I was a junior in high school when an influential figure in my life shared a poem with me. It was listed as the work of a prolific writer, “Anonymous,” and the world wide web still can’t agree on who wrote it. It is listed in the public domain but sometimes attributed to Edgar Albert Guest although some say it was written by John Greenleaf Whittier. The point isn’t to debate the true authorship, and when I was turning 17 years old, I didn’t care. Here is what my head football coach, Ray Goldsby of Moore High School, shared with the Lions when we were experiencing some challenges as a team. He printed for each of us the following:
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high,
and you want to smile but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit – rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns.
As everyone of us sometimes learns.
And many a fellow turns about when he might have won had he stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow – you may succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than it seems to a faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up when he might have captured the victor’s cup;
and he learned too late when the night came down, how close he was to the golden crown.
Success is failure turned inside out – the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and when you never can tell how close you are,
it may be near when it seems afar;
so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit – it’s when things seem worst, you must not quit.
(version can be found at https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/don-t-quit-10/)
We ended the year in a miraculous fashion with some Hollywood-style endings, but eventually fell short in the state championship game to Booker T. Washington High School by a score of 14-10. So who cares about high school football from more than three decades ago? Because coaches, teachers and adults taught life lessons about perseverance, grit or “stick-to-it-iveness.”
We all experience challenges in life, whether through our involvement with sports teams, injuries, illnesses, loss of jobs, loss of loved ones or change that we never envisioned. The question isn’t whether or not challenge will come. The question centers on how we will respond when it comes.
Holocaust survivor and author of the classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, wrote of our ability to respond in the “gap” that falls between stimulus and response. We are not merely dogs reacting to Pavlov’s bell. We have the power to choose our response. We have the ability to respond to our challenges. We have the opportunity to demonstrate perseverance and grit. In a rare video clip from a presentation in 1972, Frankl spoke of the need for believing in others by arguing, “If we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be.” He went on to say we should presuppose a will to meaning and a search for meaning in all, even the so-called “juvenile delinquent” or “criminal” for if we don’t we make him dull and frustrated; however, if we do, “…then you will illicit it from him and you will make him become what he in principle is capable of becoming.” The video can be found at https://www.ted.com/talks/viktor_frankl_youth_in_search_of_meaning
So coaches, teachers, parents, please don’t quit. Recognize the spark for meaning in our kids. There are and will continue to be challenges. In my state, particularly for education, “funds are low and the debts are high.” This is not intended to be “pie in the sky” or a fairy tale Hollywood ending. It’s just a reminder to me that more than 30 years ago, a coach cared about me and my teammates enough to share a life lesson with me. I’ve needed it as I’ve dealt with pain, loss, disappointment and discouragement on numerous occasions. I’ve felt like giving up and waving the white flag. But I can’t quit. Coach Goldsby and other educators didn’t quit on me. I can choose my response to my circumstance and I choose to stick to the fight, and make that choice for the next generation of students. I hope you choose to do it for them also.