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.