I can’t tell you how many of our student-athletes I’ve annoyed over the years as they sit in my office distraught over some boulder life has thrown in their path. As they sit downtrodden, tears streaming, totally deflated by the latest challenge, I look into their sad eyes with a twinkle of excitement and say, “This is going to be Amazing!”
NOT what they expect or want to hear. I continue, “You’re in the Desert!”
“Yes Miss Val, and it sucks!”
“Noooooooooo—this is sooooo cool!
THIS is when you will prove how amazing you are.
THIS is exactly where you need to be to take that next big step in your life toward greatness.
THIS is where you learn how tough you are and that you can absolutely rely on yourself.
THIS is where you fall in love with YOU.
THIS is when you learn to quiet all of the outside voices of negativity and resolve to build yourself up from the inside out, one day at a time.
THIS is when the most exciting ‘magical’ transformations happen… in the Desert.”
The greatest example of the transformational power of the Desert is Jesus. Jesus didn’t find himself in the Desert but instead was led there by the Spirit to deal with the temptation of evil.
Winston Churchill said, “Those destined for greatness must first walk in the Desert.”
Walt Disney was once fired for not having enough creativity. I imagine his Desert was filled with visions of enchanting characters that exuded wonder and goodness through their imperfectness.
Michael Jordan tried out for the varsity basketball team at his high school as a Sophomore and didn’t make it (his taller friend did). He has recounted the story, saying he went home and cried, but then used that chip on his shoulder to fuel his greatness.
Studies done at Harvard have concluded that the greatest predictor of eventual greatness is the ability to embrace the struggle through the Desert. Those who can embrace the fact that what they learn during this time is exactly what will eventually catapult them to greatness are the ones who prove perseverance, hustle and an attitude of gratitude are the riches earned that will take them out of the Desert and into their own personal, inimitable greatness.
One of my favorite student-athlete stories of the Desert is Jeanette Antolin. Halfway through her freshman year I saw her laying on her back in the gym during training. I went up to her and asked, “What’s up?”
She looked at me and said, “Miss Val, I don’t ever want anyone to tell me what to do EVER again.”
I chuckled a bit and replied, “Well honey, then I think you need to go find a desert island to live on because that’s just not how life works.”
She proceeded to do a few more things that eventually got her kicked off the team and her scholarship stripped. She was definitely IN THE DESERT!
She sobbed in my office and followed me to the gym, clutched my arm and continued to sob and plead with me to change my mind. It was at that point that everything became so clear to me. Jeanette was in the Desert. I looked at her and said, “Jeanette, this is going to be the best year of your life.”
Jeanette did not want to hear that, did not understand it and I’m fairly certain that at that moment I was not one of her favorite people. But… I was right! With no one to bail her out and pay for her schooling, rent, etc. Jeanette got student loans and immediately did what was needed to become a licensed athletic performance trainer. She worked with clients in the early morning, kept going to classes at UCLA, and went back to work at night. About 6 months later a few of the girls on the team came to my office and said they wanted me to reconsider letting Jeanette back on the team.
They all confirmed she had “really” changed. She was motivated, excited about life, and happy. What I didn’t know was that she had been going into the open recreational gym at night to train. I told the girls in my office to tell Jeanette I’d stop by open gym sometime soon. I’ll never forget trying to keep my eyeballs from bulging out of my face when I saw her blast a sky high vault. “Uhhhhhhhh OK… I’ll meet with her.” Jeanette joined our team mid-season that year—without a scholarship—and not only helped our team win an NCAA Championship, but became a strong leader for the remainder of her time on our team.
There will be times in life when a drought will wash over you and you’ll find yourself in the Desert. Just remember it will be painful, but it truly is a gift.
The Desert always invites pivotal motion.
The Desert challenges our potential.
The Desert offers a place to shut down, regroup, and come out better than we went in.
I don’t look forward to my next stint in the Desert, but I don’t fear it either. I know when that time comes I’m fully equipped to get through it and come out a better version of me.