“It ain’t over ’til it’s over!”

Yogi Berra, American former Major League baseball player and manager

“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

As a kid, I heard those words spoken by Jim Kay of ABC Sports and never forgot them. On the farm, we didn’t have a lot of time to watch sports or play any, for that matter. Running a successful dairy operation took up most of my parents’ time and, consequently, most of mine.

I do recall the occasionally rainy Saturday when my father would turn on the television and then lean back in his faux leather recliner with a cigarette in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Before long, I would hear a familiar fanfare and the words, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Sometimes I would sit with my father and watch the show. Most of the time, he had particular “rainy day” chores lined up for me to do outside. I was never incredibly athletic, and my brief forays into the arena usually ended in the agony of defeat. It didn’t occur to me until years later that the phrase “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat” could also apply to life.

I have many friends who love athletic competition, and most would likely agree that you don’t leave until the game is over. If you think of life in terms of a sporting event, you wouldn’t think of leaving the field, rink, pitch or diamond until the buzzer sounded. And likely, you wouldn’t think of calling a game because you had a notion of what the outcome might be when there was still time on the clock. Sadly, that’s what many of us do. When the going gets tough, and the odds are against us, we pack up our gear and head for the locker room.  

To win at life takes perseverance. You can’t show up, put in a half-hearted effort and expect to be crowned star of the game. No one succeeds, and no game is ever won without perseverance. It is perseverance that prompts us to continue to battle when the odds are not in our favour. It is perseverance that moves us through our most difficult challenges. It is perseverance that prompts us to look at our defeats not as crushing or insurmountable but rather as opportunities to learn, grow and compete more powerfully, strategically and successfully the next time.  

Perseverance is defined as the act of persisting or striving, continuing or repeating behaviours despite difficulties, obstacles or discouragement. To put it quite simply, perseverance means never give up. Accomplishing anything worthwhile in life requires perseverance. Big goals and small goals alike require a persistent commitment to their achievement.  

A major component of perseverance is awareness. Years ago, one of my goals was to improve my self-esteem. It’s still my goal today. I didn’t know much about self-esteem other than the fact I didn’t have much of it. It’s tough to pursue something you know little about, so one of my first goals was to find out as much as I could about the topic. It’s no different than wanting to scale Mount Everest. You don’t just show up at the foot of the mountain and start climbing. A mentor of mine once said, “If you want to know how to do something, ask someone who has done it.” It’s true. The best advice will usually come from those who have accomplished the feat (stood on the summit) or those who are well on their way to conquering it.

As with sports – and anything worthwhile in life – you must hold firm to the belief that what you’re attempting has value, that it is worthy of your best effort. That requires focus. I have discovered that staying focused is vital to achieving anything worthwhile. As important as physical conditioning is, so are mental and emotional conditioning: having the right mental attitude, a stick-to-itiveness that will keep you going, the ability to stay the course. Equally important is the ability to shift gears on the fly, to make adjustments and tweaks when necessary. Most successful game plans will allow room for changes and the unexpected.  

Achieving your goals and dreams will take time, so it’s important to pace yourself. Think of it as a marathon. The fastest runner does not always win the race off the starting line. Indeed, a strong start is essential, but equally crucial is a steady and persistent execution. I chuckled the other day when I saw a poster that read, “Even the turtle made it to the ark.”

And there will always be those people who try to dissuade you from pursuing your goals. We’ve all witnessed the jerk in the stands who constantly yells obscenities at the players. My best advice is to ignore the naysayers. I remember reading once that challenging goals and big dreams take time; the impossible ones take a little bit longer. Expect resistance when you play in the game of life – internally and externally. Stay grounded. Keep it real.

American freelance writer Robert Brault once said, “Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.”

I think that’s good advice. The truth is that most people experience neither the thrill of victory nor the agony of defeat because they just won’t get into the game. I think life is a full-contact sport, and you can’t win if you don’t play – it’s that simple. I also think the “human drama of athletic competition” can teach us much about life. It teaches us that most perceived limitations are just that: perception and seldom reality. Outcomes are rarely foregone conclusions, and we can transcend most anything if we’re willing to persevere. And perhaps most importantly, in life as in any arena of athletic competition, remember: it ain’t over until it’s over.   

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