My strong desire to succeed used to be a source of inner conflict. As a relentless, starry-eyed teen who nursed big dreams, I read the books of countless self-made individuals and noticed a jarring trend: many of them drifted away from their families and were miserable at the summit of success. While for the most part, the negativity of these accounts made it easy to tune them out, their more enduring message lingered in my mind, that if I were to pursue success, I would be lonely.
I eventually picked up the story that escorted me out of this unease and gave my mind a healthy restart: Haruichi Furudate's sports manga series, "Haikyu!!"
In the volleyball court, ambition is the blessing endowed to short players, to make up whatever they lacked in height with strength and jumping prowess. I spotted this almost instantly in Haikyu!!," with its short yet high-spirited protagonist Hinata, who never wasted a second of practice despite only being a high school freshman. He races his peers to school to train in the gym at 5 a.m. and slips into training camps that he was not even invited to. His fixation for greatness, often found in tired stereotype villains, is brandished into a positive driving force that allows him to go toe-to-toe with taller, more elite players like Shiratorizawa Academy’s Ushiwaka. The moment he unconsciously serves a ball that was set for another spiker, I could not stop laughing in my seat; for the first time, I witnessed a shōnen manga protagonist who cares less about being benevolent and more about stretching past the limit of his current abilities.
True to his name, as both the “sunflower facing the sun” and “the man who seeks,” Hinata Shoyo revived a healthier perspective about my brand of idealism. He taught me that it was possible to be both the carefree, energetic, bright-haired boy beloved by all, and still suck every opportunity like a blackhole. Hinata’s duality served as his team’s most formidable weapon against their opponents on the court, who could not fathom how someone of his nature and stature could play the big game. Watching new opponents fall to Hinata time and time again made me realize that we should not lump career-oriented individuals or sunshine personalities into neat little categories. His character helped me embrace the sides of me that were more enterprising and less altruistic, confident that those traits did not erode a kind and sincere personality.
Veering outside Hinata’s latent abilities is nonetheless where I gained the most takeaways. Hinata’s talent and drive shine best in the honesty that he is far from being self-made. The intensity of the match rises as player #10 retreats to the bench. Hinata’s superpower smash provokes enemies because his setter Kageyama precisely sets it up to be that way. To me, this speaks to the truth that the freshman player rides on the collective power of the Karasuno team.
My rapid period of self-growth as an artist was catalyzed by my awkward conversations with the most aloof and intimidating art kids in our batch, asking them to join a community mural team competition that some never even knew existed. The first year we participated, we didn’t finish on time and couldn’t get some of our heavier designs to stand. Those setbacks served as set-ups for future attempts. After years of shooing away roaches and huddling in a cramped room to form our game plan, I feel rejuvenated now at the sight of meters-long empty canvases that I once found daunting. Across our four years of designing murals, I left tournament sites with teammates with matching smudges on our arms, their materials jumbled in my bag in haste. They would stay with me, as would the skills we learned from each other that day.
While “Haikyu!!” masterfully captured the journey of a family growing closer together, I was drawn to people who shared the same ideals and drive — I view this as no accident. Stepping into my inner Icarus, I was not estranging myself, but was leveling up together with people who inspired more faith than fear in reaching for opportunities. Ambition will not push away equally ambitious people. On the contrary, I learned that it lays the foundation for new relationships.
In the words of Hinata, “If I’m not alone, then I might be able to see [the view from the top].” Hanging around a handful of individuals who were just as high-strung as I was, was vital in channeling my mindset of goal-reaching into more compelling periods of growth. They welcomed heart, sentimentality and positive transformation in traditional workspaces that are overlooked by external, surface-level observations of an individual’s rigorous work ethic. Their company gave me a reason to cry over something as commonplace and mundane as high school sports tournaments.
My limited time with these strangers, now seasoned competitors and allies helps me piece together parts of myself outside the stereotype of an isolated achiever as I bloom into adulthood. They propel my desire to succeed, if only to experience the emotional highs once more. In a surprising turn of events, a few of them stuck around for longer, and I had the fortune of welcoming them as lifelong friends.
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