Monday, March 15, 2010
When I was 18 years old I was playing in the United States Hockey League, one of the premier junior A leagues in North America. It was my first year in the league and needless to say it was a challenging transition coming from minor hockey. Not only was the league leaps and bounds above any level I had played at previously, but there was a new dynamic in the form of fighting. The league played NHL rules and fighting typically resulted in a five minute time out, a pat on the back from your teammates, and a few new fans in the stands. I was hesitant to fight in my early days, however I got into a few and eventually found that I was pretty good at it. I never took on the role of the team’s go to fighter or anything, but I was less than hesitant to shy away for a scrap when warranted. Well over half way into my rookie year I had yet to “lose” a fight. That is not to say I won every fight either, just that I left each prior tilt feeling at least OK about it. A little cockiness, that was only revealed in hindsight, started to set in. One night up in Rochester, Minnesota I started a fight with the wrong kid and proceeded to get pumped for over a minute straight. I was, at the time, too cocky and proud to go down and end the fight so I stood there taking a beating convinced I could come back and get the best of him. Standing outside after the game with some buddies, my face throbbing in pain, in subzero temperatures, waiting for the bus to be fully loaded, I was dished a healthy dose of humility. This was not the first time and it would not be the last, it was merely an extremely memorable occasion for obvious reasons.
This last weekend, almost a decade after getting speed bagged, I suffered another proverbial ass kicking. Although this time around it wasn’t a southpaw opponent, it was at the hands of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). I wasn’t necessarily cocky heading into the test as I had my reservations, but I really thought that my two months of preparation were enough to reach my goal score. The score doesn’t lie. My preparation wasn’t enough, and it hit me like a punch in the face. I was lambasted with all the standard emotions; disbelief, anger, self doubt, etc. However, when all the dust began to settle I forced myself to look at my GMAT setback like any other.
Getting a healthy dose of humility is never fun, but always necessary. Necessary in that it prevents the inevitable creep of hubris which poisons the human psyche. So what lessons can learned from this punch in the mouth that can be paralleled to future trials and tribulations?
1. A dose of humility is a stake in the ground – these unpleasant events are clear and distinct points in time where character decisions are made. Where do you go from here? Do you let the situation control your decisions moving forward or do you accept reality and continue to persevere towards your goal?
2. Humility serves as a reality barometer – After my emotions settled down I looked at my situation and said ‘it is what it is.’ That statement although simplistic and clichéd serves a purpose. That purpose is to help you get a grasp on reality. Things are never as good as you think they are when you are up and never as bad as you think they are when you are down. Although a dose of humility often puts you in one of the down spells, it has the effect of smacking you back into concert with reality. After you have recovered from the shock of recent events you can use the adversity to gather a firm grasp on where you are at; you can then accurately devise of plan of where you are going.
3. When you get punched in the mouth punch back – With the GMAT, I could take my score and move on. I could go do something else or alter my goals so that they are achievable without doing anything else, but I won’t. I want to take another run at it. I want to do as well I know I can do. I want reach my original goal. With the GMAT or anything else, sometimes you just have to use some old fashioned perseverance. I see this partial failure as just a step in process of success. There is no guarantee I won’t do worse on the next try, but at least I will know that I took another swing. Like a fight in hockey, it isn't really that important whether you "win or lose" but that you showed up in the first place!