We only control one thing

Down nine times, up ten

I feel bad for those kids, sometimes. All they want to do is play ball.

But everyone knows, you can't play little league baseball without first getting shouted at by middle-aged men in ill-fitting uniforms.

Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration. It's not always shouting. Sometimes it's just a solid ten minutes of unsolicited advice delivered in a manner that no one would confuse with eloquence.

For the most part, those kids try to keep it together as the grown men painstakingly attempt to impart words of wisdom forged in their own on-field disappointments of days long passed.

In truth, it tends to be painful for just about everyone involved.

I'm one of those men.

My uniform doesn't quite fit right. My hat doesn't match my shirt. And my pre-game speeches typically involve about ten key messages when my audience has an appetite for three, at most.

But despite the tyranny of this pre-game ritual, I still believe it's absolutely worth doing. And over the last few years of coaching baseball and basketball, my message has tended to grow shorter and (I hope) sharper. Of course, I'm going to remind kids about making good throws, about getting their gloves down—or in the hoops arena—about staying on their man, or getting back on defense. But that's tactical.

My main message is more philosophical. And no matter the sport or the season, it tends to go something like this:

Team, the only thing we know about today's game is that bad things are going to happen.

(In baseball), the umpire is going to make bad calls. He's going to call strikes on pitches that are clearly balls. He's going to call you out when you were clearly safe. We are going to make errors. We're going to make bad pitches. We're going to strike out. We're going to make mistakes. We know this already.

(In basketball), the referee is going to make bad calls. He's going to say that the ball went out on you when it was clearly off your opponent's hand. You're going to get fouled hard and the ref is not going to see it. The other team is going to travel and he's not going to call it. We're going to do dumb things that we're not proud of. We know this already.

Bad things are going to happen. Unfair things. Again and again. This is what is going to happen. I am 100% sure of it.

But we've got an advantage. We already know these things are going to happen. We expect them to happen. We're not surprised or shocked when they do happen.

And instead of worrying about the fact that they happened, we focus our attention completely on how we react when they do happen.

And how do we react? In most cases, we don't. Are we disappointed when they happen? Of course, we are. But we don't complain. We don't throw our hat or glove or bat. In fact, we are so good about controlling our emotions that the other team barely knows we're upset. We are already on to the next play. That's what we do.

We know bad things will happen. They always happen. But they happen to both teams. And we win by beating the other team in our reaction to this adversity.

So let's stay focused. When bad things happen, let's acknowledge it. But let's also know with just one look at each other that THIS IS THE MOMENT. This is where we shine. In fact, this is where WIN. The other team won’t even realize what’s happening. But if we control our emotions—if we own our reactions—this is the moment where the game will be decided.

We have a secret weapon. If we choose to use it, they don’t have a chance.

Are you inspired? Just imagine that coming at you from an unshaven 40+-year-old bulging out of his size-medium uniform!

Of course, this is true not just on the little league field or basketball court. It's true throughout our adult lives as well.

How we react to adversity may have more impact than any other factor on our ultimate success or failure in everything from our careers to our relationships to our health.

Getting knocked down and picking yourself up is basically what life is all about. No one gets through unscathed. No one. No matter how charmed your existence, you ultimately get knocked on your ass. Dazed and confused. 

We get fired from jobs. We ruin relationships by saying stupid things. We lose people—people who we couldn't imagine living without. Gone. And we are crushed.

We feel pain. We feel screwed. We feel that life is cruel. Unfair.

And it's true. Life is all of those things. But it's all of those things for all of us. Not just you or me.

Some people have the luxury of getting through most of their lives before they get knocked down.

Others get smacked down right from the beginning. Kids growing up in abusive families. Or battling childhood cancer. How is that fair? It's not.

But what we hopefully come to realize at some point is that it's not the circumstance that matters. It's not what happens to us. It's how we choose to react. And while it might not feel like it sometimes, it is a choice. And it's really all that matters. And conveniently, it's all that we can control.

Look, some people will never get this. We all know them. They have decided to play the victim for their entire life. Bad things happen to them, for sure. They get knocked down. They get dealt a poor hand. But the difference is that they stay down. They define themselves by it. They decide that they are unlucky. That everyone else has it so much better. And they resign themselves to a miserable existence.

And that's sad. It's a missed opportunity. It doesn't have to be that way. But it's a mentality that, once ingrained, is incredibly difficult to change.

But that's not you and me. We realize that we are going to get absolutely knocked on our asses. We know it's going to come out of nowhere.

It's going to feel impossible when we're going through it. And we're going to feel like we've been dealt a terrible hand in life. And we're going to feel deeply in our bones that life is terrible and unfair. And it's going to be so, so hard to see to the other side. To see how things can possibly get better.

It will almost destroy us.


But we've got an advantage, you and me. We already know this is coming. We expect it. And while it will shock us and send us careening to the ground, we know down deep that we will rise again.

We know who we are. We are fighters. And we'll keep getting back up.

Every time. 

And that is how we win.

Thanks as always for reading. If you’re enjoying Intentional Wisdom, please consider sharing it with a friend or two (or ten). I’ll be back next week—but hopefully, this is it for the ill-fitting uniform. - Greg