I had a feeling the waterworks were going to come, but was super proud he waited until we got into the car.
“We lost,” my 9-year-old son Tyler said through his tears. His baseball team had just ended a great season by losing 6-5 in the playoff semi-finals.
“You did. That is a fact,” I answered.
“And I didn’t get a hit in the last inning. I could have drove in the tying run,” he said.
“Yeah, but you had a good game, both in the field and at the plate,” I said. He went 1-4 with a double and made two excellent plays in the outfield.
“I failed,” he said.
“Well, that’s not how I see it at all. Let me ask you a few questions,” I said. “Did you go to every practice?”
“Did you go to every private lesson we had with Coach Rob?” I asked.
“Did you hit buckets with me in the yard? Did you go to the batting cages when we had time? Did we have lots of catches?”
“Well then you did just about every single thing you could have done to succeed. You did everything right. You put in the work so that you deserved to succeed. And if you’ve done all that, the outcome doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter how you did today, and it certainly doesn’t matter how your team did today. You did everything you could do to be successful. When you’ve done all that, you’ve got nothing to regret, nothing to be upset about. You just move on,” I said. “Well, let me change that a little bit. If you want to do better; if you didn’t like how you performed today, there is one thing you can do.”
“You can say to yourself that you’re going to work even harder next year. But that’s it. Don’t beat yourself up. Be happy with your effort and move on,” I said.
Now, I’m not sure how much of my message hit home with Tyler. He is 9 after all and was upset. Thankfully, as most children do, he had moved on from the loss about an hour after it was over, soothed by the $20 I allotted him to buy a season-ending toy on Amazon.
The really interesting thing is I had to repeat the same message, almost verbatim, in the flurry of texts that went around among the grieving dads. You see, though the kids’ discomfiture was extreme and brief, many of the dads seemed to be suffering just as much, but for days. I am not exaggerating when I say a few proclaimed to have lost sleep, at least on that first night. And so sooth them I attempted to do, offering the same messages I gave to Tyler about working harder next year and being content with both the effort shown and the progress made. I think I made less of an impression on them than I did on my son.
But the sentiments I offered weren’t just platitudes. They are deeply held beliefs supported by past reading.
Seneca wrote, “The wise man regards the reason for all his actions, but not the results. The beginning is in our own power; fortune decides the issue, but I do not allow her to pass sentence upon myself.”
And, in “Eleven Rings,” the great basketball coach Phil Jackson, concurred, “The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome.”
If embraced, it truly is a magical formula. If, and only if, we put all reasonable effort into preparing for the contest — or test, or presentation or interview or whatever — we should let go of the outcome. Some things that affect the contest will be out of our control. Sometimes it’s an interviewer who just doesn’t like our style; other times it’s a ball going two inches over a glove; and sometimes it’s just not our day. But never, ever should we take the lesson of a loss to be that our preparation was a waste of time, for logic tell us that if we’d prepared less, we’d have done worse.
I think the above is a great message for children and adults alike. I’ve found it helps me do my best and not fret when things don’t go my way. It allows one to let go of the past and quickly move on to the next challenge at hand. Luckily it’s not far off — bring on football!