Setbacks. Are they something you succumb to in life? Or do you fight your way through the pain and come back stronger?
Maybe you do a combination of both. Depending on the situation. Or maybe you just wish you were one way, but quit before you take action.
And like a companion to those setbacks, there are people who want to see you fail. And others who cheer for you to succeed.
Setbacks happen in life. In sports. In relationships. And at work. You can count on them making an appearance at some time or another. But it’s what happens after a setback that tells you a lot about a person. Personally, I like to think of myself as a fighter. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve had a “don’t-want-to-get-myself-out-of-bed-in-the-morning” moment. Until eventually, either my bladder or stomach screams at me to get moving and I’m forced to exit the cocoon of my warm blankets. But even then, I have the option to climb back into the safety of my own comfortable bed. So I find it inspiring when I meet or witness people who don’t climb back to safety, but rather fight to move forward after a setback.
My recent source of inspiration came from someone I’ve never met. In fact, less than a month ago, I’d never even heard of him. To my knowledge, we only have two things in common: Cleveland is our hometown and we went to the same college. But he was someone who, while certainly flawed (we all are), taught me a great lesson about defying setbacks.
My lesson came from, of all places, the football field. I really don’t know much about football except that I love it. I went to Ohio State where football is as much a part of student living as... well... football probably is the biggest part of Buckeye student living. And in the house where I grew up, during football season in the 80’s, my mom would answer the phone barking like a dog while joyfully saying, “Go Browns!” Cleveland has always been a football town. And Clevelanders live for Sunday football and their Cleveland Browns. I didn’t always understand the game, I just knew that I was supposed to scream at the television and cheer for anyone wearing orange and brown or scarlet and gray. And hometown football players were often like gods in the eyes of true fans! My first autograph was from Ozzie Newsome and I kept it in my music box as a keepsake for decades. And to many, former Browns’ quarterback Bernie Kosar is still a hero in Cleveland. I was among the thousands who would sing “Bernie, Bernie” on game day and watched him through the pain of “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” I got to know Bernie years later through my television job. I remember the first time he returned one of my phone calls for an interview. I was at my brother’s house. My brother was so excited that “Bernie Kosar” was calling me that he started recording me talking to his favorite football hero on a video camera. He was only recording my voice because I didn’t have Bernie on speaker. But that’s how excited my brother was that his sister was talking to #19 on the phone! And when I attended Ohio State, a beautiful stadium packed with 100,000 fans, would collectively chant “Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!” because Heisman winner Eddie George was playing for our team.
The game of football is exhilarating. It makes you feel alive (for better or worse, depending on the score). It can cause you to love every stranger within your vicinity rooting for the same team. And make temporary “enemies” out of the ones who are not. But like life itself, the game has setbacks. And so do the people on the field.
So back to that person I’ve never met. Whose name many people didn’t know until a few weeks ago. Unless you’re from Ohio, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon, or an Ohio State fan, you still might not know his name. (And if not, there is a lesson in this story. Even if you don’t like football.)
Cardale Jones. He wasn’t supposed to play in a football game this season. Let alone a National Championship game. He was the third string quarterback for Ohio State. How many fans know their third string quarterback in college? I didn’t. But I remember when Jones first took the field in the Big 10 Championship game against Wisconsin. I thought, “Oh shit, this isn’t good.” And I quietly decided that Buckeye football season was over for the year. I didn’t want Jones to play poorly. But I didn’t expect that he would play well. I was wrong. Not only did Jones play like a champ, but he led his team to victory that day. Next up, the juggernaut of college football. Alabama. Could the third string QB keep pace with the Crimson Tide? Not only did he keep pace. But he jumped over them. Literally. He jumped over the players! Suddenly, non-believers were believing. Ohio State lost two star quarterbacks in one season, but still had depth with their third. The team had a setback, but Jones stepped in and made winning the only way to move forward.
We all know that Ohio State won the big prize in the National Championship game against Oregon days ago. But it was something that happened during the game that still stays with me. It was that moment when a person is either beaten by a setback, or they beat the setback.
Jones had the ball in his hand, and for whatever reason, it fell right out of his clutch. No one was grabbing the ball. He just dropped it. It was an opportunity for him to make a great play. And he failed that opportunity. It was THE GAME. The most important WIN of the season. And he dropped it. It was a mistake. Potentially a costly mistake. The kind of mistake that can mess up your mental game. We’ve all experienced those moments. It’s that time in your life when something important is on the line - a job interview, a performance, or a potentially defining moment in your career. Sometimes you nail it. And sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you pass the test. And sometimes you drop the ball. Jones dropped the ball.
The moments that followed were crucial to his mental game. Jones had a setback. He could either return to the field and choke. Or he could let go of the setback and move forward to win the game. I think we can all identify with that feeling. If you make a mistake on the job, are you going to second guess yourself every time you make a decision? Or are you going to move forward with confidence in your true abilities? If you give a performance on stage and mess up, do you keep singing? Or quit because your voice cracked? If you suffer a broken heart, do you write off all future relationships? Or do you put yourself out there again with the belief that you will find the right kind of love?
I learned from a 20-something-year-old college kid, who plays football, that the better decision is to shake off the setback and come back stronger and focused to win the game. The game of life.
Maybe our football players shouldn’t be considered heros. There’s certainly a fair debate for that idea. But there’s much to learn about how they handle their setbacks. I’m not sure about you, but I love a setback with a great comeback.