'Race in progress' photo (c) 1918, National Library of Scotland - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

Sometimes I wonder how I would do if I were just picked up and set down in some random place left to fend for myself.  I wonder what kind of survivor I would be and if I would be able to fight.  Before, I thought it might be a crapshoot whether I’d make it or not, but I’m beginning to understand how much of how I thrive is up to me.

In The Art of Choosingauthor Sheena Iyengar describes an experiment that aimed to measure variability in survivor instincts.  Mice were put in sink or swim situations and timed to see how long they would swim before giving up and drowning (I do wish this end protocol was altered). Some lasted 6 minutes while others swam for 60 hours.  Later, scientists expanded the experiment to try to find a reason for the variability.  This go round, they handled the mice and let them escape from their grip several times before putting them back in their cages.  They also let them swim and rescued them after a short time.  Finally, with these mice, they re-conducted the original sink or swim experiment, and this time, nearly all mice swam for 60 hours. The inferred conclusion was that when the mice believed they could be saved, they fought harder stay afloat.

The conclusion makes sense. I don’t know anyone who would be terribly shocked by the lines drawn from those results, though it is pretty interesting.  We see it everyday in more ways than we realize.  People who have faced more adversity and worked through it are generally better at fighting or working hard when the going gets tough.  Yet, no matter what our backgrounds, if we are able to trust that if we work hard it will pay off in the long haul, we can be successful.

Despite that knowledge, and despite my core beliefs that revolve around that very fact, it’s still easy to feel like giving up in certain areas when things aren’t going your way.  Whether it’s work, finances, romance, or health, there are times when it’s hard to really feel that things will get better.

Two days ago I wrote an article entitled, “It Ain’t Me Babe: My New Dating Ban,” but didn’t publish it with the knowledge that I was pretty discouraged, and might not want to commit to giving up for the long haul no matter what my current feelings.  This is coming after a series of dating attempts that went awry or that I just wasn’t too excited about.

In a seemingly unrelated matter this morning, I remembered an author interview that I’d heard part of on the radio from a week or two ago.   This Major League Baseball pitcher, R.A. Dickey, has recently released his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, and it sounded like something I wanted to read.  When I looked up the interview to try to find the name of the author and the book, which I had forgotten, I came across an interesting clip of the interview I had missed on the radio.

Dickey described a crucial moment that changed the course of his life.  He went through a lot of adversity in his life and had faced heartbreaking failures.  He was in the midst of a dismal career in Triple-A baseball (for the OKC RedHawks, if you were wondering).  Then, something changed. In an attempt to swim across the Mississippi River, he nearly drowned, at one point completely giving up and accepting his fateful death.  By lucky chance and one last-ditch effort, he survived.  Afterwards, his career turned around.  His pitching improved, and he was moved to the Major Leagues.  He knows the timing was no coincidence, and when he explained this in his interview, he seemed to consider each word he said to explain his experience.

“I think when I came out of the river, I was so consumed with just wanting to live in the present, well… that I think that carried over directly into my pitching. And I just cared about each pitch, singularly.  And so, if one pitch didn’t go well, forget it. Here’s this pitch. What am I gonna do with this pitch? When I did that over and over and over again, I was able to look back and all of a sudden, I was putting together this pretty incredible run. And I decided that’s how I wanted to live my life.”

His revelation came after an extreme wake up call, but the message can be the same for all of us.  What we do in our lives makes a difference, and we do have a choice to give up or give it our all.  I think if we don’t give it our all, we are in a sense giving up.

We can sink or swim in anything we do, but it is up to us.  I’m not saying, buck up, pick yourself up by your bootstraps, and stop making excuses.  I know things are much more complex than that.  What I am saying is that we have to remember that we are the ones who decide what action to take.  Reasoning that, even in the most daunting circumstances, we can refocus, gather our strength, and face any moment with the greatest chance of success.