The Worthy Struggle
Jay shares thoughts on the oft used phrase – ‘the thrill of victory’ – and what it really means.
The tougher the struggle, the sweeter the victory. It just seems to work that way. When you really have to push yourself and give it everything you’ve got, the truth is - you’re never really sure whether victory will be there at the end as your ultimate reward. But, as it turns out, it’s not the end result that makes all the difference. It’s the struggle. It’s the intense feeling of being fully engaged. Acting with courage and honor. Building confidence and setting an example for others. The victory over self is what makes all the difference. The process provides the thrill. And ‘victory’ is merely a well-deserved sweetener.
Take for instance the perspective of Serena Williams. A few weeks ago, at the age of 41, Serena, wife, mother to a young daughter, and one of the greatest tennis players of all time with 23 singles majors’ titles, took to the courts at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York City. She arrived at what would likely be her last ever US Open. As the media and fans relished in the moment, replaying, and reliving some of her greatest moments on court, she stayed focused, practicing for her first match against a highly rated opponent. A heavy underdog even with all her accolades, she would go on to win the match in stunning fashion, offering a glimpse of the greatness she still had to offer. Unfortunately, a few days later she would eventually be eliminated from the tournament, yet as she departed Arthur Ashe Stadium, she took an extra moment not just to wave to the adoring crowd, but to observe. When asked about the moment in a post-match press conference, she would repeat something she said a few years earlier during the height of her success, “I like to cherish every victory as best I can.”
In the face of a defeat, and likely the end of her career, it may have seemed an odd thing to say. However, it was a telling statement from a storied champion from humble beginnings about appreciating the work put in day in and day out to achieve her dreams. She would go on to discuss how simply being able to play at such a high level for so many years and to do it in front of such adoring crowds was a victory in itself, regardless of the titles she won along the way. When she left the court that day, it was a moment she took to appreciate what she’d given and what she’d gotten back in return.
When we achieve something in life, it’s often observed as achieving a specific thing, i.e., an award or a promotion, recognition amongst peers. Yet it’s rare that we ourselves take a moment to give ourselves a little credit, admire our ability to accomplish something we put our minds to. We tend to relish in what we receive from others in these moments, without giving ourselves the personal recognition for being able to achieve what it is we set our mind to. That’s not to say that humility isn’t still an important virtue, on the contrary. The ability to internally admire our accomplishments allows us the chance to appreciate where we came from, how we’ve grown, and where we can still grow. It also creates a spirit of healthy competition and sportsmanship amongst peers or a competitor. When we take space for ourselves, it also generally creates an environment for respect and recognition for those we compete with, encouraging healthy competition that can help each of us to continue to achieve. To set an objective, to compete with courage and strength, there is a thrilling victory of personal accomplishment, no matter the result.
Tales of Victory Against All Odds
History is the retelling of past events and often the people involved. One of the most common and powerful ways to do so is through storytelling. Some of the best kinds of stories are those about the underdog. We always like to rally on the side of the underdog. And it’s particularly exciting when the underdog wins against all odds.
This type of storytelling has been around for ages. For example, many of Shakespeare’s plays can be categorized as historical in nature as in the play of Henry V which tells about the real-life Battle of Agincourt. The English had been at war with France for months, and the English army’s numbers were dwindling with no reinforcements in sight while the French had over 3,000 more troops than the English. On October 25th, 1415, Henry V made one more push to defeat the French. Shakespeare writes of Henry’s powerful and moving speech about how he does not wish for any more men because this is going to be a battle of glory, along with his famous quote:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”
Against all odds, the English won, with only 25 casualties and the French over 10,000.
In modern times, this type of storytelling is continued through film. The movie Gettysburg tells of how the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, successfully defended Little Round Top at the battle of Gettysburg against a large contingent of Confederate soldiers. The star-studded film The Longest Day tells the story of the D-Day invasion and the valorous efforts of the Allied troops and how they prevailed against a well-entrenched foe.
Cheering on the underdog is a great storytelling trope, whether through oral tradition, the written word, plays or film, but winning against the odds is very much a real-life experience.
Running Your ‘Own’ Race
,When I was growing up playing sports I always aspired to be like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe Namath, John Havlicek and the other greats. So, no surprise – from Little League on through high school, I played all the team sports. As it turns out, however, being an ‘OK’ high school athlete means that continuing on in team sports becomes a bit of a challenge. So, where can you continue as an athlete? Where to take the competitive spirit and engage in strenuous activity? For me, the answer has been running.
In fact, I will be running in the Bay State Marathon this weekend on Sunday morning. This year doing the ‘Half’ – in Lowell, Massachusetts, running through the city and along – up and down - both sides of the Merrimack River. Truly a great running experience. My kids and I have done the Bay State many times. And while there are typically several thousand runners on the course, one of the neat things about running is that to a large extent, you’re running your own race. You set your own personal goals and then head out there and go for it! Meanwhile, you’re in a crowd of other runners – each on their own personal mission. And even though in a technical sense, you may be in competition with them, you feel a sense of comradery and joy and in essence, a shared mission.
I still remember how great it was running my first 5k, and later on in life running them with my kids. Completing it was a goal, shaving time off each minute is another goal. Running allows the flexibility and the drive to accomplish something. One thing I love about running is the hard stats along with the great things you can do for yourself and your community.
There are the obvious physical and mental benefits. Taking up running has been shown to reduce the chance of heart attack by at least fifty percent. Getting your blood pumping through your veins and being outdoors breathing in fresh air is exhilarating – and gives a mental boost. Releases endorphins, providing a mental clarity – as well as the ‘good feeling’ that you may have heard about and described as the ‘runner’s high.’
And of course, running can easily burn twice as many calories compared to most other athletic activities. The ability to take control of our physical and mental wellbeing by just simply running truly shows the power of setting your own path and creating meaningful differences in your life. Speaking of meaningful, the running community is truly a phenomenal group of people committed to giving back.
Both Karen and I along with our kids have run in dozens of races that help community organizations. From veterans to food banks, the ability to do something that is good for you while supporting a cause in need makes all the difference. It's truly a two-for-one deal.
I encourage you to Google 5k’s in your community and register for one. Whether you walk, run or jog – it will be an uplifting, positive experience. And, however you set your goal, you have the opportunity for personal victory!
Positive Profile of the Week: Carlton Fisk - The Thrill of Victory
This week we are delighted to highlight a New Hampshire native, widely thought to be the Granite State’s most accomplished all-time athlete and who has experienced ‘first-hand’ the ‘thrill of victory, Carlton Fisk.
Game Six of the 1975 World Series is considered one of the best games ever played in Major League history. Carlton Fisk came to bat in the 12th inning, and it was at precisely 12:34 am early on the morning of Oct 22nd that he drove a 1-0 fastball high into the air and down the left-field line. What people remember most is Carlton emphatically trying to 'wave the ball fair' as he ran down to first base. The ball actually hit the bright yellow foul pole in left field and caromed - fair! This dramatic home run gave the Red Sox a 7-6 win over the Cincinnati Reds and forced a Game Seven.
Carlton was born in Bellows Falls, VT in 1947 but only because, as he has often noted, his native Charlestown, NH didn't have a hospital. He grew up playing baseball, soccer, and basketball on Charlestown teams. In baseball he played third base and was also a catcher and pitcher. However interestingly enough it was in basketball that he initially excelled. He was a starter as a sophomore and helped lead Charlestown to an undefeated season and the 1963 NH Class M Championship. While playing in a high school basketball tournament at the Boston Garden, then Celtics owner Walter Brown asked a reporter "You have to tell me - who is that kid?" At UNH, he played both basketball and baseball, but it was the Red Sox who drafted him in the first round of the 1967 amateur draft. It was then that he gave up his dreams of basketball glory because as he put it "I could never be a six-foot-two power forward and play for the Celtics."
"Pudge (his nickname as a young kid) works harder than anyone I know, because he sets goals for himself and then follows through. I think he's the ultimate professional"…said former White Sox manager Jim Fregosi. And as Carlton famously said once in an interview and with his usual passion "You gotta love the game!" Which is why Fisk in 1972 was the first player to be unanimously voted American League Rookie of the year. One major reason is that during that same year he became the first American League catcher to lead the league in triples when he hit nine three-baggers. And why he was among the top offensive catchers in the American League in his eight full seasons with the Boston Red Sox. His best year in Boston was in 1977, when he hit .315 with 26 home runs and 102 runs batted in.
He also holds a number of records:
Oldest catcher in MLB history to hit 20 home runs in a season
Holds the record for most home runs hit after the age of 40
Holds the record for the most years played as a catcher
And the list goes on…
Interestingly the number 72 and 27 are significant. “The number 72 has some meaning for me,” Fisk told the New York Daily News at a press conference announcing his new contract with the White Sox. “It represents the year I broke into the Majors, and also was the year of the birth of my son, Casey. He wore the number 27 in Chicago and is as he would point out the inverse of 72. Even though he played more years with the Chicago White Sox than the Boston Red Sox, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Red Sox.
He is considered one of the best ever to play the game especially as a catcher! He's one of only 10 people to have his number retired by two teams. In 2004, he received the distinction of being the greatest NH athlete of all time. There is even a Disney baseball themed Mickey film which has a catcher named Pudge and hits a home run just as Fisk did in 1975! His passion and perseverance have enabled him to experience the thrill of victory many times over! Congratulations and thank you, Carlton Fisk!
Quotes of the Week: Thrill of Victory
“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.”
“Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”
“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.”
“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride - and never quit, you'll be a winner. The price of victory is high but so are the rewards.”
“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.”
“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.”