Quitters Sometimes Win

I’m from Ohio. I was born and raised by the river. I’m a Buckeye through and through. Except for their bourbon, basketball and the beauty of their rolling hills, we Buckeyes don’t take things coming out of Kentucky too seriously – including their state champions.

It’s a conceit. I held it. Not anymore. But, I did. Well, that is, until I stepped onto the wrestling mat to face the Kentucky state Champion. We crossed paths at a huge tournament in a huge gymnasium packed to capacity. Think The Karate Kid without the karate. I stepped onto the mat like Daniel-san and…well…hold on…before going any further, let’s back up a bit.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my football coach suggested that I take up wrestling. He said that wrestling would help me stay in shape through the winter. I had never wrestled. I had no clue about the sport. Well, I wrestled once, in seventh grade, on the spur of the moment, in a weekend tournament. I did pretty good. I got second place. I still have the medal.

Yet, here’s the thing about wrestling. It’s a mix of swimming and chess. It requires strength, endurance and strategic intelligence. I had the first two but not the last one (at least not in the realm of wrestling). Regardless, I followed my coach’s advice and joined the wrestling team.

My inaugural season started off pretty good. I had a simple technique: chase down, tackle and pin my opponent to the mat by holding his arms down. No intelligence needed. Every kid has utilized some variation of this technique at some time or another in his or her backyard. I would repeat this technique until I exhausted my opponent. I won my first few matches through brute strength and endurance. Things would begin to change, however, as we got deeper into the season. I started losing and losing and losing.

I don’t like to lose. I’ve gotten better at it. Much better. But back then, not at all. I mean, I could handle losing if I put up a good fight and did not give up. And, that’s how I handled losing when I started losing on the mat. That is, until I squared off with the Kentucky State Champion.

Our match (I think you can call it that) happened so fast that I’ll need to slow it down by breaking it down bit by bit. Here’s what happened:

  • I stepped onto the mat to face the Kentucky State Champion.
  • The referee blew the whistle.
  • The Kentucky State Champion swept down to one knee and threw me using the Fireman’s carry.
  • I found myself lying on my back and out of bounds.
  • The referee blew the whistle stopping the clock.

That was 1 second. You may know where this is going. So…

  • I stepped onto the mat to face the Kentucky State Champion (again).
  • The referee blew the whistle (again).
  • The Kentucky State Champion swept down to one knee and threw me using the Fireman’s carry (again).
  • I found myself lying on my back (again, but inbounds this time).
  • He pinned me in three seconds.
  • The referee blew the whistle stopping the match (again).

My match with the Kentucky state champion lasted a total of 4 seconds.

Not 3 seconds, but 4 seconds.

You may think that surviving for 1 additional second was a good thing.

It was not.

In wrestling (much different than football) there is nowhere to hide. Your failures are your failures.  Your mistakes are your mistakes. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I had had enough. So, the Monday following the tournament and before wrestling practice, I walked up to my coach and quit. I told him that I wanted to concentrate on my academics. That was a lie. He knew it. He looked at me and asked “Are you sure you want to do this? You may live to regret this decision.” I said “yes” and walked out. It was the first time that I had ever quit anything.

Did I live to regret my decision?

Yes and No.

Yes, looking back, I do not like knowing that I quit. I don’t consider myself a quitter. But, I did quit. And, quitting has a bad reputation, rightfully so. However, quitting is not all bad. Now, I know our culture is currently enthralled with grit. That is, grinding away at an obstacle or a problem until it submits. At least that’s how I define it. And, I love grit. I like to think that I’ve got it. However, we have one life to live and as Rust Cole (of True Detective) says:

“Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.”

In other words, if what you are doing is not what you should be doing, then you need to know when to quit what you are doing so that you can go and do what you should be doing.

Here’s another reason why I do not fully regret quitting wrestling. I learned that one of my fundamental fears was not just losing but losing in the spotlight. And, yes I missed an opportunity to get better at losing in the spotlight by quitting. However, those 4 seconds have stuck with me. They have taught me to never shy away from taking on the Kentucky State Champion or its equivalent (like sharing my thoughts with the world at large) out of a fear of failing in the spotlight.

Quitters sometimes win.


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Thanks. – shawn