Change. A few nice gets ago America watched as two NBA future Hall of Famers played their final games in their respective team uniforms. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat suited up one last time and went out in Hall of Fame style, each putting up 30 points a piece in their final games. Each has taken a different approach with the ending of their respective careers, with Nowitzki waiting until just this week to announce his retirement, and Wade conducting a “Fairwell Tour” of sorts, acknowledging this to be his last season before it began. I would say that neither is necessarily right or wrong, as we all have ways of handling things, but the thing about this ending that is the same for both is that change is coming, and change is sad.
Now I think there are three or so takeaways for all of us, especially men, who have a hard time dealing with our own life changes and our feelings, and I want to unpack those a bit here. And hey, if a former NBA MVP and thirteen time All-Star, among other accolades, can admit to needing help, can’t we all? And isn’t that a sign of true strength? Nonetheless, here are some things to think about and mull over when it comes to change, adjustment, and our feelings.
1. Change is sad.
Yes, when life brings us change, it is sad. In the case of professional athletes, this is a big change as there will no longer be the thrill and excitement of fans yelling their names, no pregame hype, and no more finding their significance in a game. They are all the more likely now to have to find a new way to matter, not just for personal glorification, but for self-worth. As Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just showed by selling all his sports memorabilia, the accolades we achieve won’t keep us warm at night nor necessarily give us a reason to get up in the morning after they are earned. They most certainly will not help us avoid the sadness that comes with the change because in the end, the word former or any other past tense adjective comes before the accolade. And this, frankly, is sad- professional athlete or not. Whether we are on the precipice of retirement or making a career change, or any other move, these types of changes are sad, no matter how long we deny or delay their coming.
2. Change requires adjustment.
Not only do these changes bring about sadness, they require adjustment. Again, whether it’s a career change or a stage of life change, change requires adjustment. In the case of a professional athlete, one can keep trying to play one more season, or I supposed sit around all day staring at trophies to try to deny or delay feeling the sadness, but it’s going to come, sooner or later. And the gift of that sadness? – proper adjustment in the form of acceptance. Healthy grieving, something we don’t tend to do well, especially men, allows one to acknowledge what has been lost and then see how to move on with significance and meaning, making healthy adjustments with acceptance. Kudos to Wade for acknowledging that he needs help adjusting and accepting the loss of this portion of his career, and more so, that he can’t do it on his own.
3. An ounce of prevention…
Finally, in our avoidance of sad that leads us to not adjust well, we tend to find our way to the counselor when life finally forces our hand. It’s the unexpected job loss or death, the end of a marriage or discovery of an affair, or any other unexpected change or trauma that tends to create a volcanic eruption of emotion- sadness, anger, fear, loneliness- ultimately ending in despair. At this point it’s not just the precipitating event that creates this sense of being perpetually overwhelmed by intense emotion- it’s the repeated denial of the existence of those feelings for so long. Much like cardiac arrest is most often not caused by a sudden change in the heart, neither is a spiritual/emotional/mental hearth attack. A physical heart attack is often caused by the ongoing and subtle neglect of health over time, and in the same way, we deny or neglect our feelings for so long in minor and subtle ways until we have an emotional/mental “heart attack”. That’s why I, as counselor and therapist, just as any good cardiologist would recommend less artery clogging cholesterol instead of trying to recover from a heart attack, would recommend taking preventive action as Dwayne Wade intends to deal with adjustment and emotions before they overwhelm us.
So thank you Dwayne Wade and others in the spotlight who are taking active steps to decrease the mental health stigma in this country and showing how all, even men with money, fame, talent, and strength can admit to weakness and get help. And finally, if you are experiencing a life transition of any sort, career or personal, or expect to do so, I would be glad to help. Reach out today, if not here, then someone. Don’t wait.