Two childhood memories remind me how we use our personal stories to live the best lives possible.
The first of these memories is of a soccer game when I was nine or ten years old. It was a hot summer day in Haiti, around five or six in the afternoon, and the sun was about to go down. The boys in my neighborhood decided to end the day, as we often did, with a soccer game at the big empty lot across from my house (locally referred to as the Wednesday Market, or Marche Mercredi). I vividly remember it being one of the best performances of my life—I still recall dribbling past all seven opposing players to score for my team.
This wasn’t an easy accomplishment, and I tore my feet up in the process—we played in bare feet, so shedding blood wasn’t unusual—but it was worth it. In our circle, I’d earned bragging rights for the whole week, or at least until the next game. I’d earned a new nickname, too, Destroyer-in-chief, and developed a reputation for being the kind of player who would sooner leave his toes on the ground than let someone dribble past his team.
The second memory came a few years later: another soccer story. In Haiti, soccer was more than a pastime; because Haiti was a dictatorship, we lacked any national heroes other than our athletes. We had a handful of soccer gods in my youth, sports legends whom we loved for their courage and athletic prowess. We all wanted to be them.
I was surprised when the older boys from the neighborhood’s first division team called me one day and told me to suit up. I was only fifteen years old, so I couldn’t understand why they were asking for me—a few of these guys had the potential to become national players. But they recognized my soccer talent, and I was quickly promoted from the second team to the first, increasing my chances of one day playing for the national team.
For us, soccer players were the alpha males. If a guy was a good student and a good soccer player, he got to hang out with the most beautiful girls. I understood the ladder to the top could be mine for the taking, and I reveled in the possibility.
I was soon met with extreme disappointment. A few months after my soccer debut, my uncle sent me to my mother in the United States, and all my big dreams ended.
It wasn’t just that my dreams of soccer stardom had come to an end, although that was part of it. Haitian teens in south Florida were treated poorly, the way immigrants often are when they arrive in a new country, and I spent my first six months in the United States crying and trying to cope with the rapid change. I relied on those two good childhood memories to get me through the roughest times. Even today, anytime I am unhappy, I return to the joyful memories I had when I was young.
These specific memories gave me the confidence to deal with a new land, culture, and language. I moved forward. I could no longer play for the Haitian team, but I did the next best thing: I joined the high school soccer team. Every time I stepped onto the field, I was home again. No one was going to tell me that I was not going to succeed! Eventually I entered college on a soccer scholarship, and even after I made the painful, emotional decision to drop college soccer so I could improve my grades, I focused on those early memories to keep my confidence up.
I have no regrets that I did not pursue professional soccer. Those early memories provide proof that I had the potential to play soccer at the highest level, and knowing that is good enough now. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The memory of these accomplishments still gives me strength.
How have you used good memories of your childhood to help you face new challenges and overcome obstacles? Please share your experiences in the comments.