If you picked up a newspaper today, you'll read that Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr retired today. Some articles will discuss his National Championship in 1997, his 1-6 record the last six years versus Ohio State, his 0-4 record in recent bowl games, the fact that he increased the winning percentage of college football's winningest program, etc. However, I have yet to read an article that did not discuss Coach Carr in the context of character and integrity. In his column today, Mitch Albom wrote, "[Coach Carr] has never been defined by his job and he never will be." Albom also concluded his article, "In an Ann Arbor autumn where losses were a familiar topic, this is the biggest loss of them all."
I choose not to elaborate on Lloyd Carr and his legacy; rather, I wish to look at today's coverage of an illustrious and controversial career in the context of our own lives and the legacy we leave to ourselves.
Winning and Losing and Remembering
Sometimes winning is a function of skill and ability; other times winning is a function of drive and determination. Sometimes we lose to the adept despite our passion; sometimes we defeat the wholehearted using only our natural superiority. Ultimately, our predisposition to victory or defeat casts the judgement on the outcome of the match. Expectations dictate reactions.
After losing to Oregon and starting this season 0-2, Coach Carr closed his press conference with the following remarks (Please excuse that these are taken out of context): "Just play every day as hard as you can, and regardless of what the outcome of those games are, you keep your head high. Because if you're doing everything you can to the best of your ability, you have nothing to be embarrassed about.” There is no arguing with this statement, and it is very powerful. The fact that Coach Carr will be remembered as a "Michigan Man" and for the character of his program only adds substance to his not-so-empty words. But often it's not a question of embarassment, and our reflections often bury the story of the man behind the story of his life...
Everyday, in the office or in a bar, in the classroom or on the field, in friendships or in relationships, in seizing the important or the unimportant, we win or we lose. Some battles are bigger than others, and some battles are more important, but we win or we lose every single one of them. Yes, at the end of the day more important than the victories is the character of the victor. Yet, when we look at today, and we look at yesterday, and we look at the trail our life has left, it is a trail of memories. Some of those memories are wins and some are losses, but they are the story of our life when we stop and think.
You don't believe me? I don't believe you. How many times have we said to ourselves "what if?" or "I should have"? I'm not talking about regret. Absolutely not. Most of us are not judged by the media, but we are all judged by a far harsher critic - ourselves. And if there is anyone guilty of looking past the value in the character of accomplishment and failure it is the person staring at back at us in the mirror.
Of course, we will reminisce with friends about the celebrations and the victories, those nights when we went to bed with a smile so big it hurt. There will pass too many days, too many hours, when we catch ourself in thought and self-reflection. These are the moments when we judge ourselves, the moments where we are our own measure of our life. We don't think about the times we were beat, but we'll never stop thinking about the days we lost. And ironically enough, it seems like the men and women who never quit are the individuals we commend for their character.
Passion is a crazy concept. It's rare. It's unique. It doesn't always makes sense. It needs to be harnessed and treasured and never take for granted. The battles we're passionate about, those are the losses that stare us in the mirror. Accept that we will all lose, and that we will all be beaten. However, when you find those rare passions that get you up in the morning and keep you up at night, don't stop fighting until you're beat, and you'll never regret it.