Passion and Sacrifice

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.

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.

16 thoughts on “Passion and Sacrifice

  1. Lisa Hendrix

    Terrific post, Allison (as usual). I’ve often pointed out that no one expects a violinist to make it to Carnegie Hall without years of practice, or a lawyer to plead a case without hour upon hour in moot court, or an athlete to win without months on the practice field, so why does anyone think they can write a successful novel without thousands of thrown away pages? One of my favorite Lombardi quotes is “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

    As for who inspires me to reach higher: Ellis Peters, Elizabeth Peters (I got stuck in the P section at the library one day and stayed for years) and pretty much everyone here at Murderati. I am stunned almost daily by the quality, passion, and relevance of this blog.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Lovely post. I can entirely sympathise with your artistic daughter, because I’m another who is never satisfied with what I produce.

    My favourite quotes on the subject:

    “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”-Calvin Coolidge

    And, just for balance:

    “Perseverance is the most overrated of traits, if it is unaccompanied by talent; beating your head against a wall is more likely to produce a concussion in the head than a hole in the wall.”-Sydney J. Harris

  3. toni mcgee causey

    Your artistic daughter did a wonderful job, Allison! Beautifully done.

    Excellent post — one quote I have kept on my whiteboard for a while now:

    “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    I don’t have a quote per se but I do have a story for those who thinks it’s too late to start. I remember watching a news story on tv a couple years ago, interviewing a woman in her 80s. She was asked if she had any reqrets (perhaps after having a wonderful life — why else was she on the news?). She said that she had always wanted to play the violin. She regretted that she didn’t take it up when she was 60 and thought she was too old. She said she could have been playing for 20 years. That, to me, is also very inspirational. Don’t give up something you’re passionate for but it is also never too late to try something.

  5. Louise Ure

    What a wondrous post, Allison, with lots of good lessons here. My latest example of a man with passion and determination in the face of all odds is the physical therapist taking care of my mom here at the rehab center in Tucson. I asked him how he could be so optimistic and encouraging in the face of such sadness and failure. He said that he’s happy to face every day because he knows his work isn’t done yet and maybe today it will all work out for the best.

  6. Jake Nantz

    Great post, Ms. Brennan. I’ve always been inspired by my colleagues in coaching and teaching. I love seeing people who are willing to get shit on everyday by those who have no idea what it takes, and they keep coming back for more because they love to help just one kid achieve. That’s determination and persistence, and I see it everyday. Oh, and after reading the two you sent me last year, I went out and bought SUDDEN DEATH. Renee doesn’t know what she’s missing!!

  7. Allison Brennan

    I wrote my post late at night and messed up a quote. Sheesh. “The dictionary is the only place where success comes before WORK.” — Lombardi.

    Louise, I know what you mean. It’s actually theme throughout many of my books, that there is so much tragedy and cops/nurses/etc see so much violence and death and the evil that man does to man, that how can they get up each day and face it again and again? It’s because of the one–the one person they can help. On a less life or death scale, coaches (good coaches) inspire their players on and off the court. They set the example. Most of the players will never make pro sports, but the lessons they learn while in high school will last forever. Until this year, I never realized how important a coach can be in a kid’s life.

    Lisa, one thing that constantly frustrates me in the self-published circuit is that most of those people think what they write is so brilliant they don’t need editing and publishers don’t know what people want. There have been some self-publishing success stories (but I have always believed that, for the most of them, if they were more patient someone in small or large press would have taken on their book.) But for the most part, it’s poor quality and I know that many of them didn’t write and rewrite and rewrite and start from scratch over and over and over again. I know too many writers trying the traditional route with their first completed manuscript–frustrated that they can’t get an agent/editor. No one wants to hear their book is mediocre and not good enough. This is where most of the self-published people come from, because they don’t write another, and another, and another.

    My first book was crap. So was my second and third. Only when I got to my fourth did I think I was getting a bit closer, and I sold my fifth. My husband once told me he’d never be published because if he wrote an entire book he would write and rewrite it and keep submitting it until he sold it or was dead.

    Thanks Toni 🙂 I had to fix her link on the contest blog last night because you need a livejournal account to post an active link, and I didn’t want her to be disqualified on a technicality. She’d have been devastated!

  8. pari

    Allison,I just love your posts. We’re on similar wavelengths with our children. My older daughter–the one with the visual impairment — works so much harder than her classmates in school. She also continues to pull down straight As. I admire her more than she’ll ever know (and, yes! I tell her all the time). She perseveres in everything — music, school . . .

    My younger one is the kind of person to whom things come easy — except the cello. She’s already quite good at it, but she HAS to practice. I think her passion may be there. We’ll have to see.

    (BTW — thank you for introducing us to Veronica Mars; we’ve been watching all of them together as a family.)

    As far as writing, yeah, it’s really tough and marvelous all at once.

    Here’s one of the quotes near my computer:”You try and you try and you fail, and then you go deeper.” Shunryu Suzuki

  9. R.J. Mangahas

    Great post Allison.

    One moment that I had forgotten about was when I was little and my brother was graduating from college. In his graduating class was a woman who was 90 years old receiving her bachelor’s degree. She had put her children and helped put her grandchildren through college first before going back to finish college herself. She got a standing ovation when she went up to receive her diploma.

    Talk about both hard work AND sacrifice.

  10. Allison Brennan

    R.J., great story.

    Pari, your favorite quote reminds me of another favorite quote of mine . . . “Do, or do not. There is no try.” — Yoda. 🙂 I’m so glad you’re enjoying Veronica Mars. It’s a terrific conversation starter and one of those rare shows that bridges the generations. (Though, I still feel like a young adult half the time, not 39.)

  11. Alli

    What an inspirational post, Allison. Thanks so much for all those amazing quotes. There are so many people I have come across who could be mentioned, but the one that sticks out the most for me is my mother. She put so much time, love and energy into her children and did it without complaining (I never heard about it anyway!). I aspire to be like my mum with my kids. The gifts she gave us and the nurturing has inspired my brother and I to soar to great heights, and funnily enough, both of us are unpubbed writers not willing to give up our dreams!

  12. J.T. Ellison

    Ahh… isn’t that just it? The days I’m banging my head are ultimately the best, because it reminds me how much I care.

    Nicely said, Allison, an excellent post. I’m awfully inspired by you, actually.

  13. Allison Brennan

    What a great testament to your mom, Alli! I love my mom, too 🙂 She always believed I would be published one day and never belittled my writing, even when I never finished anything.

    Thanks JT, you made my week. But just know that I’m the worlds worst procrastinator. I’m getting better, though.


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