I have long admired legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, an inspiration not only to his football players but to everyone. When I was assigned to write a biographical essay in junior high, I wrote about Coach Lombardi because he inspired me personally to always strive to be the best I could be at whatever I set out to do.
I learned pretty quick in life that I would never be the best at everything. I was competitive, but not athletic even after eight years of soccer–sure, I did pretty well and had fun, but once I hit high school sports, the stakes changed. It became harder. Longer practices, tougher competition, more work. I realized I didn't want to work that hard because the payoff of winning–or playing a good, losing game–was not worth it to me.
There were other things that mattered more. That's part of growing up, discovering personal strengths and weaknesses and figuring out what matters to you. What we have passion for. What we are willing to sacrifice for.
My oldest is now in high school. She's my athlete. She's intensely competitive, loves to play sports more than watch them, loves being part of a team with a common goal, and is willing to sacrifice to improve her skills. She's on Varsity basketball as a freshman–yes, it's a small school and she never played basketball in her life and will be lucky if she reaches my height of five foot seven, but there were others cut from the team but her coach must have seen something in her commitment and willingness to work hard to put her on.
Last night I went to her game and was sitting next to one of her classmates on the JV boys team. I said to him, "Did you watch K.'s first game? She was terrified. Now look at her!" She was coming into her own, playing point guard, blocking, passing, shooting, and scoring. She's not the best on the team (which is undefeated), but she's working her ass off to be one of the best. And she scored the final points in the game, making the score 62-27.
High school sports are not for everyone. They aren't for kids who want to "just have fun." It's hard work, but that hard work prepares them to work hard in everything in life. They learn to be part of a team. They learn to trust their teammates–in fact, there are specific exercises to build trust. They learn respect, they learn to take orders, and they learn to lead.
I particularly am inspired by this Lombardi quote:
"The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand."
He also said that the "dictionary is the only place that success comes before hard work."
Last fall, my athlete was on JV Volleyball. (Now her goal is to make Varsity next year as a sophomore–more girls play on the Volleyball team than basketball so the school can field two teams–JV and Varsity.) One of other mom's asked me if K. got upset at the coach for yelling so much and pulling her from the game when she made "just one mistake." Her daughter was upset every day after practice. I often caught the end of practice, and yeah, the coach yells and pushes the girls (though nothing like in basketball!) and I said, "He pulled her from the game because she was mad at herself and copped an attitude." My oldest can not stand making what she calls a "stupid" mistake, and thus on mistake snowballs into more. He was right in pulling her. But even if I thought he was wrong, he's the coach. Which led me to my next comment, "She can quit anytime she wants. No one is forcing her to play. She vents in the car on the way home if she thinks the coach was unfair and then is determined to prove to him that she can do it the next day."
Ultimately, the choice rests with my daughter: I'm not forcing her to play. I love that she's athletic, but this is her decision. My rule is: you make the commitment with your eyes open, and you stick to it.
My artistic daughter is in 7th grade. She is exceptionally talented. She can draw people that actually look like people. My stick figures don't even look like stick figures. I would love to scan in a history of her art to show how she's developed, so someday I'll post a link for fun. But she's a perfectionist. She constantly frets that it's not good enough. She entered a contest that Libba Bray (author of A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY) had for fan art (the prize: signed advanced copies of her next book) and was near tears because when she scanned her sketch it didn't look like she wanted it to. But OMG, she is incredible. I tell her that all the time and she rolls her eyes and says of course I think that, I'm her mother. See it here, I know you'll agree.
She almost didn't post it because it wasn't perfect. But she tried, and as Lombardi said, "Perfection is not attainable. But if you chase perfection, you can catch excellence."
What does this have to do with writing or books? Far more than some people realize.
There are two things that make a successful writer: passion and hard work. You have to want it, love it even with all the headaches and deadlines and frustration. By "it" I mean your goal, whatever it is, from writing greeting cards to news articles to novels to screenplays. You have to love doing it, even though some of the tasks are damn hard–so hard you don't know if you can do it. If you WANT to do it.
When K. first started basketball, she hated running. Her first couple games she was only in maybe half a quarter and she was winded. But her coach is tough–your grades drop? You run. Get a detention? You run. Cop an attitude? You run. Twice. You don't try your hardest and do the best you can? Everyone runs. Now she can play without fear of panting from exhaustion. She told me she doesn't hate running anymore, but she loves the feeling after she runs. (Great, I've created an adrenaline junkie!)
She knows that running hard and fast helps her become a better player. Just like a writer knows that by writing and writing pages and pages of garbage we learn to eventually tell a good story. Both my oldest kids are hardest on themselves when they don't do something as well as they think they can. Hmm, they might have learned that from me, too . . .
But they both put themselves out there, risking failure, because they are passionate for the end goal. They sacrifice time and energy to . I can not tell you how proud I am of my artistic daughter for posting her art–she hates to show anything to anyone because it's not "perfect." (Again, like me–I never let anyone read anything I wrote until I was, ahem, about thirty-two . . . )
There are so many aspiring authors out there who won't submit their work for fear of rejection. Or they convince themselves that they write garbage. Or they can't handle criticism. Criticism is nothing from an editor compared to some of the readers posting on amazon, or bloggers posting in the blogosphere!
To pull out another Lombardi quote: "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."
It doesn't matter WHAT it is you want. You can want the best garden in the neighborhood ala Mr. Wilson, or to get an A on your final exam, or finish a book when you've never finished writing anything in your life. It's having the passion for it, and be will
ing to make sacrifices to achieve it.
ing to make sacrifices to achieve it.
Nothing worth having is easily attained.
I'm really proud of my kids for finding the passion in something and working hard for success. They are learning what it takes to be a productive citizen as well as happy, fulfilled human beings.
Writing is the hardest job I've ever had. I stress, bang my head, sacrifice sleep, drink too much caffeine, and fret constantly that I'll never get better while doing everything I can to write the best book I can. But my oldest daughter told me after I quit my job in the legislature and was truly a full-time writer, "I've never seen you so happy."
I admire many people who have shown passion, worked hard and made sacrifices to achieve their goals. Vince Lombardi is just one. My oldest daughters are two more. I love that my agent loves being an agent, and my editor loves being an editor. Neither job is easy, but they both work hard and are passionate in their positions. My daughter's coach is at the school from eight in the morning and is the last to leave at night, staying for multiple practices and late games. He drives kids home if their parents can't pick them up after a late away game. He commands respect because he never asks anything that he's not willing to do himself.
Is there someone– a friend, a colleague, a relative, someone you read about — who exemplifies the attitude of Lombardi and others who know that hard work comes before success? Someone who inspires you to chase perfection? Acknowledge them here . . .
NOTE: RENEE won an ARC of SUDDEN DEATH last month . . . and I haven't heard from her! Renee, please email me (you can fill out the contact form on my website here.) If Renee doesn't email me by midnight Monday, I'll pick another winner from today's comments.