This is an excerpt from an upcoming episode about rejection airing Monday July 13th.
Heart pounding, palms sweaty, I made my way through the set of double doors and into the lobby of Mueller Park Jr. High. It was early in the morning, maybe 7 am. I assumed the team roster would be posted in the same place as it was last year–on the main office window facing the lobby. As I approached the list, another boy who had tried out for the basketball team was staring at the list with his arms folded. He saw me approaching and promptly departed, leaving this moment all to myself.
The year before, as a seventh grader, I had unsuccessfully tried out for the basketball team. I wasn’t too disappointed because no other 7th grader had made the team. In fact, I was one of only four 7th graders that had made first cuts. If nothing else, this act of making first cuts demonstrated that us four were the future of Mueller Park Junior High Panther Basketball. And 8th grade was the year to begin that future.
Fast forward back to 8th grade. In the days preceding tryouts, I had envisioned how my basketball career at Mueller Park would play out. There were still plenty of talented 9th graders that would make the team, so I would spend most of my 8th grade season on the bench, practicing with the team and learning the plays. But then in 9th grade, I would be a starter. Maybe even a captain. I would lead the Mueller Park Panther squad. It wasn’t about winning regional championships, it was about social status. I knew that.
When I really thought about it, I knew that I would make the team. Tryouts were merely a formality. I had participated in competitive leagues, I had participated in the school intramurals, I had gone to the team basketball camps and tournaments. I knew the coach, the coach knew me. There’s no way I wouldn’t make the team, I thought.
These thoughts raced through my head as I got within feet of the posted team roster. My eyes grew wide as I began to desperately scan the list. The only thing I can hear is my heartbeat. My first initial quick scan–the scan that sets humans apart from computers–yielded no results. My heart started beating faster. “It’s not possible…” I scanned again, taking my time, reading each and every name, hoping that I had somehow missed it the first time, all the while knowing deep down that my name was not on the list. Sure enough, there was no “Derek Walker” on the list. There were plenty of other names, including plenty of 8th graders–8th graders that did not make first cuts last year, like I had.
As the realization set in–the realization that I didn’t make the team–tears came. I tried to hide my tears the best I could. To be safe, I stepped outside and out of view. The only thing less manly than not making the basketball team, is crying about it.
Imagine a life where all you do is eat (a lot), sleep (a lot), poop (also a lot), and pee (also also a lot). You have no job, no school–no responsibilities of any sort. Everyone’s life revolves around your nap schedule and eating schedule. That’s right. The life of a baby. Sounds nice right? I’ll tell you something, I have a 5 month old daughter, and her life is tough. Imagine needing to cry like a 100 times a day. I can’t even remember the last time I cried. Whenever it was, it was probably due to a very traumatizing situation. If I had to live through a traumatizing situation like that enough times to bring me to tears 100 times a day, life would suck.
My point is, personal pain is relative. I laugh at the story of me crying over not making the basketball team in 8th grade now, but at the time, it was tough. Being able to step away from the emotion of that experience, I am now able to see the character building that ensued. It was my first brush with rejection.
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