At the age of 29, despite having never won an MLB World Series, Shohei Ohtani is already considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, constantly drawing comparisons to Babe Ruth — as well as having inked an unprecedented $700 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
At the age of 28, Kansas City Chief quarterback Patrick Mahomes is a two-time Super Bowl champion, two-time Super Bowl MVP, and a two-time NFL MVP with his own $500 million contract. After locking up his sixth AFC Championship today, against the Baltimore Ravens on this occasion, he looks to capture his third ring at next month’s Super Bowl LVIII.
Then there’s the newly-crowned Australian Open men’s singles winner: Jannik Sinner. Defeating world #1 Novak Djokovic and #3 Daniil Medvedev to seize his maiden Grand Slam victory, the Italian-born talent is only 22 years young. And by all accounts, he has powerfully set the tone for the promising career ahead of him.
This is what they don’t tell you about becoming an adult.
Between the steady diet of false platitudes and charming Disney-produced underdog tales, we’re genuinely raised to believe we can grow up to become literally anything: astronauts, rockstars, and yes, professional athletes of the highest order. But over time, the deeply unsympathetic reality sets in.
As a child, you discover what kind of aptitude and enthusiasm you’ll have for a sport. In your teen years, supplemented by whatever discipline you can muster, the genetic lottery that is puberty paints a pretty black-and-white picture of what your physical limitations look like. Can you keep up with the big boys or are you simply part of the supporting cast for someone else’s greatness?
To quote Moneyball, we’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game. We just don’t know when that’s going to be. Some of us are told at 18, while others are told at 40, but make no mistake — we’re all told. And it always hurts.
Now granted, this may be a uniquely first-world gripe. And perhaps it’s even incredibly trivial considering quite literally everything else currently occurring in the world. Though it’s something I’m willing to wager has crossed the minds of countless blokes from time to time. It’s also something that’s bound to manifest itself in hilarious/harmful ways.
You know what I’m talking about. Hell, you’ve probably experienced it every time that one uncle in your family bowls absolute heat to Grandma during the time-honoured Christmas tradition of backyard cricket (he would’ve donned the baggy green if it hadn’t been for that shoulder injury from U/15s).
Or maybe you’ve witnessed some repressed desk jockey really go for it during what was meant to be a light sparring round at your local boxing gym; slipping and ripping Mike Tyson-style with the frenzied desperation of someone behind on all the judges’ scorecards during a title fight.
Ultimately, this is a lesson in perspective. Having just turned 27, coming to terms with the fact the next Erling Haalands and Max Verstappens were honing their respective craft as we speak became a lot more palatable after acknowledging the following truths:
- This was never my destiny, otherwise I would’ve made the necessary sacrifices for it in my youth.
- Pro athletes represent the very pinnacle of performance, meaning their excellence is designed to be idealised, celebrated, and envied.
- There is still plenty of time to become accomplished in my own lane; dreaming about anything else is objectively a misguided fantasy.
Comparison, as they say, is the thief of joy.
So while I’ll never know what it’s like to write my name in history by overtaking Sir Lewis Hamilton on the final corner of a championship-defining circuit; scoring a penalty with the weight of a nation on my shoulders to hoist the World Cup; or defending my UFC featherweight title via third-round TKO during International Fight Week… there’s a nobility in the ordinary.
Life gets way more simple once you’ve accepted that.