Making Commitments

I’m going to share a fairly lengthy story from my youth here, so hopefully, you’ll indulge me a bit because there is a good set of takeaways at the end.

When I was growing up, I was a pretty decent hockey player.  I wasn’t usually the best kid on my team, but I was always one of the better players.  I worked hard and I understood the game.  They now call this “Hockey IQ” – I had a very high hockey IQ.

Strangely though, in the 16 or 17 years I played competitively growing up, I only ever played on one dominant team.  We won everything there was to win.  For the most part, the teams I played for were mediocre – we’d win the odd tournament, I’d pick up a few personal awards, but it was average.

You Help People Who Help You

The year before I played for the team that dominated, I played for the worst team I’d ever played for.  I was 15 years old and I had gotten to the age where I was content playing high school hockey with my friends and not really too interested in joining a more competitive league.  I got a phone call one night from a guy who’d coached me as a kid, a genuinely nice guy who told me he needed a couple guys to join a team he was coaching that winter and he’d heard I was unsigned.

A bit of background, this man was a legend in the area where I grew up.  We didn’t really have much, it wasn’t the nicest or wealthiest of areas.  We played hockey in the winter and most of us split the summers between baseball and lacrosse.  This guy a few years earlier took over the local lacrosse club on the verge of bankruptcy and turned it into a powerhouse.

In and of itself, that’s nothing really special, but when you’re in an area of lower-middle-class folks, organised sport keeps kids out of trouble.  That was the sole purpose he had for coaching hockey and lacrosse, keep kids out of trouble by giving them something to do.

Needless to say, I accepted his request to play for his team that winter.  It was pretty expensive by our family’s standards to play that type of hockey, a couple thousand bucks a year, so my mom cringed when she’d heard I wanted to play, but when I told her who it was for, there was no question, we’d find a way to make it work.

Commitments Matter

I’d made a commitment.  To keep that commitment, I had to get a better part-time job to help pay for it and if I broke a stick or something, I’d simply not eat lunch for a few days at school to pocket the money so I could replace it – my mom never knew that because she wouldn’t have allowed that to happen.

It was tough, but the worst part was the team I’d agreed to play for was flat out terrible.  Worst team I’d ever played on by a long way.  There were a couple of my friends I’d grown up playing with on the team so it was cool, but we ended up being moved into a higher grade and for most of these guys they had never played at anything even close to that level before.

I was, by far, the best player on the team.  It was daylight in second place.  It didn’t matter how well I played, we lost.  It was hard.

I remember talking to my dad about it at Christmas.  I’d fractured a bone in my thumb, was in a plastic hand cast and had to go to a tournament where I knew we were going to get crushed.  He just said to me, “You made a commitment, you see it through.”

I didn’t quit.

Winning Isn’t Everyting But Losing Sucks

In some respects, I was lucky, our high school team was pretty good, so I was winning there, but playing for two teams, working part-time and going to school was tiring.  Still though, the mental drain of losing every game was the worst part of the whole experience.

We got to the last game of the year, we were 0-43 for the season.  It was the first time growing up I was looking forward to a hockey season ending.  I remember being in the dressing room before that game getting ready, headphones in with Metallica’s “… And Justice For All”  blaring from my walkman – nearly thirty years later, I still remember thinking to myself, “I have to figure out how to win this game.”  Something in my head just snapped and it was like a fire.

Without a doubt, I played the best game of hockey I’d ever played in my entire life.  There was something in me that refused to lose.  I scored four goals that game.

We tied 4-4.  The guys on the team thought it was great, we ended the season on a high.  I wanted to eat glass and go cry somewhere.  But I didn’t.  I said goodbye to all the guys on the team, thanked the parents for their support and accepted it for what it was.

My coach gave me a ride home from the rink that night and thanked me for sticking out the year.  I’d broken a bone in my hand, had a pretty nasty concussion and really hurt my shoulder, but I still played all 44 games and only missed a handful of practices.  He appreciated it.

Losing Builds Character

He said to me as we rounded the corner to my street, “When you’re 30 and something isn’t going your way, it will be this year that gives you the ability to dig in and get past it.”

It was funny, but I didn’t need to wait until I was 30 to realise that.  I knew within a few days that the losing and the difficulty of the season had made me much mentally tougher.

Throughout my entire adult life, whenever anything gets really awful at work or in business I think back to that time in my life.  I have a deep-seated belief that I’ll be able to get through anything life throws at me by just continuing to work hard.

Anyone Can Quit, Winners Stay The Course

Quitting is easy, especially in online business.  I’m not talking about trying something, it doesn’t work, so you try something else.  No I mean the kind of quitting where you commit to a bunch of people that you’re going to deliver something for them and then you pull a Houdini and just vanish.  If you’ve been online for any length of time, this will happen to you.

For me, the worst experience like this happened about five years ago.  I was putting together a big product launch.  We had put in about four or five months of effort creating the product, reaching out to affiliates and getting the whole launch lined up.  Then about a week before hand, a few people who were key affiliates just disappeared.  Not answering emails, not returning phone calls, nothing.

From there the launch pretty much went downhill.  When some other affiliates heard that these folks had walked, they pulled the pin as well.  Commitments meant nothing to these people and it soured me from the whole thing.  We also lost a fair chunk of change which stung.

You learn lessons from situations like that as well.  I realised that I needed to get out of that part of the business because those people’s word wasn’t their bond and that didn’t gel with me as a person.  More importantly, I made a commitment to myself that I’d make sure that I wasn’t reliant on other people anymore for my success.

So the takeaways from this are pretty simple.  When you say you’re going to do something, do it.  It might hurt and it might not be fun, but other people are banking on your commitment.  And the other takeaway is easy, when you make a commitment to yourself, stick to it – you may have to work harder than you ever have in your life, you may not always be successful, but no matter what, you’ll come out the other side a better person.

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