Have you ever wondered why people often go through life not fulfilling their deeper and unique potential? It is a question that vexes many people. After all it should be a relatively straight forward path comprised of will and talent which gets people to where they want to be. But life is not as simple as that path suggests. There are other deeper more nuanced forces at work which undermine our unique talent and will to succeed. To gain a better understanding of what can go wrong, I am going to attempt to paint a reasonably accurate picture of some of my early cricket success. Hopefully, it sets the scene for what was to follow and how easy it is to get lost in life. Once we become lost in life then it is incredibility difficult to live up to our unique potential as a human being.
As a young 17 year old teenager I was a reasonably talented cricketer. The two years previous in under age competitions, I had won the bowling averages twice, the batting once and equalled the batting average award on the other occasion and both years played in the divisions under 21 sides. My first year of senior cricket I fluctuated between the firsts team and the seconds. The former I did not do particularly well in, the later I won the batting average.
In the second year of senior cricket I was on the precipice of consolidating my place in the firsts side. I had a couple of decent innings going into a match where I would face one of the best bowling attacks in the league. The week before I had made my highest score in the firsts against a relatively weak bowling attack. If the season had finished, then and there I would have won the batting average for the firsts. Just to be accurate, I was never good enough to play state cricket, but I was on the way to being a good club cricketer. On with the story.
Next up I would face the best bowling attack in the competition as an opening batsman. In my mind if I succeeded against that attack, then I could succeed against any bowling attack.
Things did not get off to a good start. A terrible decision to attempt a run on my part, saw my partner out in the second over. Not only was he our best batsman but he was our captain. I felt guilt and wished I was the one going out and not he.
As the day wore on, I remained at the crease, ball after ball, over after over, batting on and on… By no means was it my best innings. It was not the sort of innings were runs were easy and shots were flowing. I did not dominate the bowling. But at the same time, I was never seriously in trouble of getting out. The bowlers were not beating the bat nor forcing many mistakes on my part. But they did do an excellent job of making it hard for me to score runs against them. I would end up batting for most of the day – out in the last hour of the day.
When I did get out everyone including the captain congratulated me on a good innings. The Captain pulled me aside and really praised my determination and how that innings helped the side achieve a very good score. All up I seemed to have done well and was on the verge of really stamping myself as a permanent fixture in the firsts.
But here is the catch. I would not play again for the remainder of the season through my own volition. Additionally, I did not train again for the remainder of the year. Up until then I only missed training if I was very sick. Typically, I was the first to arrive and one of the last to leave. To that point, I had not missed a single game. Yet in the blink of eye, I dropped something I loved like a very hot potato.
It would be close to a decade later before I would pick a bat up in earnest and play a full season again. Somehow the will and desire to play cricket just vanished of the face of the earth. What could cause such a strange turn of events? Take a moment to guess what may have been occurring for me before reading on.
A Psychological Diagnosis of Sorts
Obviously, a case of fearing success, right? Possibly to some extent a fear of success may have been mixed in there. But as is often the case a psychological diagnosis and the subsequent label frequently hides more than what it tells.
Let’s go back to a few hours earlier. I had just found out that my girlfriend had cheated on me. The betrayal was something she had confirmed with me. In addition, she wanted to break up with me. As you can no doubt summarize these were hardly insignificant facts. The impact on me was no doubt heightened due to her being my first love and first ‘serious’ girlfriend.
I was angry at first when she told me. But quickly I went emotionally and psychologically numb. A lot of what I was feeling and thinking was suppressed and repressed.
It is not hard to suspect that at some level there was an association between psychological and emotional pain and cricket. The link being that at some level playing cricket unconsciously reminded me of the significant betrayal that had just gone on.
My mind could have chosen to believe that despite the adversity I went on to succeed. But as is often the case it’s not a conscious choice as much as it’s an unconscious selection. A way to think about unconscious selection is that there were many factors in place which made it extremely likely that I would have unconsciously selected pain over success.
There are a couple of points to be made thus far which are pertinent to this discussion. The first of these is that the betrayal by my ex-girlfriend was only part of the story. The diagnosis is only part of the story and still hides more than it tells. The betrayal was a trigger point for earlier childhood betrayals. There is not one betrayal but rather a series of them by both my parents which primed a trigger point in me.
The unconscious link between cricket and pain then becomes symbolic of many past betrayals. The emotions and psychological pain felt at the time become intensified because they carry the burden of the unprocessed past. Effectively, it means it was a host of betrayals rather than one betrayal which needed to be dealt with at the time.
Then there were other factors complicating things further. For instance, displaying vulnerability as an Italian male was a big no go in those days. There was a lack of emotional and psychological skill required to process the betrayal adequately. Instead, it was pushed back and repressed. It is the type of emotional and psychological pain that most people do not want to deal with and I was no different.
The Fallacy of Finding the Cause
I think it is useful to understand why we do the things we do, let there be no doubt about that. But there is an often-made assumption in cases like this, that if we find the root cause then we also find the cure as well. A good analogy comes from the medical profession. Consider if cancer is found early enough and is in one site, then there is a typically a far better chance of a cure. Sometimes, depending on the type of cancer this is not the case, but usually the earlier the diagnosis the better the chance of survival. If the cancer progresses to other areas of the body, then the survival rate declines rapidly.
We work in a similar vein at a psychological level. Literally, a betrayal if repeated and triggered enough can grow in our brains. Our neural pathways not only get strengthened but also begin to take over other areas of the brain. In turn this spread can affect areas of our bodies. Diseases and physical ailments in response to some unprocessed trauma becomes manifest.
Many of our diseases and ailments have a psychological and emotional component. The more science researchers this phenomenon the more it understands the link between mind and body and how each affects the other. At some level of being we begin to believe that in some way we are not worthy of love, are not to be appreciated in life, are deficit in some way, or flawed or broken or unfixable. We do not deal with the pain directly but find various mediums to hide or mask the pain. Alcohol, drugs, inappropriate and destructive relationships, isolation, underachieving, overworking, frivolity and avoidance to mention only a few of many ways we can mask our pain.
Even though we might well have dealt with one incident and think we have worked through it, there is often a lack of recognition that it has spread to other areas. A violent upbringing may not see violence manifested in a person’s life, but they may well have problems in interpersonal relationships. Like untreated cancer, the poison of violence in the mind has spread.
It was not only cricket which was lost to me. I was never as good again and was but a shadow of what I once was as a cricketer. My potential as a cricketer was never realized. But also, my relationships with women suffered. Sometimes I would be mean to women, other times women would be mean to me and many times a bit of both. Either way it did not go well for good healthy relationships. I could go on and elucidate how it spread into other areas, but I think the point of spread has been made thus far.
First, we make an unconscious belief, then the belief makes us.
What would be accurate to say is that if I had received some help at the time of my ex-girlfriend’s betrayal then things would have gone a lot better a lot earlier in my life. Like cancer the earlier the intervention the better.
Once it has spread it makes it more complex to bend in ways which are suitable to a person’s growth and wellbeing. The complexity should not be looked at as barrier. It is not a death sentence by any stretch of the imagination. It just means that often we need to consider multiple areas of life and find different solutions for each area even though they all may have stemmed from the same root cause.
Our beings are very malleable, they can change remarkably in the space of a few years, in some cases with even less time. But to get to this point we have to become much more conscious of what ails us and why. A good place to start is to look at how we process emotional and psychological pain and what we are trying to avoid.