Let’s talk about what no one wants to talk about. We live in a world of highlights. This isn’t news; social media is a life highlight reel. In my mind, we are at a tipping point. We as a society get so caught up in how great all of our friends are doing, that we forget to be present for our own lives. We set unrealistic expectations for our every day, and we begin to spiral.
I learned through a lot of hard lessons the difference between happiness and joy. We always talk about being happy. Happiness, I have come to realize, is rooted in results. We are happy when we win a competition, or get a promotion, or close a deal. We drive ourselves mad chasing happiness. And all the while we are comparing ourselves to that unrealistic expectation.
Joy, on the other hand, exists in everything. That feeling of pure bliss that happens when we get lost in a moment. It can be found in anything. I feel this when I look at the stars on a clear night. I forget everything, and I just feel joy. There is no result, no finish line that brings about joy. It’s as simple as slowing down and remembering how amazing the mundane truly is.
But why am I writing about all of this? This is, after all, a blog about my life as a professional golfer. Golf is a sport that demands excellence of the mind. A prerequisite to playing golf at a high level is to be at peace with oneself, and constantly chasing happiness destroys that peace. My whole life, I chased happiness in the form of winning tournaments. Anything short of winning was a failure, and failures are never fun. In the years I played with this mindset, the intensity that resulted took a toll on me. I was short-tempered, perfectionistic, and all together unhappy.
My sophomore year of college, I began having anxiety attacks. The first time, I didn’t know what was happening. I’ll never forget, I was sitting in class and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. Thankfully, I had the sense to walk out of the room and find a place where I could be alone, because the next 5 minutes were some of the worst of my life. I felt like I was drowning. I felt trapped, and helpless, and terrified. And then it was over, and I felt silly. At that point in my life, I didn’t understand what my mind was trying to tell me, so I didn’t make a change in my life.
The 2 years that followed, my anxiety got progressively worse, and to compound that, I began to lose my love for golf. I was still playing for the win, for the happiness. The result was a spiral that was driving me towards constant doubt, fear of the following day, and a paralyzing feeling that everything I had worked for was slipping away from me. It was terrifying.
It is because of the way that I was brought out of this spiral and put back on the path to where I want to go that I am writing this post. All that time when I was struggling, I was keeping the struggle to myself. I didn’t want anyone, even those closest to me, to know that I was hurting. The human mind is resilient, and can handle a huge amount of stress, but it still has a boiling point. So when I broke down and began to open up to my parents, it began to lift a huge burden from my life.
The hardest thing when it comes to talking about anxiety, and all of the pain and sadness I was feeling, is starting. Once I started, it was like I let momentum carry me the rest of the way. Fast forward 8 months and I am doing better than I have in years. I am enjoying golf more than I ever have, I feel vibrant and authentic again, and I smile a whole lot more. And I haven’t had an anxiety attack in that entire 8 months. All because I reached my breaking point and started talking.
I have found my joy. It's taken me a long time to find who I am and figure out how I want to chase this dream. My whole life, I was told to enjoy the journey (shoutout The Golf Performance Center), but I didn't understand what that meant until I was at my rock bottom. When I stopped chasing results and started to enjoy the journey again, that was when my joy started to come back. It has been the most amazing 8 months of finding peace in everything I do, and I am so grateful for everyone who has helped me to reach this point.
My intention with this article is not to raise sympathy, or change peoples’ perspective on me in any way. My hope is that there is one person out there who is afraid to open up, and reads this. I think I am a very strong person. I handle adversity with poise and I don’t like to appear weak. And that’s why I didn’t say anything for 2 years. Please, if you’re reading this and you’re hiding your pain, stop. Find someone you trust and tell them. Tell them all of it. It may just save your life.
P.S. – If anyone who reads this is holding something inside, and doesn’t have anyone to talk to, feel free to reach out to me. I keep my contact information off of this website for privacy purposes, but my Contact form is open to anyone. We’re all human, and we’re meant to do this life together. Don’t do it alone.
Michael VanDerLaan is a professional golfer from Southbury, Connecticut. He is currently competing on mini tours throughout the United States and chasing his goal of being the world's number 1 ranked golfer. Michael currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida.