Never give up, never surrender…

by Toni McGee Causey


I sat here gobsmacked while watching the LSU win over Tennessee and for those of you who don’t know me, I’ll give you the short version: I bleed purple and gold. And even so, even as rabid a fan as I am (I, the one in the family who wanted the big screen TV in time for football season), am here to tell you, LSU should have never won that game. We played horribly. We made so many mental errors, it was nearly textbook in how to shoot yourself in the foot. We actually lost the game at one point, when the final buzzer sounded, and it was one of the most embarrassing Keystone Cops endings I’ve ever seen: 32 seconds left on the clock, men on the field, calling a dumb play, then failing to cross the line by a foot… and without any more time outs and without a plan, a bunch of the team ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, the ball was snapped and the quarterback missed it. He missed it. It went bouncing down the field behind him as the clock ran out and Tennessee, who’d been the underdogs going into the game, won. They erupted with joy, ran out onto the field while the entire LSU stadium looked on in stunned grief. Not unexpected, seeing how badly we’d played the entire game, but still. 

The only thing that made it palpable was that Tennessee had freaking played their hearts out. They excelled, several times. They deserved the win.

And then… the absolutely unbelievable happened. As everyone was on the field, and the coaches were already shaking hands, the ref got word from the booth that there was a mistake. The kind that happen only in the movies: there were too many defensive linemen on the field. Tennessee had put too many men out there, and because of that, they earned a penalty. And because of that penalty, LSU would have another shot at a final play.

They did. And they made a touchdown. And won the game.

I cannot tell you who was more shocked — the coaches, the players, or the audience. 

Look, right now, there are a lot of people in this business feeling pretty beaten up. I know Tennessee had to have been pretty bitter about that loss when they went back into their locker room, but I will tell you one thing: they proved they had the heart and the talent to win. They had nothing to be ashamed of, and I’m not going to be surprised if they don’t use that close call to spur themselves on to do even better the next game and start handing other teams their asses. They may have lost one game, but they haven’t lost the season.

It’s the same in this business. Losses don’t define you. It’s what you do with them that defines you. Everyone needs to lose something, every now and then, because you learn, when you lose. You learn from your mistakes, you learn from the mistakes of others. One of the things you learn is that one loss does not a career define. Unless you let it. You pick yourself up, you keep moving on. You lose again? You pick yourself up again, you keep moving on. [The corollary is, if you’ve won everything you’ve aimed for, then you haven’t challenged yourself enough.]

My husband and I’ve been in the construction business for 28 years, and I’ve fought more battles than I care to remember. Sometimes, and there were many, when it looked like we were going to lose a battle, we’d get this image in our heads:


And we’d dig in and fight to survive another day. You can’t let the punches keep you on the ground, when you’re in business for yourself, and make no mistake about it, when you’re a writer, you’re in business for yourself. You have to have an almost impossible mix of ego (people want to read what I wrote) with humility (I have so much to learn, I’m never going to learn everything), but perhaps, most important, is tenacity: never give up, never surrender.

If you can quit? Then you’re in the wrong industry. If you’re not driven to keep going, driven to keep writing, driven to keep telling your stories, then there’s absolutely no shame in finding that thing that you are driven to do. Really, and truly, as honorable as I think it is to be the person who entertains others, I think it’s just as honorable to be a thousand other professions, because we all need each other. So if you can walk away, then run. Flee. Save yourself the grief.

Because there will be grief. There will be days when you do everything right, just about everything, and the other team wins the game because of one singular mistake. Or sometimes, you might finally be on the side where the dumb luck falls your direction. Tennessee did just about everything right and LSU didn’t, and still won on dumb luck. But there’s one truth about both of those teams: they’ve done their homework, they’ve practiced hard, over and over, even in the face of other defeats. They didn’t stop, either of them, and give up. 

But they’ve both learned. It’ll be interesting to watch what happens next. 

People will give you another chance, when you show them you’re tenacious enough to keep showing up for the game, that you’ve improved, that you’ve done the work, that you’ve learned from your losses.

I don’t know about you, but that’s all I need, is that shot. I’m not going to stop – trying, or learning — so no matter how luck falls with this try, or the next, or the next, I’ll be in it for the long haul.

So tell me, ‘Rati, who are some heroes in your life or in fiction that have exemplified the “never give up, never surrender” attitude that you admire?

28 thoughts on “Never give up, never surrender…

  1. BJ

    Wow. Deja vu. That's exactly what happened to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL Grey Cup last year. They'd won the game… then got a penalty for too many men on the field. One more play, and they'd lost the game. Lots of stunned Rider fans around here…

    My heroes, the people who 'never give up, never surrender' are all the cancer survivors out there. Cancer's a terrible disease, but I've seen people who have fought with all they had, and won. I've also seen people who fought with all they had, right to the end. These fighters are the people I admire.

  2. Cornelia Read

    It's hard to top BJ's answer, but I'm rather fond of the guy who said "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense."

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    There's many things I don't understand about public school and raising children today but that is one of them: the everyone gets a trophy attitude. Why. Because it's painful to lose? Yes, it is. Life is painful and you don't always get what you want and if kids don't learn how to do it as kids they won't know how to handle it as young adults. I just don't get it.
    Surprisingly, I enjoyed reading an interview with Eliot Spitzer (yes, that one) in today's Parade magazine which is exactly about how to lose. And he did it big time but — I have to grudgingly admire this — it looks like he may have learned something. And that's what life's about.
    Terrific post, Toni.

  4. Jane Sevier

    That was a wild game, Toni, and it broke my Tennessee heart for those boys. Thanks for giving the Vols their props.

    My physician mother has always inspired me to go after what I really want. Not that I’ve always done it, mind you, but the example was there.

    When my mother entered medical school in 1950 at age 19, there was only one other woman in her class. It wasn’t easy for a woman to become a doctor. Everyone down to the dean of the school tried to talk Mama out of studying medicine. “You’ll marry and have children and leave your practice, and you’ll take a spot in medical school that a man could have,” they said.

    On the first day of class, one of her male classmates said to her, “So, you think you want to be a doctor?” “I’ve thought so all my life,”she said. “You won’t last a week,” he said.

    Well, Mama graduated second in her class and practiced medicine for more than 40 years. A true healer, she is the most gifted diagnostician I have ever known. And that smart-mouth who told her she wouldn’t last a week? He fainted the first time the class observed surgery, and he graduated a semester behind my mother.

    So, no matter what the odds against you are, never let anyone tell you no. That’s what I learned from my mother, my first hero.

    Thank you for the reminder never to surrender.

  5. Debbie

    About the football: I wonder what influential person bet a shitload of money on the game and had the power to ensure the outcome? Can anybody say conspiracy theorist?
    PK, building esteem in children promotes learning and success and is gradually phased out with cognitive maturity. As confidence develops, children will challenge themselves and begin to recognize intrinsic rewards. Something as simple as a sticker for improving, even if the child is far below the standard, may be all that is needed as an incentive to keep trying. And yeah, from one perspective the child who got low grades got an award one month and the child who was on time only twice got one as well while others are performing better. Both those children will strive to improve. Rather than feeling like a failure at school or in a particular subject, or like there's no point in trying to be on time because, 'that's just me', the child will see themselves differently. That better version of who they can be will begin to define them. )At least that's what they sold me on when I was in college.)

  6. Barbie

    My grandpa is my hero on never giving up. From the time I was born, he was sick several times. He had Lupus and his immune system was so bad. He had cancer three times, was in the hospital often. Still, he was very, very active. Then, he developed a muscle degenerative disease. He went from driving all around, to slowly losing all the functions of his body. But he never quit, never gave up and let himself waste away. He drove until his arms weren't strong enough to turn the wheel. He went out for a jog until his legs couldn't support him anymore. He went out with us for lunch until he wasn't able to hold his head up anymore. He squeezed our hands until he wasn't able to lift his fingers. He breathed until his lungs weren't able to get air anymore. It was heartbreaking, for everyone around him, to see that happen. And, to the very end, he comforted every one of us. The last time I saw him, it was months before he died on April 16 2008. Before I left to the US. He could barely speak anymore, but, as I was saying good bye, he told me, in his ragged breath, with so much effort to say that one sentence. "When you come back, I'll be much better." We both knew it was a lie. That the only way for him to get better was to die, and I honestly don't think that's what he meant. I smiled, and tried to talk through the lump in my throat. "Yeah, you will. i love you."

    He loved to live. He was one of the most upbeat, amazing men, even with all the issues and illnesses in his life. He loved to live. And that think that's the most amazing thing.

    Great blog post, Toni 🙂

  7. Rebbie Macintyre

    Great post, Toni. And although I'm not an LSU alum, I was rooting for them. (Odd word, "rooting", but my dictionary says that's the right spelling. Can't help but feeling like I'm sniffing out turnips in the garden patch behind the woodshed, though).
    Love those answers from other posters about who they admire. Our biggest heros are people who live the best they can with what they have. I need to remember that at this time in my life. Thanks.

  8. toni mcgee causey

    BJ, what a great answer, and I'm right there with you. I have too many heroes in my life right this moment battling cancer, and it takes my breath away, the amount of effort that goes into that fact every minute of every single day.

    Cornelia, I love that quote. 😀

    PK, you're absolutely right, and there are so many things along that same line where parents are short-changing their kids' ability to handle life's ups and downs by never letting them experience a "down" as a kid. They hit their teen years thinking everything in life is fair, and get completely slammed when they realize it's not.

  9. Eika

    The person who most embodies it is, for me, a girl named Charlie. I read about her in the second grade, and I'm still not sure what happened to my copy of the book; I believe the book cover's still on my shelf somewhere, but the hardcover book itself is long gone. I found another copy in my middle school library, and I still enjoyed the story- and loved the character- though I was long past hte reading level.

    It's fictionalized, but it's the story of Charlotte Parkhurst, who raced horses in an orphanage, disguised herself as a boy to prevent being made a permanent cook's helper and never let to leave the orphanage again, became a stable boy, got a job driving stage coaches, lost an eye and taught herself how to drive stage coaches (teams of two, three, four, and I think even six horses) AGAIN, and, historically, was probably one of the- if not the- first women to vote, even if she was disguised as a man. The book even includes her taking one of the first womens-rights pamphlets from a lady handing them out (and being ridiculed), though that was probably made up.

    Of course, when I read it, I thought it was all as close to true as could be, and if SHE could do THAT then I could do ANYTHING. And now, a bit older, a bit wiser, and a lot less naive, I'm still imitating her way of getting to the top: an ounce of creativity, a dash of luck, a cup of manners, and dump in a full tub of tenacity. There could be worse models.

  10. toni mcgee causey

    Jane, they absolutely deserved them. And what an astounding tribute to your mom — and what an amazing woman! Thank you for telling her story today, I needed to hear that, too.

    Debbie, I agree about rewarding the child for their own specific achievement, where possible, in a learning situation. I think the thing PK was referencing was when everyone gets the one trophy at the end of the year, regardless of their performance and without them having gotten individual attention throughout the season with regard to their own individual growth. I think in a classroom situation there absolutely ought to be different rewards for people of different abilities to help foster that esteem, and all during a season, a coach's "attaboy/girl" is the equivalent, don't you think?

    Barbie, that's a really lovely tribute–what Louise said.

    Dusty, you're a sweetheart, and most welcome.

    Rebbie, I have that same reaction to the word 'rooting' – it always looks wrong when I type it. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

  11. Debbie

    Hmm, rooting. Makes me think of nursing (babies). I guess trophies in sports weren't on my radar but if it's just for fun, the skills/physical fitness is a bonus and, if the children are preoperational than the trophy adds to the fun and excitemen. Kids recognize talent and ability. When we are kids especially, sometimes we just want to try, even if we know we won't be great at it and who knows, it might become a hobby. Even if my writing sucks, I'm going to keep writing because I enjoy it. I'd love affirmation, but only if it's deserved.
    Barbi, your story touched me deeply. My friend Kathey is dying of ALS and had a heart attack just last weekend. She's a trooper, burned as a preschooler, she's been in hospitals all her life and at thirty nine was told she had two to five years left. It's been nearly two years since that prognosis and with her permission, she has become a character in my novel. Breaks my heart to reread it though, to relive her deterioration.

  12. Marie-Reine

    My daughter JJ, artist: with end-stage renal failure, dialysis almost 15 years, cheerfully brings her books with her and says, "I am so grateful for dialysis."
    My son SJ, pianist: when told he was losing his hearing due to a tumor, he bought a Beethoven t-shirt.
    My son PJ: wanted to be in the army, has probable autism. When the army turned him down, he joined the Navy where he lost his hearing… coincidence. Cannot find work of any kind, so he's day trading.
    My daughter KJ: PJ's twin, my dear girl, has autism. She keeps trying to read, to write… to make friends.

  13. toni mcgee causey

    Jeff, wasn't that just weird? Both games, too close for comfort.

    Marie-Reine, I love your list of heroes. Such a great testament to the attitude of perseverance and, obviously, to their parents. May their roads run smoother in the future.

  14. Dudley Forster

    My daughter Rebekah is my hero. Her first pregnancy triggered lupus, specifically lupus nephritis. They were living in S. Dakota at the time, w/o any real support. Her kidneys got to stage 4 nearing full renal failure. The doctors were planning to terminate the pregnancy, but she held on, taking steroids that caused her to blow up like a balloon, leaving lasting scars from the stretch marks. They managed to get her stable enough to fly her back home. There were so many emergency visits to the hospital I lost count. Finally, they did a c-section when Christian was 32 weeks. Even though she was recovering from the surgery and on a regimen of drugs for her damaged kidneys, she insisted on staying at the Ronald McDonald House so she could be with Christian in NICU.

    Christian is now 6. Bekah and Nic (her husband and another one of my heros for how supportive he has been) got deeply involved in the foster parent program and started taking in foster kids. She and Nic have now adopted two children, a girl and her half brother. Bekah is now a trainer in the foster parent program with the State. She has had two more bouts of lupus; the treatment is a form of chemotherapy. After her last biopsy her nephrologist told her she had about 5 years before a transplant would be needed.

    Christian has been diagnosed with aspergers. Both the adopted children were meth babies and Zu has a form of ADHD that affects meth babies, as well as some other developmental delays. JJ was born with hydrocephalus and had to be on a food pump as well. He still has a tube in his abdomen for feeding. JJ has some serious developmental delays. So my daughter, besides her work with the foster parent association and training, goes to all kinds of therapy sessions every week.

    One more thing. While Bekah and Nic were just getting involved in the foster program and had Zu as a foster child, they accepted an infant for temporary care. The infant was also a meth baby and turned out should have not been placed in the system, but kept in the hospital. The level of meth in her system was way too high for placement. The baby died, the baby’s room declared a crime scene, there was a ten week investigation, all the while their foster license was suspended. Finally, the death was ruled SIDs related to meth exposed in utero. Bekah has been going through PTSD counseling from that event.

    In all that time I have never heard Bekah utter one word of self pity, she considerers them blessed with a wonderful family. Bekah and Nic are my heroes, not only am I so proud of them for never, ever quitting, but they have given my wife and I three fantastic grandchildren.

  15. Marie-Reine

    Toni, thank you – but really they are the heroes, because long before we acquired our own disabilities they taught us how to do it.

    Ah, Dudley… such grief undeserved… that system… yet many blessings.

  16. Jake Nantz

    Sorry I'm late to the party, Toni. I'm an NC State fan, and we lost a heartbreaker on Saturday, a game we should have won but played not-to-lose, and lost. It sucks.

    As far as heroes who never gave up, being a State fan, I have the obvious. Jimmy V. His fight against Cancer, and the eerie quote about, "It may not save my life, but it may save my children's lives," when it turns out that the advances in Cancer research that were, in part, made possible by the V foundation DID save his daughter's life, make him about as good a hero as a guy could have, especially when you find out that ALL of the crap in that idiot Golenbock's book has been debunked since then.

  17. Dave Ebright

    Wow – what a fantastic post & the comments were incredible. I'm a Gator Fan (sorry), Construction Manager (what a business these days), writer (YA), & former coach – a few things in common, sort of. My dad was a builder (started me in the biz when I was 11) & was paralyzed in a fall when he was 47. I watched him do some awesome things from a wheelchair during his remaining 27 years. He remained positive – always smiled – even the night he died, after a stroke had taken his speech & the use of one of his arms. From the time I was little he would always tell me there was no such word as can't & limits were things that we put on ourselves. He backed up his words with his attitude & actions.

  18. pari noskin taichert

    Holy crap, Dudley.
    Wow. What an inspiring post and the comments have left me feeling sad and tremendously optimistic.

    I've had many heroes. The one I'm thinking of today was one of my mother's best friends. Kathrin is now in her 80s (I think. It's hard to tell since she's been 39 for as long as I've known her) — has lost her husband, all of her siblings, many of her friends including Mom. She's got a grandson with autism. She walks unsteadily with a cane, has severe macular degeneration AND is still one of the most joyous and fun people in the world to be around.
    I love and adore her.
    I want to BE her when I grow up.

  19. BJ Wanlund

    I'm a lifelong Chicago Cubs baseball fan, so I think I know heartbreak like no other. Just saying.

    As far as my heroes go, one of them is the late Stephen J. Cannell, who never thought that he couldn't do something, and did everything he could in the field of writing. And the other is my mother, who at one time outed Harry Delaney, the famed Olympic equestrian, for cheating, marched against the Vietnam War, and has been an ardent animal rights activist for longer than even I've been alive. Both of them are the perfect examples of people who never gave up and never surrendered.


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