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When Life Derails Your Goals

When my son was a junior in high school, he injured his ankle in one of the last games of the football season. It was painful and less-than-ideal for a young athlete, but he toughed it out the last two games even though it hindered his mobility and caused him a great deal of discomfort.

The bigger issue, however, was that there was no time off between football and basketball. Basketball was his first love—a sport he’d been playing and enjoying since he was five years old. His injury was still nagging during the first few games, and during a play early in the season, he re-injured it to the point where he could not continue. We took him to the doctor and received the diagnosis—high ankle sprain. It was clear he would have to sit out for an extended period of time.

His injury caused him to miss the next fifteen games.

There are only so many games you get to play in for your school. Only a very small percentage of athletes compete past the high school level. My son was missing out on something that he loved, something that was fleeting. And we all felt it. He just wanted to be healthy enough to play, to do what he was passionate about with his brothers on the court. For a teenage boy, not being able to play the sport he loved was a crushing disappointment. It was almost as hard on his dad, who loved watching him play more than anything.

Despite his injury and disappointment, he showed up at every practice, supporting his teammates vocally and shooting free throws on the side. He was at every game, on the bench, cheering on his friends. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he found a role he could fulfill, and he stuck with it.

He healed in time to play the last few games and help his team make a run to the regional final. And they hosted a state playoff game at his school for the first time in ten years.

At the end of the season, despite missing the majority of the team’s games, he was presented the Wildcat award by his coaches, recognizing him for his attitude, spirit, and presence as a teammate in spite of his troubles.

I learned something from my son that season. He showed me a path to handling disappointment. If I’m honest, there have been many times in my life when things did not happen the way I expected them to, and I didn’t deal with it nearly as maturely or healthy as my 16-year-old son.

And, yes, not being able to play a sport is relatively insignificant compared to what adults deal with in the real world. And not getting to watch my son play basketball pales in comparison to what some parents face when they are raising and loving and hoping the best for their children.

But I think there are some things we can all learn and put into practice when life doesn’t go the way we thought or hoped or wanted. It happens all the time, doesn’t it? We have goals and dreams, and we pray, and we work, and we plan. And then everything goes sideways.

What do we do when life derails our goals?

Here are some don’ts and do’s:

  • Don’t dwell on the past | We can’t change what has happened. We can only live today.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others | This is a trap I often fall into when I’m not where I want to be. Social media is an illusion. Don’t compare your real life to someone else’s carefully curated highlight reel. We are all on different paths. Trust God with the one He has you on.

  • Don’t give in to negative self-talk | We talk to ourselves an average of 300-700 words a minute! Focus on positive self-talk and fight negative self-talk. It takes discipline, but over time you can change the way you think about yourself and your situation.

  • Don’t turn disappointment into disaster | Often, we react to disappointment in unhealthy ways. I’m a stress eater. When I’m feeling disappointment or sadness, I often add to the misery by consuming unhealthy food. This ends up taking me further away from another goal of mine—to be physically fit. Think about how you’re reacting to your disappointment. What healthy choices can you make so you don’t add to your struggle?

  • Do focus on what you can control | What specific actions can you take to get back on track? Who can you reach out to for help and support? Find some practical action steps that will get you moving in the right direction.

  • Do take care of your mind and body | Get enough rest. Get active. Eat some things that are good for you. Read positive/inspirational stories. Have conversations with people you love or who have walked your path before you.

  • Do the next right thing | Sometimes, it’s just this simple. Despite the uncertainty and chaos, simply focus on the next healthy, true, and beneficial thing you can do.

Life doesn’t often go like we hoped it would. Sometimes, it seems just plain cruel. But the detours can maybe teach us more about ourselves and about God than we ever could have known if we had gotten everything we wanted. And even in the most trying of circumstances, God is with you in your disappointment.

He knows you, He loves you, and He is ready to lift you out of your despair.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.

PSALM 40:1-3

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