Find your true self
It was supposed to be a storybook ending. Assumption College senior third-string hockey goalie Tyler Stillings gets his first start in years and leads the team to victory. It was supposed to be my day for glory. Instead, it was over in just 20 minutes.
On January 30, 2016, I gave up three goals in the first period against Southern New Hampshire and was taken out of the game. The team then rallied and eventually tied 5-5. My only opportunity had passed me by. I acted like I was happy for my teammates but a selfish part of me knew my moment had passed. As I boarded the bus for the ride home, I was disappointed but I wasn’t devastated.
You see, for my first three years of college, what happened that night probably would have killed me. For the first 23 years of my life, hockey defined me as a person. I was a hockey player and a pretty good one at that. Youth hockey, prep school, juniors—no matter where I went, I just seemed to be better than everyone else. At times I had been a Division I prospect, but Division II Assumption recruited me to eventually be the starting goalie. Hockey was everything to me. My life consisted of going to class, socializing and playing hockey. It left little time for other things. Hockey was, after all, who I was as a person.
College changed everything. Early in my first year at Assumption, I played poorly in a few games and then was injured for months. The other goalies on the team stayed healthy and when I returned, they simply played better than me. I was soon relegated to the bench as the third-string goalie.
For the next three years, I remained in this purgatory. I worked really hard but never seemed to be able to catch a break. I barely played and when I did, my stats were terrible. I became depressed. I would spend Friday nights before games lying in my bed staring at the ceiling. Life seemed hopeless. By my own definition, I felt like a failure.
After junior year, I realized something had to change. I had lost people and experiences by caring so much about hockey. Yet I couldn’t quit. I still loved the program and my teammates at Assumption. Instead, I realized the answer was not quitting hockey but expanding myself beyond it.
So in my senior year, I decided to become an orientation leader, an alumni ambassador and a tutor in the Academic Support Center. In these roles with the amazing people I met, I began to see myself as a person outside of the rink. I decided to pick up an English minor, lead a mental health charity and cultivate a desire to travel all while still playing hockey this winter.
In doings so, I realized for the first 23 years of my life, I did not exist. Tyler Stillings the hockey player existed instead. The kid who loved to read Hemingway novels, watch history documentaries and think deeply about life. That guy was just not around. I couldn’t deal with the pressure of life so I put on a mask and I didn’t take it off when the games and practices ended. I thought hockey was what made me “cool.” I thought it was made guys be my friends and what made girls like me.
The real Tyler underneath that hockey mask had to reveal himself and I’m glad he did it this year. When you let singular things define you, you ride an unimaginable roller coaster of emotions and expectations that come with it. My message to the Assumption community is to not let yourself be one-dimensional like I did for so long. Find balance. If you’re a super focused athlete, do something different. Take an art class or study abroad. If you’re a Resident Assistant or typically straight-edge student, go out on a Thursday night and enjoy yourself once in a while.
Work never ends, but college does. Don’t limit yourself now by your own definition of yourself. To be alive and to be a person is to be complicated and defined by multiple things.
Hockey will always be a large part of who I am. But it is just that: part of a complicated human being. At the end of this weird journey, Tyler Stillings the college hockey player may be considered a failure. But Tyler Stillings the person certainly won’t be. I’m excited to see where he goes next.