this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on april 19, 2015.
“I AM Lionel Messi.” It’s an ambitious encouragement that I utter to myself every time I get hopeless in improving my inept, lousy footwork on a vast soccer pitch.
But sometimes, the supposed powerful effect of the declaration just bounces off the barrier of indolence in my mind, nailing my eager feet muscles to a stop. I can’t blame my complaining self whenever my discouraged dedication leads me to become dispassionate toward one of my passions in life—soccer. Complaining will get me nowhere, I know. All I can do is stop in the middle of an almost deserted, dusty soccer field and be honest with myself: “I am not Lionel Messi.” Yes, I am not. I am just an ambitious person pursuing an astronomically high dream.
Between me and Messi, there are two defining factors that made him achieve his goal to play the passion of his life, and that has stopped me from being like him.
The first factor is opportunity. It’s quite obvious that soccer is not as popular as basketball in the Philippines. In many street corners one can find a court for basketball, but none for soccer. And there are only a few who play the sport in our country. Most Filipinos believe it will be tiring to play such a sport with a wide playing area; that is why they don’t even dare engage in it. And because of that, soccer tournaments, unlike basketball tournaments, are hardly held here.
In Messi’s hometown, one can see people (both children and adults, boys and girls) playing soccer as long as the gaming space will allow them. Messi was lucky to be discovered at a very young age, when he was playing in a tournament. I tell myself: If I just have that same opportunity to showcase my talent, I may be also living a dream from which I never want to wake up.
The second factor is timing. Earlier, I never thought I would be playing this sport. I shared the impression of many others about soccer—that it is tiring, even boring—when I was quite young. I played only basketball and volleyball—until I reached my third year in college when I played soccer once. That one occasion led to another, and another, and soon I was playing continuously. That first time turned out to be the triggering event, and I came to love the sport.
I practiced constantly to become better, even if it meant playing alone. As a result, I was able to hone my skills. I became one of the key players of our team, which lost during the intramurals in my last year in college. But even though we did not claim the trophy, our team found satisfaction in being able to take part in the final match.
After that, we requested our sports director to include our team in the school’s entries in the regional Olympics. Personally, I thought it would be a great opportunity to display my skills to scouts from the soccer clubs in the country. But our request was rejected. We were frankly told that we had zero chance of winning in the regional tournament.
We were undeterred, however. I wrote a letter to the college president stating our request and he responded, saying that it would be raised at a meeting. But in the end, the result was negative. The opportunity vanished. I graduated from college without accomplishing my goal, and I came face to face with a lifetime career as a teacher.
After graduation, I searched for teaching jobs. I particularly looked for schools where soccer is popular so I could use my playing experience in managing a team. But job-seeking was not easy for me. It came to a point when time ran out and I was not able to find a job.
For almost four months I was among the country’s jobless. I spent my time reviewing for the licensure exam for teachers, but I still felt directionless. I woke up each morning wondering what I would do in this new day of my life. I was gripped by self-pity. I felt useless to my family and also to my girlfriend. My low self-confidence dropped even lower. I started not to believe in myself. It seemed that my friends were ignoring me. I felt so isolated. I felt that the loneliness and the feeling of worthlessness were conspiring to compress me tightly in a narrow space.
But after that seeming hard, drowning rain, a bright rainbow appeared on my sky. A small break materialized. I was notified by a former teacher that my alma mater was in need of a writer. Since I have a little journalistic skill, I applied for the job and was fortunately hired. My self-confidence abruptly rose. I felt revived.
Along with that, another prize appeared, all wrapped up for me. My alma mater was preparing to host the regional Olympics, its soccer team had no one to manage it, and the sports director offered me the wheel to steer. I confess to feeling a little envious that my former soccer teammates were able to play in that sport event. I also felt cheated by destiny, considering the sad timing that our team was able to join the tournament after I had graduated. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the managerial task given to me. Because of it, I would be able to play soccer again.
But as time passes and my responsibilities become heavier, I am confused about what I want to be. I still cannot decide what passion I should pursue: teaching or soccer? I really want to become a professional soccer player, but I do not have the opportunity. I also like to teach and somehow make changes in the lives of my students.
I am undecided, and once again I feel directionless. It’s like I’m paddling with the current of my present career, all the while looking back at my abandoned ambition. I constantly tell myself: “If I just find the perfect opportunity and exact timing to pursue what I want to be, I will not ask for more.”
But I have no regrets. In life, what happens to us is just a matter of acceptance. Whether we like it or not, we must continue doing what we have to do. Our time will come.
In the end, absolute satisfaction will glint in the way we never expected.