I am very excited to be posting this article — it has been a long time coming because a certain writer couldn’t figure out how to save a new document and send it via email. Coughhhh Teeeeej. I kid, because I am just so grateful for Tj to take the time and touch up one of the most important topics.
For those of you who don’t know Tj, he is a current member of the men’s volleyball National Team and the starting setter for Canada at the past Olympic Games in Rio. He has taken himself from a small town in Ontario and placed himself as one of the top setters in the world.
Most importantly, he is a wonderful human. I have always been intrigued by Tj because of he has a scientist’s brain but a philosopher’s heart. Over the years we have spent many late nights sending messages back and forth, ultimately trying to crack the code on the meaning of life. He is one to get into great debates over coffee, spends his free time diving into every book to try and obtain all the knowledge possible, yet is always so humbled by how little he knows of the world. And if you know me, this is exactly my kind of person!
If you’ve been following along, you know that Tj was not able to participate in this past World Championships due to an injury. In this article he dives further in to what that really looked like and the shock and disappointment that he would have no choice but to deal with head on. However, his story does not stop there. For so many it would, as we would be so engulfed and distracted by defeat and self pity. Instead, Tj is recognizing this as an opportunity. An opportunity to learn about himself and an opportunity to stay humble as life moves forward. Through my own personal journey I will also usually touch up on the fact that we have absolutely no idea what life holds for us, so we might as well be dreaming big and living every single day to fullest with the people we love while we are still here, or while we are still doing what we’re doing. Life can change in an instant and it’s our job to make the most of these challenges in order to grow into the person we are suppose to be come. So without further ado,
Introducing, Tj Sanders.
Hey guys, my name is TJ Sanders and I have spent the last 6 years of my life playing volleyball internationally. Approximately eight months of the year are spent with a European club, and the other four months is with our Canadian men’s national team. I am going to start this off with an example of how my life was humbled by an injury not too long ago. I was a volleyball player who had plans of playing in Ankara, Turkey when a serious back injury got in the way. I am now (four months later) writing this from Calgary, Alberta and theoretically unemployed. Going into the World Championships this past summer I was excited to make a push with the guys to see what we could accomplish. We have made a lot of progress over the last couple of years and we all had high expectations. I had high expectations. The problem was, right when we got to Europe to prepare for the tournament my back started bothering me. Then this “bothering me” turned into immobilizing me. Eventually I was unable to play at all. Or walk. Goodbye, World Championships. This also resulted in the termination of my contract in Turkey. Definitely not what I had planned. This meant a drastic lifestyle change; not only was I unsure what I would be doing (as I planned to be playing in Turkey for the next several months), but my day to day would look completely different. I wouldn't be dedicating my time to high performance. I wouldn’t be pushing myself in the weight room or work on a new strategy on the court. Like I said, very different.
Before all of this happened, I was trying out different modalities to make professional life a little more enjoyable. Professional volleyball gives you plenty of down time. Some of the things I was trying was a routine that included meditation, journaling, and practicing gratitude. I also realized how lonely being overseas can be and I wanted to put an emphasis on building community/tribe (if you’re curious of it’s importance I recommend ‘Tribe’ by Sebastian Junger). All of these skills that I worked on recently have become essential in my dealing with the new change in scenery. The reality is that we are unable to map out our life exactly how we want. I believe that realizing this is important to help reach our goals. These moments are for us to adapt and learn. They help us grow.
Most of us have encountered the concept of goal setting somewhere throughout our lives. We need to take aim in order to know what we want/value and figure out how we can reach our target. We need to create structure with that aim. We want to go to the Olympics, so we plan our summer schedule around playing the best teams in the world, and we plan our day to day so we can train and be ready. It is important for us to know where we need to put our attention. Structure serves a purpose. Our habits create our identity. In a somewhat counter-intuitive way, it allows us freedom. It would take way to much energy to make moment to moment decisions on every aspect of our lives, every single day. That’s just not efficient. The concept of setting goals works both on the small scale of our day to day and on the larger scale of finding purpose and value in our life. We need both because our brains find it difficult to conceptualize a long term achievement at first glance. We can’t comprehend how much time and energy we need to achieve our goals. Thinking about going to the Olympics is very different than having a plan on how to get there and then executing that plan. So we need to set small incremental goals so we can progress in the right direction.
It also should be mentioned the amount of joy we get in the pursuit of a goal. The act of having a target and putting your aim on getting there is something we crave. To explore and expand is in our nature. We need to set these big goals and strive for them to pursue our potential. This has been a way of reaching what Steven Kohler and Jamie Wheal would call ‘ecstatis’. The value of your pursuit equals the time you put in by the risk/reward factor. We function at an extremely high level when we are bold. That flow state we find ourselves in makes us our most creative, daring, productive version of ourselves. That increase is necessary if we want to reach our goal (as long as our goals are set high enough) and we want to reach them in order to set and reach another. That’s the journey of life. So, have big dreams. Then set lofty goals in order to reach them. I remember being in the car with my dad when I was fourteen years old when I first told him I would become a professional volleyball player and play for team Canada. I had the dream, the next step was organizing how. Figure out your how and be disciplined in your execution.
The problem with the concepts mentioned earlier are that they might not actually happen. We are all familiar with the daily struggle of being human. Maybe you get cut from a team, you don't get into the school you wanted to go to, or (like myself) an injury forces you humbly to the floor for the next four months. Anxiety seems to be the natural next step. And it is not exactly a comfortable one. I have found it useful to be able to detach from the outcome you want. To be hyper-aware of things going good or bad is going to majorly effect you. We all fail. It’s the price we pay for pursuing a life worth living. So if in those moments of failure you feel like a failure or you feel as if things never go your way, you are attached to an outcome. This isn't an efficient way of accomplishing anything. Spend to much time there and you won’t accomplish your goals. No one wants to work hard when we feel like a failure or are anxious because we are attached to the outcome. Instead, keep a clear head and turn that into fuel. Failure is what will define your success.
When we lost to Cuba a couple years ago in our first Olympic qualifier, I was devastated. Actually that’s an understatement. I felt useless. It crushed me. For context, we had played Cuba several times over that time period and I can’t remember a time (before this) where we had ever lost to them. Yet in this qualifier we lost badly, 3-0, in what seemed like a swift fifteen minutes. That moment defined our team more than any other event since I have been a part of it. It forced us to hire a psychologist to help with big moments and the mental side of the game. It forced each of us to pull out a little more of ourselves. It pushed us closer to our potential. I am now grateful for that loss. In hindsight it is easy to be because we ended up making it to the Olympics and having a successful run. But at the time I didn’t know that, the team didn’t know that. If we all attached ourselves to the outcome of that game for too long we wouldn’t have been able to put our energy in the right places in order to eventually make it to Rio. It is emotion and reaction that gets in our way. And that’s okay, as long as we are aware of it. If we can sit in our defeat and feel it, and be conscious of feeling it, then we’ve taken the first step to overcoming it. We can move forward to find other solutions to our problem and thus, we can move on. If I was so wrapped up in the idea of going to the Olympics, I might not have been able to take that step. If I needed my life to pan out exactly as I planned, the anxiety would have won. Think about your life five years ago. I’m sure it was very different than it is today, and I’m sure back then you wouldn't have guessed you’d be where you are now. You were a different person wanting different things. So why suffer right now more than you have to?
Organizing your life is important. Having a plan is important. Setting crazy, wild, day-dreaming-goals is important. It makes us feel alive. It lets us know what we want. Plans helps us figure out how to get there. Accomplishing and growing makes us feel good. BUT, don't be naive in assuming you know what that growth will look like or, if you’re struggling, that growth isn't happening. Try to detach from expectations or what you need the outcome to be in the moment. Think of what the next step needs to look like to get you back on track, or what the next track is going to be. I have shocked myself when I say (and truly believe) that I am dealing with my injury well. This perspective has let me take control of my attitude. It has allowed me to enjoy the reality of being human. So I beg you, have goals, have dreams, set them as big and as high as you can, and when you fail learn from the mistakes you make and start again.
I can’t tell you much about your life, but I know it won’t work out how you think it will. And that’s exciting! Go and find out how it will.
I hope you enjoyed hearing Tj’s story as much as I did. Over the last many years I have also been on a personal journey of wellness, diving into my mental health, and exploring holistic wellness practices. I am realizing more and more that physical health and performance is only one part of the puzzle — there are so many other attributes of ourselves that we need to be exploring. Especially if we have such big goals, solely focusing on one part of ourselves isn’t going to get us to the top.
Tj touches on the importance of setting goals (and big, big dreams!) but having a plan to implement these smaller actions into our daily lives is what will set us apart. Perfect timing, as I have just published an article about the important of goal-setting which you can find by clicking: here. As two national team members, we are urging you to yes, dream huge dreams, but also take the time to have a plan in place in order to have success, as well as a plan when life doesn’t go how we were expecting it to. Tj’s voice and personal experience is so prevalent in this article; when things go wrong, don’t just give up, and go even further in seeing the opportunities that can become of your new situation. Because life is unexpected. And through the unexpected we adapt and we grow more than we could have ever imagined. *Check out the goal-setting article to dive further into this topic (click below). And remember to comment below (and share this article!) to give Tj some love.
Muchos gracias my dears,