It Ain’t Over

Photo from Boston Globe

Yesterday was a rather fun day in Boston sports. If you’re in a tough season of life right now and are afraid that dashed hopes and disappointment are your new daily reality, click over to the Boston Globe and read about last night’s last-minute wins by the Patriots (touchdown pass with 5 seconds left) and the Red Sox (Grand Slam by Big Papi to turn the ship around and set the Sox up for a comeback. This pic is of the Detroit right fielder falling over the wall trying to grab the ball). Talk about reminding me not to give up, and that things can change at any minute? Helloooooo!

Sometimes it’s a very good thing to live in a sports town :)

(Now by way of full disclosure, I will tell you that last night’s Red Sox turn around is due primarily to Steve turning off our television when the score reached 5-0 Detroit.  He’s boycotted the Red Sox in protest of how the owners treated our beloved Terry Francona. Two nights ago, he tuned in to see how they were doing…and they lost the opening game of the ALSC. So last night as he was watching again and all chaos was breaking lose over at Fenway, I looked up from my book – I don’t mess with what’s working; there’s no way I was going to watch – and said, “Turn the TV off now so they can turn this around!” I was joking, of course. At least sort of.  But Steve went to bed…and the Red Sox turned it around! So to all of Boston, I promise to distract Steve with recorded shows from our DVR list on game nights for the rest of the month!)

Okay…back the larger point:

Not giving up is hard. I have a friend who is recovering from a foot injury that keeps her from running. She loves running, and while she’s been diligent and faithful in her rehab work, it’s taking forever, and a beautiful autumn is passing by without her being able to run through all those gorgeous trees. Another friend is looking for a new job, something that pays a more livable wage and where her colleagues will be nice to her. She’s not even reaching for the brass ring of fulfilling, purposeful work anymore…just being paid decently and not yelled at would be such tremendous life improvements, she’s setting her sights on those to see if God can get her up over that hurdle.  And another friend is in relational limbo, not knowing if her marriage will make it back from the rocks it crashed on. She can’t move forward as either a wife or a single-again without some decisions from her husband, and he is not deciding.

It sucks to be down 5-0 as you round the corner to what feels like the end of the game. There are seasons where there is so much momentum going against you, you lose your ability to even imagine that a disappointing loss isn’t the pre-determined outcome.

And yet if last night’s games teach us anything, it’s that momentum DOES change, crazy good things DO happen, and that a single at-bat or passing play can change the entire game.  In sports, players get fined if they give up, so they have to keep going for the full game. We don’t have that sort of incentive.  We have to figure out what’s going to keep us running one more play with 5 seconds left – to try rather than give up, and to believe it will make a difference. That might be my biggest take-away from seeing Tom Brady play football for all these years: he hangs in there in crazy circumstances, keeps his focus, and does his job. That’s an incredible quality.

I think that heroes (both the ones I read about in the Bible and the ones I read about in the news) share this quality. I want it. I’ve been reading about research by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, on the benefits of having a “growth mindset” – believing we can stretch and change and gain new skills – over having a “fixed” mindset – assuming that our talents and abilities are stable and don’t change much over time.  As she puts it:

“In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.”

I think this plays in here in a couple of ways. Top athletes have to keep figuring out ways to improve on their talents, get better, increase focus, figure out new approaches to their game. But so do the rest of us, only on a less public scale.  This research suggests that if you and I aren’t currently big successes at “it ain’t over/keep swinging” thinking, we can improve. Improvement takes effort, of course. But what I see in Tom Brady is a sort of psychological muscle memory, where he’s put in the work of not giving up so many times, now it’s just what he does when the clock is running down and the scoreboard shows bad news.  It doesn’t always work, but it turns things around and creates wins often enough that it’s worth thinking about how to emulate in our own lives.

I mean, I’d take a 10% uptick in winning, wouldn’t you?

And in the meantime as I think about this, I’m happy to be spending October in Boston. It’s a fun place to be.