It is only when you’re able to deal with yourself that you will be capable of dealing with the things happening around you. So many people waste their time, energy, and passion trying to control things they cannot. I know because, at times, I certainly did.
Here are a few examples:
- For a long time, I bounced in and out of our (not so wonderful) foster care system. I spent far too much time trying to understand why I was shuffled around so much. I somehow thought I was at fault and questioned everything – what could I have done differently? How could I have prevented what happened? I felt rejected, lonely and unwanted. This tormented me, and when you’re young, you have few outlets for these feelings. So I would act out in various ways, out of sheer frustration, hurt, and confusion – sometimes attempting to run away.
- During my teen years, I was once dropped off at a certain well-known youth sports organization. Frankly, that was the last place I wanted to be. I didn’t want help from organizations like this; I thought it would only call attention to my differences and separate me more from the others – the privileged kids. Besides, I didn’t believe they could actually help me. What are a few Saturday camps going to do in the grand scheme of things? I felt embarrassed, insecure and more ashamed of where I came from. As usual, I acted out – ‘defense is the best offense’ was my motto in those days – not to mention acting on impulse. I even pulled the fire alarm to avoid activities I did not want to participate in.
- Just as I was about to transition from ‘state care’ to college, my youngest half-brother reached out to me. At last, I thought I could actually help someone who was headed directly down the awful path I’d been on and that it was my responsibility to fight for custody of my half brother – “if I don’t fight for him … if I don’t get him out of an unhealthy, abusive environment; I will have failed him like my parents failed me.” Everyone from friends and family down to counselors informed me that in no way was I ready to take on such responsibility. I felt guilty and selfish. I remember spending much of my college years regretting that I did not find a way to rescue my brother, thinking “I should have fought.” I acted – I got good at filling up my calendar with classes, work, parties – anything that wouldn’t allow me the time to think.
I convinced myself that I could not worry about the pain until I had time to deal with it. Then, I, of course, made sure I never had the time.
Unfortunately, it took years – many years – before I realized my thinking was not healthy and was able to come up with a better way. How so?
I finally identified reality. I could not change situations, but I could change how I thought, felt, and acted towards them.
- I was removed from my mom and half-dad because of a neglectful and abusive environment that I did nothing to cause. It was not my fault.
- Second, I pulled the fire alarm as a defense mechanism so that potential threat or humiliation could be avoided. However, it wasn’t right because the firemen have better things to do with their time, and I should take responsibility for my actions!
- Third, I excused myself from the guilt of not taking my brother. I was too young and could not provide him a stable home. I could not be held responsible for him and his problems with substance abuse that were passed down from his father.
I learned to put fault where it belonged and gave myself a break.
An Empowering Skill
Identifying the things you can and cannot control is an unbelievably empowering skill. We can allow anger, shame and guilt to destroy us through constant negative outcomes, or we can move forward. Easier said than done? That is why it is called a skill.
Through DRIVE, I hope to help kids learn this skill much earlier than I did, to understand how thoughts/feelings drive actions, to define what they can and cannot control, and to teach them how to invest effort and energy in only what they can control – both in basketball and in life.
On the court, our trainers will ask kids questions like, “what thoughts do you have going through your head during practice?” Then, our trainers will work with them to become aware of these thoughts, and help reframe them as appropriate.
Off the court, we will try to learn about home and school situations and find key influencers – parents, family, boyfriends/girlfriends, friends, teachers, coaches. We look for negative thoughts and feelings, challenge them, and discuss ideas for alternative, positive ways to respond, as well as connecting them to health professionals that can help them build on the process that’s been started.
What these kids think about matters. Tremendously. Their thoughts drive feelings and actions, and ultimately, affect their notion of self-worth, their ability to make healthy decisions, and their chances for success. If you are aware of your thoughts, you can choose how you feel, and influence your actions. The better the choices you make, the better your options in the future will become.