A Former MLS Player Explains Why It’s Okay to Quit Your Dream
Quitting professional football at 26 is almost unheard of, but Ethan White made it work.
In 2019, aged 28, he finally made it to the Champions League final — the pinnacle of club football. But he wasn’t there to play.
Instead, he was there as a photographer.
He quit the game at 26 to become a professional football and lifestyle photographer and has since worked with Jordan and Adidas.
It’s an unusual path, as millions of young boys and girls worldwide dream of playing with big-name players, earning megabucks, and making sporting history.
But it shows the fluidity of life. You might have a singular dream in mind for years, but as you grow, your goals and aspirations change with you.
Here’s why that’s okay.
The underestimated power of knowing your limits
Playing for New York City, White shared the field with Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, and David Villa — legends of the game in the twilight of their careers. While that is certainly no mean feat, White was more realistic than most, telling Sky Sports:
“I would probably never have played in the Champions League final as a player.”
Of course, he would never know, but White didn’t cling on to the hope he may reach those heights. He received an offer to play in Norway, but turned it down, saying:
“If I was going to continue playing, I wanted an experience that was going to be unique. I wanted it to be a life experience I could tell my kids about or I was going to walk away.”
For many, myself included, being able to tell your kids you played professional football is an achievement in itself. But White smartly realised his goals had changed as he grew older, as he “wanted to do something more than football.”
By knowing his limits and having the courage to listen to himself, White’s life changed for the better.
It goes to show that even if you’re living the dream you once held dear, your life can dramatically change. The past version of yourself didn’t have the foresight to know this, and how could they? If anything, the best thing you can do is accept what you love now might not stay the same.
You might have different skills more suited to you anyway.
Disregarded skills can take centre stage
Professional football (or soccer, to my American readers) is a 24-hour thing. You’re constantly managing what you eat, how you relax, the company you keep, and so much more. Naturally, it can be pretty taxing.
White used photography as his escape from the stresses of football, something he hadn’t done since his teens. So, he picked up a camera again and found a talent and a love for it.
He believes his success is partly down to his experience as a football player:
“I feel like it is easier for me because I have been in the shoes of the players. Maybe everyone else is following the ball but I am focusing on the coach on the side. I feel like my knowledge of playing sports allows me to capture the emotion of those moments.”
I’ve experienced something similar myself. I liked studying English literature at school and university, but I never thought the skills I developed would impact my life. But here I am, two years since I graduated, writing full time.
It shows that you aren’t defined by what you do or even what you’re most talented at. Even if you feel you live a boring life, I am sure there are valuable skills you’ve disregarded.
You’re only going to know if they mean a damn when you explore them as Ethan White did. What starts as relaxation can snowball into something else entirely.
It’s possible to have more than one dream
White’s story sticks out more than most because quitting your dream is something many people find difficult to fathom. He sums it up rather nonchalantly:
“I think my mentality was that I had already had one dream come true in my life, why not try for another one?”
Your current dream might not be the same in five years.
You don’t have a compass or a map to guide your way through life. So the best thing you can do for yourself is to listen. Listen to your body. Listen to your mind.
Listen to the changes it yearns for.
There’s bravery in quitting
The term quitting has a bad rep. It doesn’t necessarily mean giving up; it can merely signify change. Quitting something opens up the pathway to start something new.
White, for example, had the bravery to quit his dream for another one. Where he once played for New York City, he’s now the resident artist for Venezia. In 2021, he documented their remarkable rise to the peak of Italian football after 19 years away.
Quitting is uncomfortable. Even if you’re in a job you dislike, for example, staying on might feel like the easier option. That’s understandable, but there’s only one person you’re neglecting: you.
So, if you’re unsure whether to take the leap into the next stage of your life, take a leaf out of Ethan White’s well-photographed book:
“Every day since I decided to stop has been the best day.”