Johnny’s World: The Impossible Dream

June 6, 2013 8:53 AM3 comments

jworldSwallowing a large dose of reality is never fun. It doesn’t matter how young, beautiful, or rich you may be, ultimately there will be things beyond your reach. You’ll want them so desperately, and there’s no way to attain them.

Every reality TV show seems to have that one contestant who looks, with watering eyes, into the camera and says, “I want this so bad.” Five seconds later, we see the young lady or gentleman audition for whatever it is they’re trying to be, and they’re terrible. We all get a good laugh, but think, “we all know how bad they are, but do they know?”

Figure skating is obviously my area of expertise, and I’ve seen hundreds of girls and boys want it so bad. They come to the rink every day and in some cases work harder than their peers who are actually succeeding in the sport – myself included, at times. They’ve started skating practices at age 2, and now at 18 have spent many thousands of dollars of their families’ money, fallen countless times, and placed last in more competitions than anyone in history.

I definitely can’t laugh at people who have a dream and chase it, but you have to wonder if they’ve ever flipped the mirror on themselves and really believed they were good or just too stubborn to quit. Figure skating isn’t for everyone, but it is widely acknowledged that “special skill” and talent is a part of succeeding when you mix the mediums of ice and steel.

When I began skating, my mother would sit in the off-ice area with all the other mothers and talk. I’d started skating late, and this was sort of a learning mechanism she’d use to figure out how the sport works. My mother would support me, but always there was the unspoken reality that if I didn’t amount to something in a year or two of practicing, my retirement would come just as quickly as my “career” had risen up and cost my family a huge chunk of their paychecks.

It wasn’t that my mother wanted me to fail, but she wanted me to be realistic, especially when I was dealing with something as precious as my future. “Johnny, I’d rather spend this money on university than to watch you fall down, work hard, and still get last place,” she’d say. “I watch these mothers and listen to their delusions every day, and it is so sad.”

My figure skating career is my gift I am most proud of, and having found my calling at a young age has led me to take challenges that come outside my chosen career, though a little less seriously.

Singing, for example, is something I tried for fun. I’ve recorded two songs and released one on iTunes to great success, but I know I’m not a singer and I won’t win Grammys. I simply wanted the chance to try. But I can’t lie, when you’re practicing something like singing, and you’re in a studio and someone is saying “that was good” or “better,” you start to imagine yourself on a stage in front of thousands of people singing your face off and getting the Whitney Houston upper-lip sweat. The illusion becomes something tangible and real. The illusion becomes delusion very quickly, and having gone through that situation I think that’s the problem.

We can’t step outside of ourselves and see what’s going on objectively. Humans live by a dream and a wish. Once you have decided on something in your mind, it is very hard to change your opinion and wise up to face facts. You are not a singer. You are not a model. You are not a figure skater. Life is just as much about the “you are nots” as it is the “you cans.”

It takes a strong individual to see that despite imagining and dreaming about their own success and being supported by a loving friend or family member, that you might just not have it in you. While I commend and love the dreamers and the believers and support their every whim from afar, look inside yourselves and make sure you’re good at what you do and you’re not just telling yourself that you’re good. The only one who looks silly is you.

  • ThatKindofGirl

    I admit I have become addicted to these columns, in part because they always seem to have some mysterious personal agenda. Do you have a friend who you think is a bad singer, but you don’t want to tell her? Not everyone has to be Whitney Houston or Michelle Kwan. For most people, sports are an activity not a career. I’m sure you could have learned to sing if you had applied yourself and been willing stick out the learning process. Taking risks doesn’t look silly. Dropping something because you don’t get raves the first time looks silly.

  • Lady Lisa

    There’s an old saying that I love that goes like this: “Ask a question, and you’re a fool for five minutes, never ask, and you’re a fool forever.” Much like this saying, risk taking doesn’t necessarily turn someone into a fool.
    However, that said, it can be heartbreaking to watch someone, especially a child, who isn’t realistic about their abilities to reach their dreams. A former figure skater myself, I still remember so many overly energetic moms hanging over the boards like sausages screaming at their children to ‘try harder’ and ‘get it right this time’ – to children who I damn well knew couldn’t try any harder – they were already working like dogs, and they were just so AFRAID (of their own mothers)! it’s no wonder they couldn’t do well, they were afraid to fall and some actually shook out of fear as they skated, oh it just broke my heart to see this. I think your mother was wise to sit over in the off-ice area, with the more realistic mothers, and talk. And I think she was also smart to put a two year time limit on your progress in the sport.
    You’re right, you are NO singer, but your situation gave you a chance to try, and I hope you are proud of yourself for this. (I do think some vocal coaching prior to the recording of your songs may have helped, though). But the point is you tried out of fun and you never pretended to be Christina, and I think it’s good for your fans to see that even celebrities cannot be good or a ‘natural’ at everything.
    Sadly, there are the people who ARE good at what they do, if they only had a chance to prove it.

  • Barbara Erickson Breuer

    This column made me chuckle, because I remember how uncoordinated I was as a child. I did not excel at ballet because of my two left feet, and, unfortunately, my tennis abilities weren’t much better. For some reason, I always got stuck with the racquet with the big hole in it :-).

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