A few weekends ago I went to a minor league hockey game for lack of other entertainment options. Minor league sports are an interesting animal, because the teams are an awkward combination of two very different types of player. Some of them are in the 18-22 age range, and they're playing in the minors to get a little experience and (hopefully) work their way up to the big leagues. They get labels like "prospect" to indicate untapped talent. They have Potential. The rest of the players are considerably older – maybe 26 to 30-something – and they are no longer called prospects. They're the prospects from 5-10 years ago who never made it. They're minor league Lifers. They're here because they weren't good enough to make the jump, and now that they're old (in athletic terms) the odds are high that they're never going to get any better.

I watched these kids – and really, many of them look quite literally like kids – and older guys mixing together awkwardly on the ice, and I thought about how difficult and sad it must be to make the transition from Prospect to Lifer. Is there some singular moment at which it hits you that you're never going to accomplish your goal? Do you wake up one morning at age 24 and suddenly realize, "Oh crap, this is as far as I'm ever going to get"? Or is it a slower process full of denial and bargaining before you ultimately accept that you're never going to make it because you're not good enough? Either way it must be remarkably unpleasant. Most of these guys have been training for this since they were old enough to walk. It must be a tremendous blow to their psyche to realize, or perhaps be told explicitly, that they've failed.

The older I get, the more I realize that the crappy part of aging is not the weird physical pains, the wrinkles, or the receding hairlines but the slow process of realizing that none of the things you wanted to do with your life are actually going to happen. It's that moment when you look at your surroundings and realize, This is it for me. This is as far as I'm going to get. You look at the goals you had and the things you wanted to do and you realize that not only are they unlikely to happen, but they're unlikely to happen because you aren't good enough to accomplish them.

That's what getting old is, I think. It's the point at which you're forced to accept that you can't make happen any of the things that the young version of you wanted to do. After you reach this point, the statement you will hear a lot in your thirties and forties – "Oh, you're still young!" – is true only in the physical sense.

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75 Responses to “THE STICKS”

  1. acer Says:

    Seems like a good place to leave this…

  2. BB-Idaho Says:

    I'm old enough to rest on my laurels.
    But, too old to find them…

  3. BB-Idaho Says:

    I'm old enough to rest on my laurels.
    But, too old to find them…

  4. Daniel Says:

    The status-seekers and social climbers are always the most miserable people on earth. I have friends like that. Always trying to run with the rich folk, buying ABERCROMBIE AND FITCH. Going to fancy dinner parties with people they have little in common with. Trying to play golf at fancy courses. And when they do play golf with me at public courses, they seem embarrased to play with me because I don't use Golf Gloves or I use a rented set of clubs for three bucks. Or I am wearing regular shoes instead of the actual spikes Arnold Palmer wore at the 1986 Masters. I sort of resent them for their passive-aggressive behavior and shared looks.

    My main point is try to enjoy the public golf courses. It's fun to hit a ball around, and I think this translates to other facets of life. Riding in economy class on an airplane may not be as comfortable as first-class, but everyone is getting to Houston at the same time.

  5. Daniel Says:

    I think I meant Jack Nicklaus. Shows you how much I know about golf.

  6. an old lady Says:

    Yesterday my microwave oven died, which is a minor first-world problem. I'm 65 and have some health issues, so after testing another microwave I had, which also didn't work, I drove to Target and bought a new one.

    Well, after carrying three microwaves here and there I was exhausted and could barely walk. This was shocking to me, that I was so far gone that I couldn't do the kind of lifting and carrying I used to do without thinking about it.

    It also occurred to me that I probably won't ever be able to move from my little house until I die, that someone else is going to have to deal with my stuff. I could put stuff in boxes but I couldn't carry boxes even to the car, much less move any furniture.

    Mortality is okay but the slings and arrows suck.

  7. JazzBumpa Says:

    This is a needlessly negative post. Never accomplish ANY of your goals? Well, then they must be lofty indeed.

    I could never make it as a professional musician. So I had a mundane career in industry where I accomplished a few things, and had a few moments that I'm actually proud of. After a long hiatus, I picked up my horn again, and now I'm a happily active amateur musician.

    This is probably on a par with minor league athletics.

    But so the hell what? I'm decent enough at my level, and I get a lot of enjoyment from it.

    There are a lot of different ways to have a reasonably happy and productive life. Not making it in the big leagues isn't failure. It's a sign that you have to find success somewhere else, and there are lots of options.


  8. JazzBumpa Says:

    @ beejayemm

    No. Ed posts his suicide notes on FaceBook.


  9. Cheap Jim Says:

    Yeah, but who won the game?

  10. stickler Says:

    An old lady:

    Sure you can move: hire movers. It's not THAT much money, and anyhow, if you've already done lots of heavy lifting, then you've experienced the joy of hauling crap. There's no sense in discovering your new physical limits the hard way, and anyhow, that's what those guys are good at and get paid to do, better and faster than you.

    I say this as someone (granted, only 45) who just recently got the "opportunity" to move all my stuff into a small rental house. Hey, I'd always moved everything myself, right? Why not this time?

    Well, I discovered that I'm not in the kind of shape I was ten years ago, I nearly threw out my back, and friends pointed out to me that doing everything myself was stupid and dangerous. Hmmm. They're right.

    It's a little like wallpapering a room: everyone should probably try it once, but once you've done it, you NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN. Hire it out, sell what you don't need, and throw the guilt by the wayside.

  11. Duff Clarity Says:

    'I thought, "This is it, this is as far as this game goes". I'm not capable of going any further. I made the mistake of having a little bit of hope…'

    -Joe Simpson, Touching the Void

    The secret is to start out with your eyes open – be born a nihilist. When I was young I didn't want to accomplish anything, I just wondered what games I would need to play to forget about myself until I died.

    There are fun games out there, moments of actual joy to be had. You aren't going to accomplish anything with your life – that very idea is insane.

    For the Lifer in the hockey game, it's the full speed moment when he has the Prospect in his sights and is about to slam him hard into the boards. Nothing to lose, nothing to gain, just a moment of the game to enjoy. It's perfect.

    Or as Denis Johnson wrote, "She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I've gone looking for that feeling everywhere".

  12. cromartie Says:

    1) Set low goals. You can't do nothing for a living unless you're born or fuck your way into that opportunity. Since it's too late for one and not likely for the other, my suggestion to those that read that is to set modest goals.

    2) Far more importantly, set goals that center around things you can accomplish. When people complain about failing to achieve goals in life, those goals, without fail, are centered around their failure to reach the subjective standards of others.

    Unless and until you take a deep breath and understand that the only goals you can achieve in life are learning to be happy with what you achieve to do on your own terms, and that what matters most is how you feel when you look at that reflection staring back at you in the morning, then you'll always be miserable.

    My spouse could leave me tomorrow, and I wouldn't be crushed and wouldn't feel like a failure, because I can get up, look in the mirror and say to myself, without having to lie, that I did the best job that I could. And just because that didn't make her happy, doesn't mean it wouldn't make someone else happy. But I'm happy with what I accomplished within the context of our marriage and that's all I have at the end of the day.

    At the end of your life, all you have to live with is you. You have to learn to be happy with what happens once you click Publish, and stop worring about the hit counts.

    For some of the old guys out there on the ice, it's a job. The competition is nice, and the prospect of making the AHL or NHL has faded, but it's a job, a steady source of income and they've already outdone 90% of their peers. So they find peace with where they are. They get up and say "I'm going to do my role as best I can."

    Also, I'd suggest yoga. Get some flexibility working and some meditation in before you get to old to stretch effectively.

    Finally, I distill all of life's work into the following: 1) Am I treating people as I would like to be treated? 2) Am I leaving the people and organizations I interact with better than they were when I arrived? If the answers to both of those questions are yes, then there's nothing to be unhappy about.

  13. Robert Says:

    At 52, I'm married (sixteen years) and have two kids. This was beyond my youthful imagination. I would have more easily believed that I would become vice-president. Looking back, being a husband and father were very high on my life list, but how could I ever marry another man?
    life has a way of surprising us sometimes.

  14. lofgren Says:

    At 50 years old, my mother quit her job to write a book. She figured it would be a fun way to spend a year. My parents' finances being what they were, she knew that she would likely have to work until she was 70 and if she didn't take the time now she would be too old and too tired by the time she retired.

    Today she is 59. She has two published novels and a 3 book deal. My father quit his job too and together they write mystery-cookbooks. My mother writes the story, about a chef who seems to find himself at the center of murder mysteries with the kind of frequency that amateur sleuths often do in novels, and my father invents the dishes that the main character serves. Then at the end of the novel they include the recipes. They are happier, more free, and more excited about life than they ever thought possible.

  15. ladiesbane Says:

    p/s: too bad we can't all get together and watch Slap Shot. I mean that.

  16. Mal Rootkit Says:

    It always cheers me up when I reflect that Michael Jordan
    was unable to get around on AAA curveballs.

  17. Ursula Says:

    That is true if your goals never change and your industry prizes youth. In my industry – loosely stated as the corporate IT world – I'm considered very young in my early 30s with 7 years of experience. I see the same thing in this world, just with people that are decades older. They're at my level, still trying to gain knowledge and have influence, but I look at them and just wistfully wonder how long it will be until they retire because usually, they are painfully stupid.

    Then there is that issue summed up in the lyric 'life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.' If your goal can only be achieved in your youth, life is probably going to suck for you, no matter what (though if you manage your money, that can be a good buffer if you do achieve success).

  18. Benny Says:

    I recently turned 60. When I was 25, I wanted to do one particular thing in the entertainment industry; it didn't work out. I fell into something else in the entertainment industry — it worked out very well but I threw it away with partying and drugs. By 30, I was a has-been. I got sober, started over. By 35 I was working again and had a great 15 year run. But I didn't reach "the top", and by 50 my career had pretty much petered out. Then, wouldn't you know it, I got lucky, and had more success and made more money in the next 10 years than I would have imagined possible. Now, that's over. I don't have to work anymore. So, for the first time since I was 25, I get to ask myself "What do I WANT to do?". And I haven't come up with a satisfyling answer yet.

    One of the richest, most successful people in my area of the business wanted to be something else. It didn't happen, and no matter how much money and power he accumulates, he's really not a happy guy.

    The point? There may exist people who both accomplished the goals they set for themselves at a young age AND achieved real happiness in the process, but I haven't met any.

    I see Ringo Starr at AA meetings. If being a fucking BEATLE didn't fix everything for him, it may be time to rethink the whole "I have to reach the top of my chosen profession in order to be happy" idea.

  19. pjcamp Says:

    Didn't you watch Bull Durham? Susan Sarandon's boobs always save the day.

  20. E* Says:

    The people at the top of my field are largely douche-bags who succeeded through hard work, but also through luck, stepping on others, and ignoring their families.

    It that's what it takes to be successful, count me out.

  21. rijkswaanvijand Says:

    'Those of us raised in First World countries already won a lottery just being born here, remember that. All of us are sitting at computers

  22. rijkswaanvijand Says:

    'Those of us raised in First World countries already won a lottery just being born here, remember that. All of us are sitting at computers

  23. rijkswaanvijand Says:

    'Those of us raised in First World countries already won a lottery just being born here, remember that. All of us are sitting at computers…more riches, right?'
    Must be a babyboomers perception, for us younger people there is much more to need and much less ways to afford it.
    This creates a lot more stress than simply living in a society in which there's not much to get at all, so much apparent potential but no way to really get in on it. No way to say for sure the lower classess in western society are better of than those in other societies, apart from people starving of course.

    Yeah we've got computers, but not to have one serverely limits our ability to tap our already severely limited resources. We need those things!

  24. rijkswaanvijand Says:

    stupid scripts!

  25. NickT Says:

    Jenny Kiss’d Me

    Jenny kiss’d me when we met,
    Jumping from the chair she sat in;
    Time, you thief, who love to get
    Sweets into your list, put that in!
    Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
    Say that health and wealth have miss’d me,
    Say I’m growing old, but add,
    Jenny kiss’d me.