I remember the moment well.
It was 1986. I was 23 and living in San Diego, Calif. I had been out of the Air Force for about a year and was a bar supply delivery driver making $5 an hour and trying desperately to grow my hair.
I also played in a band. In fact, this was my big push to make it in the music business. We had a handful of original songs and some huge dreams. We were also all pretty broke. It was often tough to decide whether to spend money on food or on a rehearsal space. Needless to say, I didn’t eat much.
It happened one night while we were rehearsing. There was another band rehearsing in a nearby room in the same building and we stopped in to hear them play a song. Their guitar player was 17 years old and as confident as anyone I had ever met. And once he started playing, it was clear to me that this kid was incredible. He could play things I could not dream of playing. He technique was spectacular. I was truly blown away.
I also realized right then and there that I would never be as technically good as this kid. I had been playing much longer than him, but he had lapped me long ago.
He would probably go on to get the gig I never could. There is no participation medal in real life.
It was a lesson in reality and one that I probably needed at the time. I had to make an adjustment that day – an adjustment to the way I thought; an adjustment to my goals. Ultimately, it made me a better player, songwriter and musician. It turned out being severely out-played by a teenager is just what I needed.
Did it hurt my ego? Sure, some. But reality is reality.
That also eventually led me to college and a career. That one moment was an important one in my life, and I was thankfully smart enough to recognize it for what it was.
We all have moments in our life that can be jarring. Getting smacked upside the noggin by reality tends to be a bit brutal. But if you take the lesson that it is trying to teach you, it can work out for the best.
This is a reason I don’t like T-ball, as I have said in this space before. Everyone bats, no score is kept and honestly, no lessons are learned. Losing now can help you win later. That is a very important lesson we can’t deprive our kids of experiencing.
Look, there is nothing wrong with adjusting expectations. There is nothing wrong with staring reality right in the face and acknowledging it. I am not talking about giving up or accepting less.
I am talking about being realistic.
You have heard the term, “get real.” Sadly, some never do. Yes, the world needs dreamers, and I still put myself in that category. But we also need people who get things done. You can be both.
If you want to be an astronaut, but hate science, then you need to adjust your goal. If you want to be a professional singer, but couldn’t carry a tune in a dump truck, it might be time to go to Plan B.
Keep dreaming, but with your feet planted on the ground.