As stone sharpens stone
I was watching the last few games of the regular NFL season, and I was thinking about how strange it must be for those guys in irrelevant games. They have this moment, these three hours, and then their jobs are technically over for a few months. Maybe forever. And, as these things tend to work in my brain, that started a whole cascade of thoughts about professionalism, self-will and the writing life. I'll try to parse it all out here, if I can.
First of all, being a player in the NFL isn't really just a job, just like being a writer isn't really just a job. It's a lifestyle, and it's a lifestyle that you only attain through years and years of serious determination and full-time effort, layered on fat stacks of talent. Think about the process players go through to get to the NFL. They were probably the standout talent of their high school team, their coaches marked them as the best they had ever seen, because you have to be that good to get recruited by a real college. Then they need to be among the best at the collegiate level just to get noticed by NFL scouts, playing for a major team and putting up major numbers. And that might get them a high draft pick, and the kind of attention, coaching and patience that the high pressure world of professional football gives to valued players.
And then they have to perform. Because no amount of perceived value will replace actual value on the field. How many players go through all of that, land the good pick, the dream contract, and then wilt on the field? I'll tell you; most of them. Most play a few years, the coaches figure out they can't adjust to the accelerated pace of the professional game, and they wash out. They knock around in the smaller leagues, they do a turn in Canada, maybe they get another chance, maybe not. Maybe they end up installing drywall and dreaming.
And that's a lot like writing. Too many aspirant writers think that first book contract is the win. And it kind of is, for a day or a month or a year, but then you have to step up, suit up, and step onto that field. You have to perform.
Players in the NFL don't end their season on the last down. They may take a break, may get that surgery they've been putting off until this season is over, but then they start preparing for next season. They are where they are, succeeding at the level they're at, because they are finely honed monsters of determination.