Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Turn your setbacks into opportunities

This morning, I was reading the paper and there was the usual advice column pabulum about the horrors of not getting picked to play a game with other kids.

Back when I was a kid, not getting picked was upsetting, but didn’t cause embarkation on a life of drugs, crime, sex and drinking.

The 80th Street group in Elmhurst, N.Y., used to play on what we called “the side street,’ and just about every sport imaginable save basketball was played there. For hoops, we’d go to one of two parks in the area where the courts and hoops were set up. On the side street, we’d play our versions of baseball, football and hockey, as well as “manhunt,” though the latter often spanned the rest of the neighborhood as well.

Not getting picked was usually the result of an uneven number of players, or too many. Occasionally, if your performance was just so awful, you’d be “chucked” and thrown off your team. Some of the girls in the neighborhood who were watching us boys play would serenade you as you tearfully walked home with taunts of “You’re chucked, you’re chucked.” Sensitivity training had not been invented yet, and kids weren’t punished by schools then for actions outside of the school day.

I was an accepted member of the group, but a few times I got the serenade and it was an embarrassing experience, but helped prepare me for the future.

In my teenage years, I’d join up with a bunch of guys in the summer who would play softball in Juniper Valley Park. This was during the years of New York City’s terrible budget crisis, and under the city’s austerity budget there was almost no money for recreation. There had been talk of spending the last monies in the Parks Department’s budget to put up huge fences around all the city parks, but that hadn’t happened.

The park had several hard softball diamonds, and we’d play until we couldn’t see most days of one summer in particular that I remember. We’d choose up sides and play hard through nine innings, then everyone would get thrown back into the mix and we’d play again. Some guys would take a break for a game and not walk to the pitcher’s mound to be picked for the next game.

The best part was no adult interference or league nonsense, no fees, no uniforms and no structure save what we agreed on.

But one day, I was the odd man out. I wanted to play, but there were 19 of us out there. I was crushed for a moment, but then I had an idea. We had no umpires and had to settle arguments on close plays, of course, but it hit me. I could still participate. I approached the team captains and asked if I could be the umpire.

They agreed, and said they’d abide by my safe and out calls, and I took my place between first and second base. I wasn’t playing, but was in the game.

I played a lot more games that summer, and umpired others, and had a great time.

The lesson is that instead of whining and grousing about how unfair it all was, I turned it into something that helped my peers and gave me a chance to learn a new aspect to the game.

Finally, you have to be flexible and ready for opportunities, many of which can spring from disappointments. I’ll be expanding on this in future posts. In the meantime, find an opportunity and act on it.

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July 8, 2010 - Posted by | Life lessons | , , ,

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