You Can Run, but You Can't Hide

Allow me to re-introduce myself.
If you didn't immediately follow that sentence up with singing (more so, rapping), "My name is... " then we need to have a serious talk about one of the greatest things to ever happen to music; I'm talking about hip-hop, not Sean Carter.

It took me nearly two years to write this blog. Yes, you read that correctly... two years! Let me explain why.

My name is Riley Tincher, and I am a perfectionist.
I used to be proud of it; I prided myself on having great "attention to detail." I used to think it was the reason why I was highly successful in baseball, until it almost killed me. Literally. My desperation to pitch and perform perfectly, and my constant portrayal of this "perfect person," created pressure that nearly crushed me. This pressure, combined with isolation, turned into depression, which eventually turned into suicidal thoughts. On the first day of Christmas break my senior year of college, I was driving back to the house I grew up in, and suicidal thoughts consumed me. I thought, "If I drive my car into a tree or pull out in front of a semi-truck, all of this pressure and pain I am feeling could be over." So, I decided to follow through with these thoughts. I sat at a stop sign at the intersection of two highways just outside of Whitewater, Wisconsin - Highway 26 and County Road N. Since it was close to midnight, and there were hardly any cars on the roads, I sat there for what felt like an eternity waiting for a semi-truck to come down the highway. When one finally did, I closed my eyes, gripped tightly onto the steering wheel, slowly let off the brake, and rolled out onto the highway... After a few very long seconds, I opened my eyes and looked to the left where the semi-truck was coming from, and I saw that the semi-truck had stopped about 20 yards away from my car. I was so embarrassed. I slammed on the gas and peeled off the highway as fast as I could, and I never told anyone about it. For the rest of my senior year, I carried it around with me on the back of my mind. I desperately wanted help, but I didn't have the courage to ask for it. My pride got in my way. I thought, "I'm the All-American. I'm the Pitcher of the Year. I'm the Captain. I'm the one everyone looks up to... I can't let them know that I'm struggling. I can't let them know that I'm weak." By ignoring it, and suppressing it, it didn't go away, and it didn't get better. It got worse; especially, when my escape and my identity - baseball - was taken away from me. 

I wish that was the only time I struggled with perfectionism. And I wish that was the only time I tried ending my own life. But it wasn't. A little over one year later, I attempted suicide again... and failed again. Then, two years after that attempt, I decided that I was going to "take it more seriously." I planned it all out, so no one and nothing could interrupt it this time. I planned the day I was going to kill myself. I planned how I was going to kill myself; I even prepared for it. I wrote a suicide note. I said all my goodbyes. And on the day I was planning on killing myself, I received a phone call from a mentor of mine, whom I hadn't heard from in a long time. I reluctantly answered thinking it would be the last time I would ever talk to him. Thank God I did, because he saved my life. He refused to accept my answer of "I'm fine," when he asked me how I was doing. He kept asking, "No really, how are you doing? No really, how are you doing? No really, how are you doing?" until I finally broke down and told him what I was planning on doing that day. Then he stayed on the phone with me until I promised him that I wouldn't go through with it. For the next five days, he called me every hour on the hour (even in the middle of the night) to make sure I was ok.

In the several conversations we had during those five days, he counseled me, encouraged me, poured truth into me, and told me things I had never heard before. He also said something that would eventually radically change my life. He said, "Riley, there is purpose in your pain." He followed that up with, "We don't go through what we go through for ourselves, we go through what we go through in order to help others who are going to go through the same thing." At the time, I didn't know what this meant, and quite frankly, it pissed me off. I was in the darkest period of my life. I felt like I was drowning every day. I didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just wanted my life to be over. When he said that, my immediate reaction was, "How dare you say that there is purpose in my pain! You don't know what this pain is like!"

He was right; there was purpose in my pain.

That wasn't the only thing that came out of those conversations. He also told me to write in a journal about my entire baseball career; from the first game I played in eighth grade to the last pitch I threw my senior year of college. He encouraged me to write out every little detail of it, including every story in it, no matter how embarrassing or humiliating the story might be. We made a plan to write one page per day until my entire baseball career was written down. I started writing in this journal on January 2nd, 2014, and he texted me every morning at 8:00 AM, "Did you write your page today?" Then, I had to show him that I did.

You may be thinking, "Writing one page per day seems easy." You're right, but it's not easy when that page requires you to be fully transparent and vulnerable. For the first time in my life, I was addressing traumatic things that I had suppressed deep down inside of me; things that were "normal" to me; things like growing up in an alcoholic, oppressive household. Bringing these things back up to the surface made for some very difficult days where I couldn't even see my laptop in front of me because tears filled my eyes. There were also days where I sat down to write, and nothing came out... for hours. And there were also days where I couldn't stop writing. Through it all, I started healing (not from my perfectionism though).

Something else also happened throughout this writing process. I started meeting other former athletes who were also struggling with the same things I was; identity crisis, depression, suicide, substance abuse, and not know what to do with life after sports. Some of the stories I heard were heartbreaking. They made me resentful and angry. The more former athletes I met who were also struggling with what I was struggling with, and the more heartbreaking stories I heard, the more discontented I became. I called my mentor to talk about this, and in our conversation, I told him, "This is a serious problem that no one seems to be talking about. Somebody needs to do something about this!" He laughed at me. Then he asked me, "Do you remember one of our first conversations we had a while back when I told you that there is purpose in your pain and that we don't go through what we go through for ourselves?" Without even giving me a chance to respond, he continued, "Well... this is that purpose! You are that somebody to do something about this." 

At that moment, my entire life flipped upside down.

I finally realized that this life is not about me, nor for me. That's when I discovered my purpose, which is to create a future where every athlete understands that sports do not define who they are; sports are a platform, not a calling.

I also realized that this journal I was writing in was not for me either; it was for other athletes who are going to go through the same things I did. That's when my journal turned into my book, Pitching Against Myself. 

Immediately after our conversation, I opened up my journal and changed the format in which I was writing. I broke up my story into chapters, with each chapter being a game or a season that I pitched in. But that wasn't enough. Since this book wasn't for me anymore, I wanted to add value to who it was for; you! The problem was, I didn't know how... until I was reminded of a presentation I did in graduate school at Baylor University; the presentation was about the life lessons that can be learned from playing sports. That's when I added a new section to the end of each chapter, titled "Knowledge Applied;" I gave it this title because wisdom (the greatest thing we could ever ask for or receive) is simply defined as "applied knowledge." In this section, I explain, in great detail, the life lesson(s) I learned during that game or season, and how I've applied it to my life after baseball, and more importantly how you can apply it to your life.

A few months later, I finished the book. Then I put it away... for nearly 2 years (Are you noticing a pattern here?). The reason why I put it away (or at least, the reason I told myself) was because it wasn't "perfect." But really, it was because the book scared the hell out of me. I'm terrified of this book, because I'm fully transparent and vulnerable in it, and on top of that, I share stories in it that I've never told anyone before. I'm also terrified of it because I can feel the magnitude of it. As Marianne Williamson eloquently said in her book, A Return To Love, "My deepest fear is not that this book is inadequate, My deepest fear is that this book is powerful beyond measure." (I'm paraphrasing, of course). 

Not only did I put the book away, I ran away from it; just like I ran away from the hardships in the house I grew up in, and just like I ran away from the harsh reality that my baseball career was over. The problem was, no matter how far away I ran from it, it was always there; I couldn't hide from it. No matter how distracted I got with life, no matter how busy I got working 60-70 hour weeks at a job I was really good at, it was always there... constantly pulling on my heart. On top of that, it seemed like everyone I talked to asked me when it was going to be finished, and all I could tell them was, "very soon," because I didn't have the heart to tell them the truth; the truth that I was a perfectionist - not in the sense that I wanted the book to be perfect before I released it, but in the sense that I was afraid to release it because I thought it would ruin the perfect image I desperately wanted to have.

Being a perfectionist is why it took me nearly 2 years to finish this blog. It's why it took me even longer than that to finish this website; to be honest, a large part of me wants to take the whole thing down, because a few things "don't look right." It's why I delete posts and tweets, just to post them again once the correction is made. It's why I spend way too much time editing content. It's why I spend countless hours editing audio for my audiobook and podcast, just so you won't be able to hear me take breaths and mess up words. It's why I record, and re-record, and re-record, and re-record, and re-record videos, only to not post them because I convince myself that no one will want to watch them because no one wants to see my imperfections. It's why I have rebranded my social media brand several times. It's why most people don't know that I speak for a living; if I find one sentence or one line that I mess up, or I don't like, in a video recording of one of my speeches, I won't post it. It's why most people don't know about my mentorship program, Coachability; I often tell myself, "once this is done (aka perfect), then I will promote it" (only for "this" to never get done).

I used to think that my perfectionism was me striving to be my best. But really, it was a shield I used that I thought protected me from the pain of guilt and shame. It was a shield that I hid behind, just like the glove I hide behind on the cover of my book. To be honest, it was a shield that was too heavy for me to carry, and it nearly forced me to sell everything I own, max out my credit card, and go broke. To be even more honest, it nearly destroyed my purpose. And to be even more honest than that, it nearly killed me.

I used to wear perfectionism like a badge of honor until I finally realized that it’s the very thing that’s holding me back from what I was created to do. Two years ago, a vacation to Los Angeles, California helped me come to that realization. At the time of this vacation, I was at a crossroads in my life - I could either continue working for the company I was working for, doing something I was very good at and made a lot of money doing, or I could quit this job and finally finish this book that has been pulling on my heart for years, and finally pursue the impact that I believe it is capable of having. On this vacation, I met a woman who solidified my decision. During our encounter, I told her about my life, my baseball career, my struggles with depression and suicide after my career ended, and my book. In the middle of our conversation, she started crying. When I asked her why she was crying, she responded, "You remind me of my son. He was a great baseball player like you." I immediately asked, "Was? What does he do now?" After a long pause, she wiped her tears away, and said, "He pitched in the minor leagues, and when he injured his shoulder and needed surgery, the team he was playing for released him. That was the end of his career... and the end of his life." Then she told me that a few weeks after his release, he decided to commit suicide. He wrote a suicide note, and in that note, he wrote, "All I know is baseball. All I am is a baseball player. I don't want to know anything else. And I don't want to be anyone else." I wrote the same exact things in my suicide note.

As we finished our tear-filled conversation together and started parting ways, she turned back towards me and said, "Riley, my son needed to read your book."

Those convicting words were exactly what I needed to hear. And they are exactly what you need to hear, as well. You have a purpose for your life that you have yet to pursue. You have unique gifts that have been given to you that you have yet to use. You have goals that you have yet to accomplish. You have a book inside of you that you have yet to write. You have a movie inside of you that you have yet to direct. You have a business inside of you that you have yet to create. I don't know what that thing is for you, but I do know it constantly pulls on your heart.

As my mentor (moreso, spiritual father), Dr. John Saurino, often reminds me, "Get out of God's way!" There are people (a lot more than you will ever realize) who are depending on you to fulfill what God has called you to do. They need the gifts He gave you. If you're like I was, and you're waiting to be ready, or you're waiting for the perfect time, please know that you will never be ready, and there will never be a perfect time. Put your pride aside, get out of His way, and quit being so selfish! It's not about you! What He has put inside of you could change someone else's life.

Regret is a poison, and you will die with it. Or, in the words of Jermaine Cole, "If you kill your dreams, they will haunt you." Please don't let another day go by without taking action. We need you!

Did you really think I was going to start a blog with a hip-hop song, and not end it with one? By the way, if you don't know who Sean Carter and Jermaine Cole are, then we really do need to have a serious talk.

 

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