Last month my 16-year-old son told me he was thinking about trying out for his high school soccer team. The thing is, he doesn’t play soccer. On top of that, he tends to be very hard on himself (don’t know where he gets that from!).
I always tell people that it’s never too late to try something new, but when it was my own son who was going to be putting himself out there—and among much more experienced players—I started to worry. I didn’t want to discourage him from trying out, but I also didn’t want his experience to be a disaster. I realized that if he was going to “go for it,” he’d need to know what he was in for.
As we talked I had an “aha” moment and came up with a theory that doesn’t just apply to kids and sports, it applies to everyone and every new endeavor: You can guarantee that all your stories will be success stories simply by adjusting your definition of success. Really—just follow these three steps.
1. Set reasonable goals. Think about what it is you truly hope to gain from an experience before you commit—then decide whether what you’re hoping for is a miracle. Beginner’s luck is very rare, so if you’re trying something new, don’t pin your happiness on being great at it. For example, goals for climbing Mt. Everest might include getting fresh air, enjoying the view, building stamina, and stepping outside your comfort zone. If your success is based on those goals, then you win regardless of whether you ever reach the top.
2. Put away your measuring stick. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else; just be the best that you can be. If you define success as improving your own abilities, then it won’t matter how you stack up against others. This is especially important if you are putting yourself into a group or team situation like my son did. Not everyone can be the best player on the team. But every player can certainly be the best he or she can be.
3. Be kind to yourself. Mistakes will happen—especially when trying something new. If you define success as never making a mistake, then you’re setting yourself up to fail. Define it instead as learning from your mistakes when they happen, bouncing back as quickly as possible, and keeping a positive attitude. The first time I tried paddleboarding, I fell in. I was embarrassed and upset with myself at first, but then I swam over to my board, climbed right back on, and stood up again. I laughed and congratulated myself for not giving up. I may not have been the best paddleboarder on the bay that day, but I had succeeded just the same.
My son thought about these tips and decided to go ahead try out for soccer. He made the JV team and I’m guessing he has the least amount of experience of any of the players. He doesn’t usually start and he hasn’t scored yet. His goals were to make friends, get exercise, fulfill a physical education requirement, learn about the game, and have fun. In other words, he’s the most successful kid on the team.