Growing up, I felt a lot of pressure from my family to excel. Both my parents taught and were avid sports people, and I was just a kid, so I wanted to be what they wanted me to be. And I remember absolutely clearly the day that I finally gave up.
I had been playing basketball for a couple of years; I could dribble, shoot, and lay-up with both my left and right hands, but I was a small twerp in a kid's league, and I wasn't playing at the level I knew I should be. In a particular game, I was covering a kid who was several inches taller than me and had 30 pounds on me. He was near the top of the key, and since he couldn't move as fast as I could, I'd post up against him as he'd try to get by me. After a couple posts, he got wise, and just thrust his ass out at me, kicking me back a foot or two. I looked to the ref, waiting for the charging call, but none came. Now I'm inside the key; I post up, and again he shoves me back with his butt. I pointed and looked at the ref, but still got no call. Now I'm at the free throw line, with several inches on me, he can just pivot and shoot. But I post up, and he asses me out of the way. I looked to the ref, I looked to the kid, I looked to the ref, and I took a step back, and kicked the kid's ass as hard as I could.
I got called for the foul, and sat out the rest of the game. On the ride home, I quit basketball. I didn't want to put up with the stress of relying on idiots impacting my performance, of my parents watching, of a game I couldn't master because I was small.
I retreated into books and found my escape there. I read because the books were just simply gratifying. After a bit, I started skateboarding because it looked fun, and there weren't any referees to fuck it up. Now I was skating, but I was still just a twerp. Yeah, I could ollie around and do flatland stuff, but handrails were really intimidating. After a while (like years), I eventually got up the balls to try a small one, and after a bunch of tries, I eventually landed one. The biggest problem was just getting over the fear, the expectation of massive body damage. With most things, it's never as bad as you make it out to be.
But even though I wore the clothes of a rebel, I still wanted acceptance. I had taken French in 8th grade, but my family is Germanic (and I heard it was a harder language), so I started taking German in high school, and I became attached to my cute 30-something German teacher, not that she ever knew it. So I just picked up the language over the years, and eventually took part in the German summer exchange program over the summer after I graduated from high school. Being a skater is cool, from a travel perspective, because skaters all over the planet look exactly alike (how's that for non-conformity?). I remember standing in line in Germany trying to get my bus card to work, and guy in back of me said, "Es geht nicht?" (it's not working?). He completely expected me to speak German. I was elated.
After Germany, I flew off to college in Florida, and I was finally away from my broken homes and broken parents back in Vermont. So, I started smoking cigarettes: Pall Malls at first, then Chesterfield Kings, then Camel Straights, and Lucky Strikes. Addiction is weird because each hit you get promises to be as good as the last, but it never is. I eventually quit by switching to American Spirits unfiltered ("Smoke less, enjoy it more").
And now I'm investing money contrary to the expectations of the masses. There are no referees, just your account at the end of the year to tell you whether you did good or not. Expectations get fucked in the market every day.
And I love that. ;)