’t always avoid them but if someone is always negative, even someone I may actually like, I will go out of my way to avoid being around them too often or avoid engaging them in conversation. There is so much negativity in this world, I just do not have the time or inclination to spend my time and energy on negative people. I can love you, but I can’t spend too much energy on you if you are negative. Negativity just weighs me down and makes it harder to move in a positive direction.
Obviously if you are in a relationship with someone and you find some new passion and develop a new dream, and that person is not on-board, I’m not saying you should end it, not right away anyway. Again, I am so lucky to share my passion for judo with the women I plan to spend the rest of my life with, but if her passion was, for example tennis, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t be together. It just might mean there would have to be some compromise and sacrifice on both sides. I would fully support her dream to be Wimbledon Champion but would expect her to support my dream as well. I think it is also difficult when you have a dream as big as being the best in the world at something and your significant other doesn’t have a dream of their own. It’s hard for them to understand the commitment necessary for you to achieve your dream.
You don’t have to completely understand and I get that I have to be willing to give a little too, but there are some things I cannot give up. For example, when I was competing, I did not miss practice. I had a girlfriend once that asked if I wanted to go to dinner and a movie one night with another couple. I said, “that would be great, I get out of practice at 5 and can be home by around 5:30.” She told me that the movie started at 5:30 so I told her I couldn’t go to that one but I would go at any other time. She told me that my friend was skipping practice to go. I said, “that’s on him, but you know I don’t miss practice, even when I am sick or injured I go watch if I can’t train.” That of course led to a heated argument and obviously we didn’t last much longer. You may thing that is a little harsh but she knew how important judo was to me, and she knew that I would go any other time, I would have even skipped class to go but just not judo. I don’t wish her any ill will, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Again, I am not suggesting that anyone break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, or stop going home to visit family. I’m just saying that in any relationship there are “deal breakers.” In the case of my ex-girlfriend, judo wasn’t the only issue we had but for her my obsession with judo was a deal breaker, and her trying to make me chose between her and judo when there was no reason I couldn’t have both was a deal breaker for me, and that’s ok.
As I mentioned before, other dream killers are fear and self-doubt. One of the ways to overcome these it to stay away from negative people who feed your fear or self-doubt. Another way to overcome these is with hard work and positive self-talk. I use to talk to myself all the time before my matches, when I started hurting in practice or on the treadmill/track, or in the weight room. When I was getting to the last few minutes or a drill or a run and I was hurting, I would tell myself, “You can do anything for 5 minutes!” Then 4 minutes, etc. Before matches, I would pace and talk to myself. I use to drive the tournament volunteers crazy because I would never stand in the chute. I would pace and tell myself that I was good enough, and that no one had trained harder than I had and that I deserved to be there and I was ready. But all that positivity can be undone if you have someone telling you that you can’t do it or that you are not good enough, or that you do not need to train so hard.
The longest time I have ever spent away from my wife and son was at the end of my career when I went to Brazil for 23 days to fight in the World Championships then the ParaPan American Games. Don’t envy me, I was cutting weight the entire time, and it was the end of my career which should indicate that I didn’t do as well as I would have liked. My point is that while she didn’t enjoy having me gone for so long, especially with a 4 year old, she understood and didn’t do or say anything to make me feel guilty about being away. On the flip side when she make the 2005 world team in Egypt and told me how much it was going to cost us, I didn’t say it was too much or that we had a 2 year old. I called a mortgage company and we refinanced our house so she could go. It was difficult but having been on 5 world teams at that time, I knew how important it was to her and there was no way I was going to allow her to miss it.
Everyone is different as is every situation. The point I am trying to make is that there is so much negativity out there already, some of which you cannot control. There will always be negative influences in your life that you cannot avoid or control, so why burden yourself with that which you can control. You have to decide how important your dreams are to you and based on your answer, you have to decide:
- How hare are you willing to work?
- How much are you willing to sacrifice to realize your dreams?
- What level of support do you need and what will you do if you don’t get it?
- What are you “deal breakers”?
- How will you deal with negativity from others?
- How will you deal with fear and self-doubt?
If you can answer these questions honestly and stick to your guns, you will be well on your way. When I used to be asked for a favorite quote I use to struggle to find something meaningful then one day I just said: “If you are not willing to work hard to realize your dreams, why bother dreaming?” Maybe I’ll have to revise it to include something about avoiding dream killers someday – stay tuned!
As always, thanks for reading!
I’ll talk to you soon…