Focus…Buckeye softball…and FEAR

This weekend is an exciting time for college softball fans – the start of the 2012 season. And equally as exciting is that my favorite college softball team practiced outside last week – yes, outside, even as January turned to February! Not a big deal for southern schools, but a welcome delight for the Ohio State Buckeyes!

If you aren’t a softball fan, stick with me. This piece is about more than softball. And I will talk later about why the Buckeyes are my favorite team…

After my last blog discussed “focus”, my dear friend Rebecca reminded me that distraction is often a much bigger obstacle than destruction. The Enemy (in whatever for that takes for you) doesn’t have the power to utterly destroy many of us, but we can be pulled away quite easily. Distracted from our purpose. From our calling. From our joy.

You might be thinking of big distractions: illness, job loss, relationship struggles. But I contend the process of distraction is insidious, taking small, quiet steps.

As a child, there were two things I loved more than anything: music and baseball. I sang myself to sleep at night, sang as I did chores, sang as my mother and I rode in our Ford Falcon that had no radio. Similarly, I was ready to play baseball at any time. Behind our house was a cinder block building which served as my “pitch back.” I stood in the alley tossing a tennis ball at that wall for hours. I had 60’6″ marked off*, and would play out entire games. The roof served up fly balls. I would throw the ball at an angle so I had to run it down – still have cinders in my knees as souvenirs. Sometimes the ball would get stuck in the gutter – get the ladder from the basement, find the ball, put the ladder back, game on again! Rain or shine. Hot or cold.

Girls weren’t yet allowed to play Little League, but I learned to love softball in a summer league when I was 13. No school team, no traveling team, slow pitch only. But I LOVED softball.

As a freshman at Penn State, I tried out for the team, and was the last player cut. The coach said I couldn’t hit fast pitch, didn’t have enough experience with the game at that pace. I cried, then left organized softball for many years.

Three years ago, my cousin was an All-Star pitcher for her high school team. Of course, I watched her play…and I started to remember. Last year I played in a recreational league. At the very first practice, that feeling came back stronger. Then I attended some Ohio State games…not far into the first game, I clearly remember thinking, “I LOVE softball.”

Would I have been a great college player? Would I have decided to coach? I don’t know.

But I do know the opinion of one coach should not have been allowed to push me away from a sport I loved. It wasn’t her fault – it was mine. I could have asked to practice with the team, or found someone willing to pitch to me, then tried out again. Instead, I gave up.

I have never stopped singing, but I also let obstacles keep me from a greater pursuit of music. I learned to play the clarinet and saxophone with relative ease, but never applied myself. I wanted to learn piano, but we couldn’t buy one or pay for lessons. Still, the community center had a piano I could have used, and I no doubt could have done enough chores for a teacher in exchange for lessons.

What held me back?

FEAR. False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear that no matter how hard I tried, what I wanted was beyond my reach.

Would I have made any impact in softball or the music world? Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is the distraction of fear affected other parts of my life.

Recently, I had the delightful privilege of chatting with Ohio State softball head coach Linda Kalafatis. With a brilliant softball mind, and a special way of relating to and motivating young women, Linda has become one of the most successful coaches in the country. Her teams play with passion and purpose, and NO FEAR. In 2011, major injuries and off-field issues lead to the worst record in Linda’s career…but her team never quit, never displayed anything but grit and heart. She calls it “the Ohio State way,” and it is surely a valuable life lesson to all her players.

Linda’s career path stands out to me. She first became a head coach as a Division II grad student at California University of PA. Five years later she moved to Div I University of Akron, and to Ohio State three years after that. At Cal, Linda decided her goal was to coach a top Division I school. She has interviewed for three coaching position, and landed every one! If she ever felt FEAR, she didn’t allow it to stop her. And FEAR has no place in her locker room.

Contrast that with my journey. My original plan was to be an English teacher. But that goal was scared off by a lack of teaching jobs. FEAR. Then the softball cut lead to my not trying out for anything else at Penn State. FEAR. I didn’t want to study Biology (first major) or Recreation Management (second major) but I couldn’t seem to make a different decision. FEAR.

I left Penn State 15 credits short of a degree. FEAR. Took a full time job in retail just because it came along, and I didn’t know what else to do. FEAR. Worked in retail 15 years, knowing full well I shouldn’t be there. FEAR.

Finished my BS in Human Resources Management. Eventually took a job with Verizon Wireless. Excellent company, but still not where I should be. FEAR.

Finally, a lot of heartache, a lot of lessons, and a lot of loving support from friends and family began working together. I faced the FEAR, began digging away the layers of junk, sharpening my focus, getting back to ME. With a Master’s Degree in professional writing in hand, I left Verizon Wireless to work as a part-time editor and a full time freelance writer. No guarantees. But much potential.

Has there been FEAR? Sure. Has it stopped me? Not anymore!

FEAR was a major force in my life for years. It never destroyed me, but it certainly distracted me enough that I lost focus.

How about you? Is FEAR keeping you from the purpose for which you were brought to this Earth?

No, you say, it isn’t FEAR…it is lack of finances, or lack of time or lack of opportunity. In truth, all those excuses come from FEAR.

FEAR tells you that focusing on a dream will make your life worse. And FEAR lies.

FEAR says you don’t deserve to focus on a dream. And FEAR lies.

FEAR says you probably won’t make a difference, and, anyway, you can still do it in a few years. And FEAR lies.

I know FEAR lies because I am still here, balancing without a corporate net to catch me. Most days, I feel like the 10 year old kid I lost track of so long ago… writing stories about softball, being part of an amazing music ministry at church, FEARing nothing anymore.

How about you? What FEAR is distracting you from your purpose?

Take some time to think about it.

We will talk again soon.

BP 🙂

*60’6″ is the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound in baseball