May 29. “You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” (Mike Ditka)
In sports, winners and losers are determined at the end of a prescribed time or other period of play. When the final out is made, or the buzzer sounds, or whatever determines the end of play, the game is over and the totals are tallied. Thankfully, that isn’t how it works in the rest of life.
In truth, life isn’t about winning and losing. Using wins and losses to measure things is a zero sum game. In any event, there can be but one winner, and the other team or teams are losers. But in life, everyone can win, and everyone can be considered a loser.
The connotation of being a loser in life is quite harsh. It implies that a person’s will and soul have been defeated. It isn’t just a bump in the road, or a temporary setback. Being a loser at life is far more degrading. The good news is, we all can control whether we are losers in life, or merely someone who is a work in progress.
In this short, concise quote, Mike Ditka reminds us that it is up to us to determine whether or not we are losers. If I choose to give up at something in my life, then and only then have I lost. As long as I am still putting forth effort, as long as I have not lost hope, as long as I am persevering, then I have not lost. But, the moment that I quit trying, I am declaring a loss.
Here is another great part about life. Even if I decide to quit trying on something, and the loss seems complete, as long as I am still breathing and living, I have the chance to start trying again. Just because I put something down for a time and decide that I have given up, I almost always have the chance to go back later and restart. The restart may be difficult, and it might mean that I take several steps back from where I was when I quit, but the chance is still there.
When I was a child, my mother often said to me “quitters never win, and winners never quit.” She used that to motivate me to continue on in whatever I was doing. She drilled into me the idea that once I start something I needed to see it to conclusion. That notion has stayed with me in life. Anytime I have ever quit doing something – even if my reasons were solid – her words have echoed in my head.
One of the most vivid examples in my childhood of this concept was my 7th Grade Ohio Report. My children know that this was a big deal to me. My 7th grade class had a long assignment (maybe 6 weeks), to do a report on the state of Ohio (where I grew up). The report covered many aspects of the history and economy of the state. For it I had to do library research, type up my findings, write short stories, draw pictures and graphs, and much more. I started working on it the day I got the assignment. It was worth 200 points, and a substantial portion of my Social Studies grade.
The Saturday before it was due, my Big Brother from the Catholic Big Brothers did a proof read for me. That was a crushing experience. He found spelling errors and grammar errors on nearly every page. This was in the days of using a manual typewriter, so edits meant that I had to re-type entire pages at a time. I must have had 20 pages to do.
He left around lunch time on Saturday, and I started working. I stayed up late that night, spent all day Sunday, and stayed up late on Sunday night as well. Well over 2/3 of all the pages I’d done were re-typed, and carefully checked. At times I was frustrated as I repeated mistakes midway down a page and had to start again. I remember putting my head down on my bed and crying because I thought I’d never get it done.
Finally around 11:00pm on Sunday, I pulled the last page out of the typewriter and re-assembled the pages in the folder to turn in. A week later we got back the reports, and I had scored in the upper 190s, setting the second highest score in the class (Algis beat me by one or two points).
I have kept that report all these years, and have shown it to my children. By today’s standards it looks crude and primitive, but at the time it was a gem. I had many other projects in school on which I scored well. What set this one apart was that I stuck to it.
On Saturday night, or Sunday afternoon, I could have carefully erased the pencil marks he’d made to note my errors on the remaining pages. I could have decided that what I’d done was good enough, and that would still have earned me a decent grade. What made it stand out, and what made it an assignment that even today is a source of pride is that I stuck with it.
Between Mike Ditka and my mother’s voice, I have two strong reminders of the need to never completely give up. I prefer never to think of myself as having been a loser at anything in life. There are some things that I just haven’t won at yet. One day, I will pick those things back up and do what it takes to be successful.