When Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off: You Can’t Control Everything

When Hard Work Doesn’t Pay Off: You Can’t Control Everything

I got cut from the all-state Maryland soccer team when I was 14-years-old.

Even though I made the squad and also proved myself as a regional selection the year before, things didn’t go my way this time around . I got cut.

At first, I thought I read the final roster list wrong, and that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

It must by a typo…they must’ve made a mistake, I said to myself.

But it wasn’t.

I actually got cut.

I was so devastated, that I lost faith in my efforts over the past year, and wondered if any of my hard work was even worth it – being on the top club team in Maryland, working with a speed and strength coach, being consistent in my workouts, and practicing my skills in my front yard.

I mean…I made the regional team the year before, why wouldn’t I make the all-state team?

Was all of my previous hard work a waste?

I remember my dad told me this at the dinner table that night: “don’t confuse effort with results…life isn’t fair.”

This statement, though harsh, exposes the reality of the world – that life doesn’t always go our way and we don’t have full control over an outcome, despite doing everything right. My dad had a way of saying stern, gut wrenching one-liners. Alas, his truthful perspective actually provided me with an odd sense of relief.

Though hard initially, this time also brought me a lot of solace. It was the first wake up call that life isn’t fair. Sometimes, things are out of our control.

Sure, we can stack the odds in our favor, check every box, and give our best effort in our training, nutrition, and sleep, but the end result doesn’t always go our way 100% of the time. Sadly, the end result is out of our control (despite what the “you control your reality” Tony Robbins type crowd teaches these days). This stuff feels good, but it’s not how the world works.

The end result comes down to a plethora of factors, and some more explainable than others.

Didn’t make the team you wanted and you worked so hard and thought you were one of the best out there?

Were there coach politics involved? Did they need specific personnel and certain positions filled? Were they picking favorites and only girls they already knew? Did the coach have a different style of play you didn’t fit? Did this happen for other reasons that are beyond your own logic? Was it bad luck?

It could’ve been anything. And that’s okay.

When everything comes crashing down, you can still have peace. You can shrug your shoulders and laugh, well, it’s just not my day!

Instead of beating yourself up and going down a swirl of anxiety, you can stick your head up and have faith this was a blip in time that was meant to be.

Instead of beating yourself up and going down a swirl of anxiety, you can stick your head up and have faith this was a blip in time that was meant to be. Click To Tweet

When something doesn’t go your way, you don’t have to blame yourself and fix things all the time. Sometimes, it just is what is is, and this mindset will bring you far more tranquility.

“Life isn’t fair” has been a mantra that I’ve returned back to every single time I don’t achieve a goal. Even when I was diligent and disciplined and worked my tail off, yet still didn’t get there, I can remain at peace that this wasn’t meant to be, and something better is on the way.

A new moment will come when light glimmers through the dark.

Instead of blaming myself, and trying to nitpick where I went wrong in these unfortunate situations, I take the burden off of myself, and I find rest in the oscillations of life that are beyond my own understanding.

Yes, self reflection can be valuable and how you could’ve shown up differently, but if you gave your best effort, dialed in your training and all of the big rocks, it’s not worth beating yourself up over the minutiae and saying, “well, did I meditate enough?” or “did I affirm enough?” or “did I journal enough?” or “did I do X,Y, and Z” enough? or “did I do yoga enough?” or “did I have positive thoughts” enough?

This mindset makes anxiety worse because not only does it focus on the Self way too much, it gives you a false sense of control of a final result. Ultimately, life is not in your control. You can only stack the odds in your favor.

There comes a time when you need to move into acceptance that you didn’t make that team.

Take some pressure off of Self. It’s awful for mental health.

One of the most inspiring historical stories I read was about a man who had it all – an incredible family, vibrant health, and abundant wealth. He had stability and lived a peaceful life. He was also a righteous and good man that didn’t deserve suffering.

Then, all of a sudden, everything he had was taken away.

He lost his health and was plagued with sickness. He lost his money, food, and all of his assets. He even lost his own family.

Despite the catastrophes happening in every facet of his life, this man remained hopeful that things would work out in the end. He wasn’t disgruntled. He wasn’t resentful. He didn’t linger in the past. He didn’t scrutinize himself. He kept faith that all of it would come back and there was something greater at play.

The story ends with the man getting his family back. He also got his wealth back, several fold.

I’m sure you can look in reality and observe similar stories. Bad things happening to good people. Calamities crushing genuine people. Healthy people getting sickness and disease. Successful businesses failing.

Life isn’t fair in most circumstances, but it’s downright miraculous in others.

I’m sure you can also observe horrific life events that have turned around into miracles. Someone healing from Stage 3 cancer. A rags to riches story. An addict becoming sober. These are beautiful stories that give us hope.

But when you don’t get the happy ending you deserved, don’t lose hope.

Use it as an opportunity to strengthen it further.

Use it as an opportunity to humble yourself.

Use it as an opportunity to have unwavering faith, zoom out and trust the bigger picture.

Now that I’m in my 30s, I look back on this meager hiccup as an adolescent soccer player, and it all makes sense. The outcome of the event didn’t matter, but the lessons did.

Even though I didn’t make the Maryland all-state team as a young girl, my training efforts weren’t a waste by any means.

I learned discipline and use it now more than ever. I learned how to stick to something and not be flaky. I learned how to organize a routine. I learned how to strengthen and care for my body. I learned how to maintain my health so I can live a fulfilling and playful life. I learned how to serve others even in times of my own despair and depression.

When things don’t go my way, I don’t remain a prisoner of the past.

Instead, I focus on what I can do in the future, but more importantly, I keep faith something more magical is on the way.

This is true and lasting peace…in sports and life.

When hard work doesn’t pay off just know what you put in was never a waste.

When hard work doesn't pay off just know what you put in was never a waste. Click To Tweet



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“Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15)

  • Janet Riffe
    Posted at 19:40h, 13 August Reply

    Beautifully written and an excellent lesson for my teenagers (and really anyone). Thank you for sharing! I’m going to save this and have my girls read it often.

    • erica
      Posted at 20:08h, 13 August Reply

      Thank you, Janet. I am so happy you love the message. 🙂 This was a fun article to write!

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