I stood behind the press box, watching two volleyball matches, watching nothing.

My AVP season – my first real season as a beach volleyball player, as I see it – had ended. I was lost in thought, thinking about Chicago, thinking about Austin, thinking about how blink-and-you-missed it fast this year had gone by, thinking about how slowly it had sometimes seemed to drag on.

A tap on my shoulder. A photographer. I like photographers. They make for fun conversations, because to be a photographer – a good one, an exceptional one – means you are obsessed with your craft and funny things like light, angles, how elements of nature play off of one another to create the perfect moment to capture.

The photographer extended his hand, said it was fun to shoot me this season, and even more fun to follow along. He mentioned what a great season I had. I looked down. I didn’t know. It had ended on a sour note, the most recent one a 21-19, 21-12 pounding in the final round of Chicago less than 24 hours before, was still an open wound.

And then he said something quite profound, not only in its depth but also in its simplicity.

“You’re going for your dreams,” he said, and I’ll pause there to tell you this: I hear this lots, multiple times per day on some occasions. Many tell me how jealous they are that I’m out in California, living the dream life, chasing this, getting after that, and how great it would be to do what I am so very blessed to do. I paused there because he then added an addendum that few ever care to consider: “That’s awesome, because I think one of the most difficult things to do is go for your dreams.”

I loved that. Because it’s true. Billy Allen wrote an excellent blog post after the Hermosa Beach Open, where he and Ryan Doherty took a tough loss in the finals after leading 14-12 in the third set. He mentioned something a buddy said, how most office workers can’t empathize with the emotional low Billy was currently experiencing, but they’d probably, strangely, love to be able to feel an emotion so deeply.

Chasing dreams at once offers the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. It’s a bit like being in love, really, and here I’ll call to mind a scene from Hitch, where Will Smith, attempting to win back Eva Mendes, yells at her that he “just wants to feel miserable! Like, really miserable, because, hey, if that what it takes for me to be happy — well that didn’t come out right.”

It kind of did come out right, though, because only love can make a man feel so miserable, and yet to feel that miserable means you might just be in love — with a person, a craft, something — a sensation to which there is no comparison.

I don’t particularly enjoy being miserable after losses, but frankly, I’d be a bit concerned if I weren’t miserable after a loss, if I were simply ok with it. That would mean that, somewhere along the lines, I had stopped caring, and if I had stopped caring, then was I really chasing my dreams at all?

So I smiled at the photographer. I suppose, when compared to the last year and the one before that, it had been a great season, one filled with highs, one filled with lows, one laced with euphoria, one replete with feelings on the other side of the spectrum.

It had been what chasing dreams seems to be all about.

And here’s the thing I learned about chasing dreams: Throughout the process of pursuing one goal, that big one you think you want to achieve so badly and that when you get there everything will simply fall into place, you incidentally accrue experiences and memories and stories and moments that, in retrospect, so heavily outweigh the feeling of accomplishment you get when attaining the original goal.

Just the other night, Delaney Knudsen and I were discussing our favorite stops of the year. Most would assume mine would be Austin, site of my first main draw, site of that big goal at the end of the tunnel that I thought would be the fountain of all eternal happiness.

I surprised myself with my own answer.

Austin was my least favorite, and ranking far ahead of those were – shockingly – New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and now Chicago.

Hermosa and Austin were where my volleyball goals had been realized, and they’re nowhere near the top of my favorite weekends of the season.

The other four now hold experiences I’ll cherish for as long as my memory serves me well enough to recall them. It was in New York that I took a ferry – a ferry! – to a beach volleyball tournament, passing by Lady Liberty on my way there, with a fellow freelance journalist, Maria Marino, with whom I traded breakfast and freelancing stories and tidbits.

In a few years, I’ll forget the score of my match, a disappointing finish, to be sure. But I will not forget sailing past the Statue of Liberty to get to a beach volleyball tournament. Nor will I forget my parents coming in town, making the drive north from Maryland, to see their first AVP, introducing them to all of my incredibly accomplished friends. My dad, who has been to countless sporting events of all types, said it was one of his favorites of all time.

I’d agree, even though my weekend was cut short, my worst finish of the year. I agree because the goodness of people shined as bright as it ever will, as men and women like Reid Priddy and Jeremy Casebeer, Casey Patterson and Phil Dalhausser, Sara Hughes and Eric Zaun, treated my parents like their own.

I went home the next day, feasted on crabs, drank too much beer with my brothers, knocked out on my couch.


The sport that has taken me 3,000 miles from my family is the same that brought me right back to it.

Two weeks later we were in San Francisco. After another early loss, Tri Bourne and I stole away to Bear Valley, kidnapping Delaney, to see his sister’s family. And it was in Bear Valley that I fell in love with Tri’s family and probably began to feel pangs of something similar with the one we kidnapped.

What’s a main draw compared to that?

It almost seems silly to think that making main draw had been the goal, and not the experiences that will be etched into memory far longer.

Those experiences are the fuel that keeps the pursuing of those goals possible. You might be able to put a destination – making a main draw, making a Saturday, making a Sunday – into a GPS, but you still need the fuel to get there. Without those, simply making main draw won’t be enough. It never would.

Perhaps Austin is my least favorite stop because it tore down the mythology of making a main draw. I had built it up in my mind. Everything will be different, I thought. But it wasn’t. Hanging in the player’s tent was no different than hanging at Tri’s house. It was just hotter, the couches weren’t as comfy, and we didn’t drink as much wine. Playing against Billy and Ryan in my first main draw match was no different than practicing in Hermosa Beach. There were just a couple extra people there to watch, and a little more money on the line.

It was, simply put, still volleyball.

There’s more to life than volleyball.

This is not to say goals are useless, or materialistic, or any other crap you’ll hear unmotivated and lazy people say about lofty goals. This is not to say that I don’t go into tournaments wanting nothing more than to make a main draw, and then push it further from there.

Goals, ambition, aspirations – they’re all vital to a life of value, or at least they are to mine. For without those goals, without that burning desire to make those main draws, I don’t go to Austin, and New York, and Seattle, and San Francisco. I don’t look at a breathtaking galaxy of stars in Bear Valley, California, deep into the night, feeling a sense of contentment and stillness that’s difficult to imagine unless you’ve taken the time to do it.

I don’t reconnect with old friends or make so many new ones I’ve come to admire and respect and love. I don’t go deep down the surfing YouTube rabbit hole with Spencer McLaughlin and Tri, laughing well into an Oakland night. I don’t drown in deep dish pizza with my boy from the south, Matt Blanke, and get caught in a Windy City thunderstorm on a pier with Delaney, both of us too stoked to see a thunderstorm to care one bit about getting wet and cold and probably sick. I don’t see the Statue of Liberty, or go home. I don’t launch a podcast, give players a much-needed platform.

Without those goals, those experiences I’ve mentioned don’t become experiences at all.

Without those goals, there would be no dream to chase. And without that chase would be a life devoid of my fondest memories, memories that will last far longer than a couple thousand bucks in prize money and the forever enigmatic title of professional athlete.

My AVP season is over.

A new goal-setting process begins. There are more GPS coordinates to put into the map.

Between those coordinates are what life, for me, is all about.

Adventures await.