My daughter just got her first car. It’s a 2003 VW Jetta GLS. Navy blue. Stick shift. She graduated from college in June, and started her job a couple weeks ago, which set in motion the need for her own set of wheels. She found the car through family and bought it herself. Thankfully, dad gets to help her learn to drive it. There’s something about learning to drive a stick.
She’d spent the week living with family friends closer to work, so I picked up the car from its owner, and got it registered and inspected. She came home last night and we took it for a spin. She’d practiced a little already on her aunt’s car.
As we drove together, I found myself thinking about metaphors and the ideas of energy, momentum, autonomy, and the shifting of gears.
There’s something beautiful about a manual transmission. Something raw and basic and powerful. It connects the driver to the car, to the street and to the journey in a way that an automatic transmission just can’t. Like so many technological advances, an automatic transmission may make things easier, but not necessarily better. Definitely not more enjoyable. Not as rich.
“Clutch in, neutral.” “OK, first gear, gas, gas – GAS!” “No problem, back to neutral, start it up again.” “Great. Now second gear – straight down.” “Third now, when the tach gets closer to 4000 rpm.” “5th is your highway gear.” “Awesome.”
Different gears allow for travel at different speeds, and allow us to adapt to different circumstances – hills, curves, traffic. Gas provides the energy, and is never more important than when we need to just get moving. Energy gets us going. And once moving, it’s just a question of choosing the right gear. The clutch enables the transition. A physical embodiment of initiative, and sometimes, an instrument of indecision. But when we master the clutch, when we learn to move smoothly up and down through the gears, when we just allow ourselves to feel the car and let our arms and legs and eyes work as they should, the driving becomes effortless and the sights and sounds of the drive are fully realized. We lose our “self” in the process.
And when the moment of insight hits, when we realize something transcendent about an experience, it’s usually because we get past the mechanics of it all, and allow ourselves to just be with what it is, whatever that IS – be it sailboat racing, exercise, reading or just breathing. When we relax into what it is, the space deepens, it gets simple; we’re in the process.
“Out in the woods
Or in the city
It’s all the same to me
When I’m drivin’ free
The world’s my home
When I’m mobile”
~ The Who
At one point last night Brett realized that if she wasn’t anticipating changing speeds soon – that is, not expecting to go faster or slower, she could just take her foot off the clutch, relax and enjoy the spaciousness of the drive at night, with her dad, sunroof open through the Point Road woods on a Friday night. From the passenger seat I watched her in profile. I felt her ease with which she began to find mastery, and the mystery in the driving. The satisfaction in a new set of wheels and all that it represents. Side by side, a dad and his daughter. Driving around on a summer night enjoying the ride.
About 30 seconds after I started jogging this morning, the wind shifted, picked up and rain started falling sideways into me. I felt it mostly on my chest and the top of my head, fittingly, the places under which are my heart and my mind. It seemed cold and uncomfortable. Or maybe not.
My mind immediately said “stop, go back, get a jacket.” And went on to say “you’ve had no breakfast, you’ll have no energy, it can wait till tomorrow.” But my heart said – “been here before, it’s all an illusion – the discomfort, the pain, the unpreparedness – just go.” Then added: “you’ve had coffee, that’s all you need!” So I went. As I rounded the next bend, I didn’t feel the rain anymore or the wind. I had a good jog, and noticed lots of things I hadn’t seen before. It felt good. Not really difficult.
The universe has a radio station called: “excuses, avoidance and weakness.” The signal can be very strong. It’s so easy for our minds to naturally find and tune in to that station. But we can change the station, we can even block the signal. We just have to recognize when the dial gets stuck or if it’s become the default station. So reset the presets. Let your heart pick the frequency. Shed the jacket. Just go.
Every one of these points has exact parallels in the game of life too.
1: Love the game. In order to get better at something, you have to love doing it. You have to have passion and energy for it. You have to have joy when you play. That has to come from within and drives you to want to be the best.
2: Put in the work. You have to be willing to work at your game on your own. This can mean practicing on your own before school, on weekends or after practice ends. If you just rely on adults/outside influences to push you to get better, you won’t do enough. If you love the game, you love the work. Because the work will seem fun.
3: Master the fundamentals. You can do this on your own. Play wall ball as much as possible, and do change of direction/footwork drills. Just like you learn to master multiplication tables to do math, or the sounds of letters to learn to read, so it is with lacrosse training. You have to master one level to go to the next. If you put in the work, you master the fundamentals.
4: Be a great team member. Lacrosse is a team sport. So is life. Success depends on how well team members work together. This depends on unselfishness. Practice being unselfish – on and off the field. The best teams are full of unselfish team oriented players. Take unselfishness to the next level – compassion. It will make you feel good.
5: Learn the game. Be curious about how the game works. How does settled offense work? Transition? Team defense? How do these systems work, what are we trying to accomplish? Study the game and learn it as a coach would. Einstein said “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
6: Never Give Up. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about anyway. It’s about the striving, not the wins and losses.
Have you ever considered how important it is to be encouraging? Do you consider yourself to be a leader? Whether you know it or not, whether you are 10 or 100, you are a leader. Because you influence others. Perhaps you are in a management position at a company, leading a team. Or, the owner of a small business. Or perhaps you have kids, parents, siblings. Friends. Whether you realize it or not, you have influence, and because of that, you are a leader. We all are, to some degree.
I have 2 golden retrievers ages 6 and 10 with very different personalities. “Bear,” the younger one, seems to care only about retrieving and eating, in that order. “Simba” has a broader worldview, loves the beach, and the discovery of new scents each morning. He doesn’t care much for retrieving, rather he seems to see it as a boring obligation to his breed. I walk them daily, and on our longer walks I can tell when they start to get tired. Simba especially gets tired but keeps trying because he loves his walks. When I notice the fatigue though, all I need to do is say “Good Dogs!” or something to that effect, with a genuine positive tone – and something cool happens. They perk up, and they walk a little faster. I can literally feel the energy. And as a result I perk up too, and walk a little faster. For a time, the 3 of us have a little more energy, maybe even a little more “courage.” We just create it. Nature reveals another lesson.
I realized what I’m doing when I say that to my dogs – is more than just praise. It’s encouragement. And this cute experience with my dogs gave me with the insight to write this post. Encouragement is important. Critical really. And like so many other good things, it’s free and unlimited. We just have to choose to use it. It’s important because it’s about courage. But it’s more too – it’s about giving someone else courage.
To me anyway, courage means the absence of fear. It’s root is the Latin word “cor” which means “heart.”
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”
It takes courage to do that. Courage means just doing, just acting on our intentions and not thinking our way out of our good intentions. I think courage is an every day type thing. It can be mundane – making that phone call, sending the letter, doing the run, making the effort, starting the project. It doesn’t need to be “heroic” – but it can be. To be courageous is to step through the fear and just do it. Courage is really important to success and contentment. Happiness too, can spring from courage. Courage is a choice. And it can become a habit. We all yearn to be courageous. And we all need to be.
Too many leaders fail to encourage. They keep encouragement to themselves as if it’s a precious gem. They fail to understand that encouragement comes from an unlimited well. Then they fail as leaders and wonder why. Given the importance of courage, we as leaders need to encourage others. En – Courage. Tell a friend they can do it. Tell the kids you’re teaching or coaching that they can do this. Tell your kids that you notice when they are trying hard. Encourage them to keep doing it. Tell a colleague they can get it done. Tell your friend, spouse, partner in some way shape or form that you’ve “got their back.”
Let your encouragement know no bounds. When you see an example of courage – when you see that heavy out of shape stranger jogging, when you see the kid in a wheelchair, or the old man struggling to walk – dammit say to them “good work!,” “you can do it,” “don’t give up.” Give ‘em a thumbs up, a wink, an acknowledgement. Clap your hands. And it’ll come back to you too. Remember too, to encourage yourself.
So, who are you going to encourage today?
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this . . . I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Just thought I’d reach out to you this morning. Wow. You have a big job ahead of you. Big job. But the most intense challenges in life bring out our very best, right?
Lots of emotion this morning in the airwaves. Lots of people angry, upset, afraid. Others are triumphant, beating their chests in victory. Some people said they were moving – leaving the country. I’m not. I took a long walk with my dogs. I’m here.
Don, I believe our country is one people. We all live here within these borders. I think it’s about US. About OUR collective future, and that for our kids. I’m 52 years old and I have a lot more living to do. I have two in college and they sure have a lot more living to do. And I’ve learned through some of my own life challenges that when things are tough and difficult the thing to do is to face those challenges head on. The only way out, is through right? With grace.
I believe deep down that your heart is good. I believe the heart of every human is basically good. You’ve made mistakes in your 70 years of living. But who hasn’t? I believe you regret those mistakes. I have to believe that. More importantly, I believe that you have learned from them – and that you are a better person for having made them and learned from them. While I’ve been concerned about your mercurial temperament, I must say that I was somewhat relieved by your conciliatory and gracious victory speech earlier this morning. I believe. I have to. I want to. Faith.
You see Don, you’re our leader now. No matter who anyone voted for, WE elected YOU. (It’s not lost on me that I’m stating the obvious). OUR nation elected you. And we need to pull together now to get it done. And you of course as President have to lead us. And while I said I liked that nice conciliatory victory speech, words are easy. Talk, is cheap. It’s what you do now that really matters. Somehow I think you know that. I think your fellow Americans are ready to get this done.
I believe Don, that the crucible you just entered will bring out only the best in you. I have to believe that. You won the election. Time now, to win the hearts of our nation and the world. I believe that the fighter in you will drive you to help us all to be a better, more united nation. A nation that believes in morals and ethics. A nation that believes in education and our young people. A nation that honors our oldest members, and our veterans, and seeks to work together with all nations in the world to make this planet better. For after all, we’re ALL – all 7 billion of us – in this thing together. And we as humans have an incredible propensity for self-destruction. It doesn’t need to be so. But I’m an idealist . . . Help us to collectively realize that we can do this Don. We – all of us, can pull together to elicit positive change and to create a better reality than what we are settling for these days.
Your Republicans control the House and Senate. Now is the time to work together with everyone to pass laws that benefit the common good. I think this is what you say you will do, right? You talked the talk. Now walk the walk. It’s going to require a ton of courage Don. Dig deep into your heart for that’s where the real truths are. I’m betting that again, the gravity of this situation will elicit the best from your colleagues – democrat and republican alike. That the crucible of leadership for you all will boil down to your character and the innate decency of humanity for again – I believe it is in the heart of every human. I believe you have the guts, Don. I have to believe that.
Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll give you a clean slate. I’ll believe that you will try your very best to bring us together and to create positive change. I’ll look into the eyes of strangers and embrace their humanity. Their frailties, their doubts, their weaknesses. And I’ll celebrate their victories large and small. I’ll try to connect with them. I’ll try my best to do that – to connect – as humans, not as races, not as states, not as urban or suburban, rich or poor. Just humans. Here, on the planet, working together as a team in this game of life. I’ll believe in you Don.
Best of luck,
The famous Indian civil rights leader and peace activist Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi (1869-1948) uttered many wise words. My personal favorite comes from this account: He was in a train station in Bengal and was being pursued by a journalist, who of course wanted to get an interview with the famous man. As Gandhi rushed to get aboard the train, the intrepid journalist asked if he could just simply have a message for the people. To which Gandhi replied: “My life is my message.” In a time of politics characterized by insincerity, selfishness and greed, Gandhi reminds us what true leadership means.
Gandhi sheds light on this critical insight that, after all, it’s how we live – not what we say – that really matters. That’s how we influence, inspire and lead others. Moreover, how we live is, fundamentally, the message we are communicating to others. So it begs the question: How are we living? This question is an important one in that everyone to some extent, influences others. We are all, therefore, capable of leadership. Corporate executives, elected officials and public servants have the responsibility to lead well. It is especially important for those in positions of influence over young people – the teachers, coaches, and parents of the world. For in the positive influence of young people lies the greatest opportunity for lasting and beneficial change.
“Gandhi, the greatest political genius of our time, has pointed the way. He was shown of what sacrifices people are capable once they have found the right way. His work for the liberation of India is a living testimony to the fact that a will governed by firm conviction is stronger than a seemingly invincible material power.” ~ Einstein
Whether we become a leader of a nation, a community, a family, or are simply just a good friend, the point is that we all have the capability to lead. When we live our life in accord with the ideals of empathy, compassion, humility and helpfulness – ideals that fall under the general notion of kindness, we connect with others through our heart. We’re seen as authentic, trustworthy, believable. We become selfless in our interest in helping those around us and in living our convictions. We follow the heart’s guide as we navigate the choppy waters of a complex world filled with suspect messages brought to us through the incessant onslaught of social media and television. Too often we sabotage our best intentions by obscuring the heart’s message, we overthink, we hesitate in doubt, and allow our complicated and sometimes fearful minds to take us in a direction away from the simple truths. When this happens we’re seen as “fake” and insincere. Leadership becomes impossible. We live with a heart of conflict. But we don’t have to. We all have the ability to live our lives true to our heart.
But in order to lead and to inspire, we need to dig to find out what we really believe in, what ignites the spark in our heart. When we find our true passion then we can begin to share that passion with others in ways that influences and inspires them to do the same. Gandhi was driven by a vision of an independent, self ruling India. We all have of our own unique vision and ideals. Efforts to create progress in environmental programs, education, homelessness and poverty are examples of ideals that spark vision and passion. Not all ideals have to be so large scale and encompassing though. Individuals can create change and progress in communities, neighborhoods, schools, teams and families through the commitment to lasting ideals of selflessness, mindfulness, effort, action, discipline and determination.
So – What’s your life? What’s your message?
I’m moving. Sometime last fall it hit me that it was time to get moving—in all aspects of that phrase. I’d been with the same employer for 21 years, and been living in the same house for 11. My youngest had just left for college and I began to feel it. At first I wasn’t sure what it was, but as I listened to it; as I felt it inside me, I knew what it was. I’ve had the feeling before, but not for a long time. Time to move.
In some important ways I was already moving. But what I was feeling in my gut was bigger. Bigger than just growing more in place. And it wasn’t that I just needed change. I could create change standing still. I’d been doing that already. No, not just change. Static change wasn’t enough. I needed to move.
A few chapters ago in my life, I moved a lot. It was youthful frequent movement. My post college life was a vision of movement. I moved back home for a couple months, then moved to my first job. I wrote press releases and was an assistant lacrosse coach at my alma mater. And while I was in familiar environs, it was different. I had a job. I was moving. When I moved “back” to start my job, everything material that was important to me fit into my 1980 Ford Pinto. A big duffle bag. A big stereo. A bike. And when I left there two years later to return home to Boston, everything near to me still fit into that car. Miraculously, the car still worked. I was 23 and I haven’t forgotten the wistful feeling of driving north on route 95, all my possessions in my hatchback, a good tape in the player, eyes open to possibility.
When my son went off to college last fall I made a promise to myself that I’d get moving again. A major life change had jolted my world and I just couldn’t envision staying much longer in my house in the woods. I knew I needed to move, and once I made the decision to move—actually, once I got moving—good things followed in my life. It’s like that in life, good things can’t follow until you get moving. Nothing follows a person standing still. And you have to trust your gut and just run with it.
Moving out of a house I lived in with my late wife was difficult. It was physically and mentally challenging. In the end it was liberating. At one point in the process, I put an eight-foot folding table at the bottom of my driveway. For a few days I made a morning ritual of putting things on it that I knew I didn’t want to keep but thought someone may like. Colorful little vases, kitchen utensils, old lacrosse sticks, stuff like that. I painted “FREE” on the back of the plywood sign that out builder had made 12 years earlier and that on the flip side had an architectural drawing of our home and the title “Bidstrup Residence.” Everything I put on the table was taken away to a new home. Everything. I’m glad about that. I went away for a long weekend and discovered that they took the table away too. All that was left was the “Free” sign. It hit me then. I was free.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” ~ Robert Frost
Moving is part of our being. It’s healthy. Think about it—to stay in good physical shape we need to move. How nice it is to walk through the woods or along the shoreline. As we move our perspective shifts, literally and figuratively. A new vantage point leads to new insight and discovery. Players move on a field of play in order to open up angles for passing and shooting. The natural world is full of movement especially as seasons change. As I write this I’m on the Maine coast. The sunsets are coming a little earlier now. It’s late August. The water feels cooler, and I’m wearing my sweatshirt more often now. Birds are moving. Boats too. Heading south ahead of the raw weather that will come as surely as the harvest moon that will rise in a month.
I chatted with a friend on a ferry boat yesterday. We talked about moving. He’d moved 16 times in 22 years. He was smiling and had a twinkle in his eye as he was getting ready to move again.
As I enter a new life chapter I expect it to remain full of movement. I’m looking forward to the movement and new vistas that will enter my field of view. I can’t anticipate what they will look like. I expect though that with movement new vantage points will offer me heretofore hidden insights. Insights into life’s mystery, and the places and people that I will share my time with. As I accelerate, distinct shapes give way to the blur of my peripheral vision. My car of choice is still an old one—’93 Land Cruiser, I gotta few great playlists on the iPad, eyes open to possibility. Moving. Happily. Are you?
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” ~ Semi-Sonic “Closing Time”
The following is a speech I gave to our school community. It’s about 15 minutes long. If you couldn’t already tell, it’s about what it means to Never Give Up
The German poet and philosopher Johann Goethe said:
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.
Recently, a friend forwarded me an article which appeared in Inc. Magazine. It was written by Jessica Stillman and is titled “You can train yourself to have more grit.” Stillman examines what a growing group of researchers are finding. Researches like university of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth are finding that when it comes to success, one factor reigns supreme – grit. Steven Southwick of the Yale School of Medicine, and Dennis Charney at Mount Sinai in New York City spoke with, among others, U.S. special forces soldiers, and Pakistani earthquake victims. They identified 10 factors that allow the most resilient among us to keep going. They are: Facing fear, having a moral compass, drawing on faith, using social support, having good role models, being physically fit, making sure your brain is challenged, having cognitive and emotional flexibility, having meaning purpose and growth in life, and having realistic optimism.
This morning, I’m treating you as you ought to be.
I’m talking about resilience. I’m talking about what it means to Never Give Up. I’m sharing my personal experience.
My late wife Molly fought a very aggressive type of cancer for 13 months. She did so with uncommon strength, dignity and grace. She’d return home after chemo sessions, cheerfully see visitors, spent time with me and the kids, even keep up with her gardening – and never complained. Never. In April of 2013, when her son Larsen asked for a motto for the lacrosse season, she said “Never Give Up.” That phrase has become a touchstone, a rallying cry for me, our family, and my friends.
While Molly took her last breaths we held her hands and formed a circle – Her parents, children Brett and Larsen, me, and her 4 sisters. As she was leaving our world of form, as her spirit left her body, she mouthed the word “Love” over and over again.
And at that moment, I felt a strength within me that I’d never known before. And I knew I’d Never Give Up.
Something that has always fascinated me about my coaching is the mental aspect of sports. Many years ago as a young coach, in an effort to build a winning program, I began reading about mental toughness. What was it? Who had it? How can it be developed? How can I teach resilience, flexibility, adaptability to my players? I learned much about how athletes and teams apply mental techniques and approaches in order to be able to perform at their very best. Mostly, I learned about how successful human beings handle adversity. That nothing worthwhile came without difficulty. I tell my players that all the time. Now here I was. My turn. The Coach. In my own game of life. Coaching myself. Against an opponent as formidable as any I could imagine. At the worst times during Molly’s illness, it seemed like I had no chance at winning, I was so far out of the game. If the mercy rule existed in my game of life I think the refs might have called it. But they didn’t. And I rallied. I “figured it out” as my dad, a long-time coach and educator often said to his charges. I won. Because I didn’t give up.
And just as the rewards of being a coach are in the fulfillment of playing a role in the personal growth of my players, it occurred to me that my own personal fulfillment and satisfaction lies in my own growth. In that way, I’m my own coach. You are your own coach.
As I put this talk together, I remembered receiving a moving and poignant letter from her doctor, Philippe Armand just a few days after her passing. I remembered that it touched on Molly’s never give up attitude. It captures her spirit that I want remembered today. This is the letter. I tried to paraphrase it but That didn’t do it justice, so I’m reading it to you in its entirety.
“Dear all: In writing this letter, I realize this: Whenever I think of Molly and whenever I think of any of you, the same image comes across, indelible. It is Molly’s face, jaundiced, circular by steroids. I am so used to stepping away from this image, to worry about the next treatment for her, to worry about her pain and suffering, to worry about you, about your future without Molly. But today I don’t. I let it be there and I sit and I watch it.
It is an unusual face from an unusual journey. It speaks to the suffering of the body, the weight of treatments and the inexorable advance of the cancer. It speaks to the loss of resistance. The gradual and inevitable encroachment on a face of beauty of hues and shapes that don’t belong there. And it speaks to the passing of Molly’s body, against all of our wills, and certainly against hers. But that is just the language of hues and shapes, and those voices are faint. The resonant voice is the voice of love and laughter. In the same face there is a smile so wide it could swallow the world. It speaks to the resistance of spirit, the spirit that never gives up, come what may. If I understand Molly, this was not fighting for fighting’s sake. It is the spirit that never gives up because the fight itself is the expression of love, for the world, for its gardens, and for all of you. That fight is without anger, resentment or aggression; it is waged with warmth, kindness and grace, with all the qualities that make Molly who she really is.
The image is so clear, so poignant in its truth. What we have lost – you who loved her so much, we who found such honor in helping care for her, we who loved her so much too – is not Molly. It is the hues and the shapes under which her grace walked this earth. Those are but the shadows that lined her smile. May we see her now and forever in her true hues and shapes. The hues of flowers that bloom in spring, die in winter, and bloom again in other fields and in other years, the shape of the stars that draw our eyes some night, and shine just as brightly by day, though we cannot see them. The image of Molly’s face, now and forever, is the face of the sun. May its blazing beauty and warmth light your lives, and ours, along with the light of so much that is beautiful and graceful that has come and gone, and that until the end of time, long past the end of us, will come and go again.”
Our lacrosse team staggered through the rest of the 2014 season. We finished with an against all odds win versus the first place team in which we came back from a 3 goal deficit in the 4th quarter to win in overtime. It was greatest victory I have ever been a part of. After the game we posed for a team picture on the grass hill around the words Never Give Up that Liam Brine had spray painted in huge letters. I cherish that photograph and that memory. I take strength from that memory. They Never Gave Up.
A couple weeks after that game, I took Brett and Larsen and the dogs up to Maine to be with family and to work their summer jobs. That was a really tough summer spent mostly alone. I was really down. But I also knew I didn’t want to stay sad. It’s a bad way to live. Gradually I fought my way back to health and happiness and today, I can say I’m as happy and healthy as I’ve ever been. Life is good, wonderful really, and I feel truly blessed. I’m as free as a bird now.
Growth happens through challenge. Struggling and succeeding through my own personal challenge has given me the confidence to believe that I can do anything I set my mind to. So, I recently decided to lose 35 pounds. On Sunday, Mother’s Day, I’m going to do 500 push-ups. Why not?
I’m fond of this quote by the Irish author Frank O’Connor:
…how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall—and then they had no choice but to follow them.
Where’s your hat? Where’s your wall? Never Give Up.
The road less travelled makes all the difference – because it’s harder. Because that road makes you better. Be thankful for your challenges, don’t avoid them. The only threat to your personal growth and happiness is your avoidance of challenges. And if you don’t think you have a challenge, make one up for yourself. Invent one. It can be physical or otherwise, but create one for yourself. Start small and work your way up to bigger ones. Life is full of challenges and difficulty. Embrace them. Feel yourself growing as you take on challenge after challenge. With a big smile on your face. It’s really your only choice anyway. And you’ll start to love it. The feeling of growth, of challenges met. The feeling of winning. Every day. Anything less is to live only a partial life. And the cool part is: It’s just a choice.
Here’s what Never Give Up means to me. First: Never give up on yourself. Because if you give up on yourself, you can’t do anything. Game over. You’re done. If you give up on yourself, you have nowhere to begin. You have no base, no foundation, no point, no direction. And if you give up on yourself, you’re letting the rest of us down. We’re your team mates. In the game of life. And we need everyone playing at their best. If we all play our best in the game of life, humanity wins. The world needs this from you. Your best effort. So don’t give up. Because once you believe in yourself, you can then help others to believe in themselves. That’s teamwork.
There’s a lot of different ways that people give up. Some are obvious – they just quit something. Maybe it’s school, or their job, or they quit the team. Some quit their community. Others quit their wife, husband, kids, their family. It happens all the time. It’s easy to quit. And quitters never win. Never.
But giving up takes less obvious forms than overt quitting. And these forms are in some ways more harmful, because they mask themselves in acceptance. These forms of giving up live in the realm of rationalization. And when these forms of giving up become rationalized as OK, entire groups of people become affected. That’s when teams give up, when schools and organizations give up, when communities give up. Yes even nations give up. Giving up is a plague. So Never Give Up.
These are some examples of what I’m talking about here:
Cynicism is a form of giving up. Cynicism is a general state of distrust. A lack of faith. When we are cynical, we’ve given up on faith.
Worry is a form of giving up. Worry is a mental state of anxiety and unease where we allow our mind to dwell on troubles that likely will never come. We allow our mind to create an anxious and troubled future. When we worry, we’ve given up on today.
When we cling to regret, we’ve given up. When we stay stuck in regret, we’ve also given up on today.
When we gossip about others, we’ve given up. Gossiping is casual conversation about other people or groups which includes detail that isn’t confirmed as true. When we gossip, we’ve given up on truth.
When we are lazy we’ve given up. Lazy means unwilling to work or use energy. Unwilling to use the energy that life itself has provided to us. When we are lazy we are unproductive. We create a gap between who we can be, and our self-limiting laziness. We let our bodies decline. Lazy minds follow. When we are lazy, we’ve given up on action.
When we are jealous we’ve given up. Jealousy is resentment toward someone because of their success. When we are jealous, we’ve given up on contentment.
When we hate, we’ve given up. Hate is an intense aversion to someone or something. Hate is derived from fear, usually imagined fear. Its base is insecurity. When we hate, we’ve given up on understanding.
When we are indifferent, we’ve given up. When we are indifferent, we’ve lost interest. We’ve lost passion. When we are indifferent, we’ve minimized importance. We lose connection. When we are indifferent, we don’t care. When we are indifferent, we’ve given up on compassion.
When we are afraid we’ve given up. When we live in fear, we’ve given up on the most important of all emotions. When we live in fear, we’ve given up on Love.
So Never Give Up.
Why am I saying this to you today? Just maybe it’s my way of growing Molly’s Garden forward. She did have a way of making things beautiful. She saw the best in nature, and people. She didn’t give up on anyone or anything.
So, to Jimbo Cahill, Peter and Dottie Bragdon, Johnny Willett, Donoto Frattaroli Sr., Lori Martin and my other friends who are battling cancer: Never Give Up.
To Joe Harris, who’s oceangoing karma bus rolls into Newport Harbor tomorrow after 6 months at sea sailing around the world alone. Never Give Up.
To the Dunne family who lost their dear Casey last fall: Never Give Up.
To Molly’s dad Frank Farrington, who had a major stroke in January and is fighting his way back: Never Give Up.
To the guy who embodies this message, Marty Doggett, who’s doctors told him 8 years ago that he had less than a year to live. Never Give Up.
To the Red Dogs, who just won two overtime games in a row against two of the best teams in our league: It’s a privilege to play a part in your growth as young men. I know you’ll Never Give Up. You show me that every single day.
To my friends who walk shoulder to shoulder with me on our journey together. I am so thankful for you: Let’s Never Give Up, together.
To all my colleagues here at The Governor’s Academy: Never Give Up.
To the students and alumni of this great school: Never Give Up.
To Molly’s mom Dare, and Molly’s sisters Joan, Kate and Ginny: Never Give Up.
To Molly’s identical twin sister Ann, a breast cancer survivor. Never Give Up.
To my mom, dad and sisters Laurie and Robin: Never Give Up.
To my son Larsen, who’s eternal optimism and love for every moment of life inspires me every day: Never Give Up
To my daughter Brett, who’s strength, courage and altruism knows no limit: Never Give Up.
To anyone else who hears or reads this. Anyone who’s struggling, anyone who’s in the battle, in the fight, Never Give Up. You’ll get there. You will persevere. You will win.
And to Molly – I told you I’d Never Give Up.
As you walk out those doors right there, I ask you to make yourself a promise. Promise yourself that you’ll do what I did two years ago when I walked through them after eulogizing Molly on this very podium. Promise yourself that you’ll walk out those doors, and you’ll Never Give Up.
At the beginning of each season I share a letter with the parents of the boys on my team. It’s a way to tell them where I stand on certain things, and to share some of what I’ve learned over the years in a way that might help them to help our team. We all have a stake in this and as a coach I have the unique role of being a “middle man” so to speak. I first started doing this some years ago after seeing a letter that Dom Starsia, the Virginia coach, allowed US Lacrosse to share. It evolves a little bit each season. Here it is:
As we prepare for our competitive season, I wanted to share some thoughts with you. This is a letter that has evolved for many seasons, and one that I hope will help your boys to have the best experience they can, individually but more importantly, as a team. As a parent, you play a key role in the success of our team. As a parent of two college aged kids of my own, what follows is partly my take on being a good sports parent, and partly how you can help and support the Red Dogs. You may not agree with everything I say here. That’s OK, but I want you to know where I stand.
The Red Dogs have three core values as a team, and also a motto. We talk a lot about this stuff and as coaches our goal is that it becomes part of who we are as a team and as individuals. The core values are: “Selfless” “Committed” and “Creative.” Our motto is “Never Give Up.” When we self-evaluate, we reflect on these words and ask ourselves how we are measuring up.
Your boys no doubt need and expect your support. They may not often say that to you, but it’s true. And you don’t need to be overly vocal on the sidelines to make your support known to them. A simple “good luck today” or “give it your best” is enough for them to know you’re there. Which brings me to my next point: As a coach, I try very hard to impart to the boys that all we can do is give it our very best shot. We can control the process – the work, the preparation, the approach, the attitude. But we can’t control the outcome. We can’t control the weather, the officiating, or injuries. And the opponent always has a say. We can’t control how good the other team is. So we don’t really focus on “winning” – because we can’t control that part. In fact, I try not to use that word too much – even though our goal is always to win the game, and for many years that part has taken care of itself pretty well. But we know that if we prepare the best we can, if we try hard and stay positive, if we do our best to execute and support our teammates . . . if we work together as a team, then we’ll give ourselves the best chance to win. And that’s the irony. We try to stay in the process, we don’t focus on the outcome. Because if we focus on the outcome (winning/losing), it messes up the process (players tighten up and get nervous), which in turn affects the outcome! Life works that way too right?
In my opinion, the best thing you can say to your son is to encourage him to give it his very best – in practice, every day. You can encourage him to support his team mates, take advice willingly from his coaches, and to stay positive and team-oriented. I stay in touch with many of my former players, the oldest of whom are approaching 40. What they remember is the feeling of being part of a team. They remember what it means to be a Red Dog. The work, the commitment, the togetherness. The laughs, the tears. Being part of something bigger than themselves. That’s where we are going with this group. That stuff lasts a lifetime. And if we can hang another banner on the alumni gym wall, that’s a bonus.
After a game, players tend to need time to come back from being a “performer” to being just a regular kid. They need time and space. And though I’m sure they want to see you, they probably don’t want to talk a lot about the game, or about specifics. I know they don’t want to answer questions. Even when we win, players tend to think about ways they can improve, they process stuff from the game for hours afterwards. And that’s good in general. What they really don’t need is advice or criticism in those moments after a game. Knowing you are there and seeing you is sometimes all that is necessary. They just want you to be mom or dad. They already have a coach.
Sometimes knowing you are there and not seeing you is fine too. Kids don’t want us as parents to be invested too much in what they do – because if we care too much we suggest that it’s as (or more) important to us as parents than to them as kids. It’s their thing – let them own it, and be careful not to let on that you are making too big a deal about it lest they think you are more invested in “their” thing than you really should be – or worse, more invested in it than they are. And that’s different than wanting to know what they are up to on a weekend or where they are going. I’m talking strictly about the sport here, not other areas though I’d say a similar approach works best with academics and other activities as well. Be supportive, be interested, but the kids need to know it’s their thing not ours.
Cheer for all the players, not just your own son. Better yet, cheer for other players more than you cheer for your own. That reinforces the notion of team. I tell our guys that everyone on the team has a role, everyone has a purpose, everyone has an equal stake in how we do. Some play more than others in games because some are more talented. I tell them too that being a good athlete doesn’t make them a good person. Being nice, and being kind to others matters a whole lot more than being a great athlete. I also tell them that they should try to define themselves by a lot of other factors than lacrosse, or sports. Because someday relatively soon, sports will be over and they will have to be the person they are going to be. Hopefully their athletic experience, and their experience of being a Red Dog will help them in their post sports journey. At least that’s how I approach all of this.
Ok – Enough philosophy. But I think it’s important for you to know where I am on this stuff.
Over the years I’ve been at plenty of games – both at Govs, in town and elsewhere and heard plenty of parents scream at referees. Never in that time have I seen a referee change a call because he got yelled at by a parent. More often than not, I think that kind of thing works against a team. We tell our players all the time to keep their mouths shut when the ref makes a call. We can’t play the game without referees. I know most of them and they are regular guys – nice guys who like to stay involved with the sport. If there’s a problem, I try to address it. They try their best. They are human and most of the time they get it right. So please, please stay off the referees. It’s unbecoming for our school, our Red Dog group, and in theory I am supposed to address it if and when it occurs. I’d really not like to be in that position during a game.
I expect from time to time there will be a player and or fan(s) from an opponent who are less than sportsmanlike – everyone makes mistakes in the heat of the moment. On our team we tell our guys to stay above the garbage, honor the game and play to the best of their ability. If an opponent does the wrong thing, we’ll take the penalty and hopefully score. But please under no circumstances say anything to an opposing player (or coach or fan) that isn’t positive. Our players hear our coaches compliment opposing players pretty regularly. And, as I tell our players – we all share something in common. Probably a lot more than our players think. Our opponents bring out the best in us. We can’t play the game without them. They are all good kids.
We are so fortunate to have such a great group of players and parents involved with our school, and lacrosse program. Thanks for all of your support.