A Life Too Short takes a look at the life of German goalkeeper Robert Enke who tragically took his own life in 2009.
It’s hard to imagine why someone like Enke would commit suicide. From the outside, it appeared like had an idyllic life. He was a professional footballer and a goalkeeper for the German national team.
At the time of his death, it was suggested that Enke was going to be Germany’s number-one goalkeeper for the 2010 World Cup.
However good his life appeared on the surface he was wrestling with demons underneath it all.
The book is a terribly sad story about how our demons can get the better of us even when we have so much to live for.
For anyone going through a dark time, or wanting to understand more about depression, this is an essential book to read. It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2011 and is all the sadder as the original concept behind it was for it to be an autobiography.
It’s a harrowing story of a man who saw taking his life as his only option when he had so much to live for.
Table of Contents
A Life Too Short summary
Takeaway 1 – The pressures of sport are not widely appreciated
The loneliest position in football is the goalkeeper. He is the last line of defence, the man tasked with keeping the opposing team at bay.
While the strikers get all the glory, the goalkeeper walks a fine margin. Prevent goals, make spectacular saves and be lauded as a hero. Concede goals, make mistakes and you’re branded a failure.
It’s an unforgiving and brutal existence which requires a lot of self-belief. If your mental strength is not up to the job it can crush you.
Robert Enke was one of the top goalkeepers in Europe, yet he would often let the pressure of being a goalkeeper get to him.
He would take it personally if he made mistakes. While this is normal among sports stars, if taken to the extreme it’s not healthy.
You have the hopes and dreams of thousands of supporters on your shoulders whenever you play. If you let them they will scream for blood, which is what happened when Enke made mistakes while playing for FC Barcelona.
It’s easy for us to criticise sportsmen and women, but we forget that although they are often outliers, they are still human like the rest of us. They are prone to mistakes and they will feel the sting of criticism.
It’s important we remember this before we take to Twitter or any other platform to vent our frustration. These people are under intense pressure. Yes, they are paid well, but would you be able to cope with the intense scrutiny that comes with the job?
The goalkeeper is the loneliest job in football, it only gets lonelier the more criticism the keeper receives.
Takeaway 2 – People with depression can hide it very well
One of the many worrying things about depression is that those who suffer from it often mask it. It’s said that they are some of the best actors in life.
When you imagine people with depression, you picture them sitting in a dark room alone with their thoughts. This is the stereotypical view of depression, but it’s rarely the case.
I remember when I was suffering from panic attacks and anxiety for 6 months in 2017, I was suffering almost daily.
The pangs of anxiety would strike in some of the strangest places. One time it happened while I was teaching, and another when I was in my friend’s car on the way back from a wedding.
Depression follows you around like a black cloud. It’s always there. The need to put on a brave face comes from the belief that no one wants to associate with someone who is suffering from the illness.
However, this has the effect of pushing the problem further down until it pops up again violently. The best thing I did was to acknowledge what I was suffering and be open and honest about it, I found a lot of people were more supportive than I thought they would be.
One of the saddest parts of the book is towards the end when Robert states to his agent and wife that he’s tired. They attribute it to his training sessions, but it hints at a deeper malaise, one that he could not bring himself to reveal to a wider audience, he was suffering from depression.
It’s a sad reality that although we may clock that something is up with someone we don’t acknowledge what it was until it’s too late.
Takeaway 3 – Trying to be the best is not the be-all and end-all
One of the most harrowing lines in A Life Too Short comes from Enke’s father. The stress of maintaining his position and fear of mockery led Robert to think in absolute terms.
“Robert had this way of thinking, that if I’m not the best, I must be the worst,” his father, Dirk says. “And that’s a fundamental aberration.”
This line of thinking is dangerous for anyone, but especially for someone who is prone to depression.
What you’re implying with this mindset is that if you’re not the best, you’re worthless. This mindset is dangerous in many ways but in one fundamental way.
It’s very hard to be the best. No matter what you do, to be the best, you have to beat a whole host of people. Even if you do, there’s no guarantee you will remain so.
It’s a fundamental flaw in thinking that Robert suffered and contributed to his depression.
A better mindset would have been to try and become the best version of himself, instead of trying to be the best in something over which he had no control.
There are only so many things we can control. We have control over how good we can be, but we have no control over how good others can be.
If we let this mindset develop we are setting ourselves up for a fall. Life doesn’t work in absolute terms, it’s grey rather than black and white.
A Life Too Short Review
This A Life Too Short summary has looked at a biographical account of the life of Robert Enke. His story is a tragedy and one that is important to highlight.
On the face of it, Enke had the perfect life. He was a top-class goalkeeper, likely to play in the World Cup for his country. He had a loving wife and daughter.
But underneath it all, Enke was carrying a demon around with him, depression. We tend to think that the most successful in society cannot be depressed because they have everything compared to us.
But this is a fallacy. Often the pressures of these jobs, where people invest a lot in your performance, can weigh down on those who are susceptible to depression.
An important point to consider is how would we cope with the same pressure. Sports stars and pop stars are not superheroes. they’re real people like you and me. They have their ups and their downs.
Enke’s story is important because it is harrowing, but it highlights the importance of talking about mental health. Sport can tend to be a macho environment, but the macho mentality doesn’t take into account the fragility of the human mind.
More compassion, understanding and tolerance are needed. Thankfully, society is moving in the right direction in regard to mental health, but much more can still be done.
Who should read A Life Too Short?
If you’re a football fan, you’ll find this book an invaluable read, even if it can be unsettling at times. Mental health has long been neglected by the sport although it has affected a lot of former players.
Reading A Life Too Short, will give you an insight into the life of a professional footballer and reveal that’s it not the bed of roses that we all think it is.
Anyone suffering from mental health, or recovering from anxiety issues will find the book useful. I’ve suffered from panic attacks myself and could empathise with Robert’s story.