The Trouble with the (Learning) Curve

Originally published on the Huffington Post:

There are few things that soothe my soul quite like a trip to the ballpark. It’s a place I associate with freedom and simplicity, one that grips my senses — sight, smell, taste, sound — and forces me to be completely present. The expansive, seemingly endless field of perfectly groomed grass covered in a blanket of golden sunshine. The smells of peanut dust, cheap beer, French fries, and foot-long hot dogs. The soft hum of the crowd. The grumpy fans criticizing the umps. The amateur analytics questioning why the pitcher threw the curve instead of the four-seamer.

My love for baseball stems from more than this magical, sensual experience I have every time I attend a live game; this sport has filled me to the brim with curiosity and hope from a young age. I don’t feel like I have to do anything, to be anything — I’m just there, lost in the game, trying to guess the next move, riding that emotional rollercoaster until the very last out.

Even more than just the game of baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates specifically have given me hope and joy with every new season and game. Before the 2013 season, I hadn’t witnessed the Pirates finish with a winning record. That never stopped me from giving up hope, hope that was finally fulfilled when the team pulled off that 82nd win. They even made it to the playoffs, and despite a heartbreaking loss to the Cardinals in game five of the NLDS, I was overjoyed at the outcome of that season. I jumped into the next with as much optimism as I always had, invested in every game, every pitch, every hit, always hoping for another win.

Though the Pirates have pulled off above .500 seasons since then, their playoff appearances have been short and sweet but just as painful to me as that game five loss. The present season has mostly consisted of moments of greatness sprinkled amongst sub-par performances and an often-losing record. I would be lying if I didn’t say watching the Pirates lately has been frustrating. I want better baseball than this — I want playoffs and a World Series win. Fortunately, my childhood experiences watching the Pirates have trained me well; I am not a fair-weather fan. I just can’t give up, even when the fielding might be sloppy, or the bats might be cold, or the pitching might be a little out of control. Baseball has always given me a part of my identity and kept me coming back for more.

In my reflection of the past 11 months or so of my life, I’ve found quite a parallel among the game of baseball and my experience in training to become a dietitian. I’m going through a learning process, and as anyone who has ever done so themselves would know, there’s a curve. A curve that starts with being pushed to do more than I think I can, being critiqued by mentors and teachers, making mistakes, receiving blows to my confidence, wondering if I’m actually cut out for this. A lot of days, I’ve found myself feeling rather scared. Scared to mess up, scared I’m not good enough, scared I won’t be successful. There are days I simply wish I could book a flight home and never look back.

Every time I make a mistake, I want to give up. But what I know from being a baseball fan is that I giving up is not an option. Just like a pro-baseball player, I have to keep going back, every game, every pitch. I have to move on from the past. To hold on to that earned run, or sloppy play, or strike out looking — it doesn’t do much good. The game goes on, and I have to be ready the next time I step up to the plate or have to field a ball in play. If I’m focusing on my last move, I can’t focus on the next one.

I won’t always be perfect. I won’t always like what I’m doing. I won’t always feel bubbly and happy. But that’s the game of life. That’s the learning process. Because I didn’t give up, I learned. Because I learned, my practice became more streamlined. The things I didn’t think I could do almost became second nature.

I kept going back in, every pitch. Just like a pitcher on the mound — deep breath, get into position, wind up, let it go, and see what happens. Execute, react, adapt, repeat. Don’t give up until the game is done, until that third out in the bottom of the ninth is recorded.

Don’t let the trouble with the learning curve scare you away. If you keep at it, you just might hit the ball out of the park one day.

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