What is Success?
by Walker Wellington, VP of Finance & Development
As spring approaches, baseball season looms near. During this time of year, I often think about my baseball experience and the lessons I learned. Back then I did not have a full appreciation for what I was learning. I also did not realize how much I would draw on those baseball experiences later in life. After 15 years of marriage, two children, several career changes, and many other life events, I have a deep appreciation for what I learned from playing baseball.
As a freshman in high school, I did not have a firm grasp of what responsibility was. I learned the importance of responsibility from an unlikely source…black shoe polish. My baseball coach believed in the “you look good, you play good,” philosophy. The team was fortunate to have the means to provide a variety of uniform combinations. We had various colored jerseys, pants, and hats. As confusing as the uniform combinations could be, my teammates and I knew the expected shoe color was always, without a doubt, black.
Black cleats were mandatory. Unfortunately, my new cleats for the season had several white emblems. To fix this grave problem, I had to fill in the white areas with a black permanent marker and cover the entire shoe with black polish. The greater challenge was that our cleats had to be FRESHLY polished before each game! The typical length of a high school baseball season is twenty-five to thirty games. I would easily use five to eight bottles of shoe polish during the season, and more if I shared with desperate teammates.
While there is merit to the “look good, play good,” philosophy, the real lesson of the black shoe polish is responsibility for the details. Details matter. Take responsibility for the details and other small things. In doing so, the big things take care of themselves.
In my senior year of high school, I learned about hard work and success. For most, the lesson about hard work and success is quite simple-work hard and success will follow. I learned the hard way that this is not always the case. Sometimes hard work is the success.
I achieved a fair amount of success playing baseball during my junior year. I moved from a role player the previous year to someone my team depended on to produce on offense and defense. My offensive statistics reflected an exceptional improvement from the year before. I had room to improve, but I finished the year on a high note.
I went into my senior with a lot of confidence and high expectations. I was willing to make the necessary sacrifices and put in the work. During football season, I practiced baseball as much as I could. Once football season ended, I spent all my time on baseball. Over the next four months, I spent an extra eight to ten hours a week dedicated to baseball, on top of the time spent in regular practice and team activities. For a high school senior, I was proud of the extra time and work that I was putting in. I was proud of the sacrifices I was making. I expected the hard work to make me better.
March could not come soon enough. I was pumped to reap the rewards of the hard work that I had put in over the last several months. I had convinced myself that I had earned the right to have a better year than the year before. My coaches shared many stories about previous players putting in the work for great senior years. I took those stories to heart. I put in the work. It was my time to succeed. But that is not quite how things transpired.
I learned the hard way that hard work does not always deliver success as we want it. The entire season was a GRIND. I struggled the entire year never achieving the success that I worked so hard for. I was devastated. I did not understand what happened. I put in the work, yet things did not go my way.
The season left me beaten and bruised. My baseball career never recovered. I carried that disappointment through the rest of my playing career which wrecked me mentally. My two years of college baseball were disappointing, at best.
It has taken many years for me to gain perspective and change the way I feel about my last season of high school baseball. Today, I see that last year as a success. It was a success not because of the on-the-field results, but because of the hard work and sacrifices. The lessons I learned through that grueling year were the success.
Complete control over results is impossible. In spite of our best efforts, the results we seek and work for do not always come our way. Redefining what success means is critical. Results matter. However, what matters more is the road to success and what you take away from it.
Years after my baseball career, I still love the approach of spring. The memories made on the baseball field are ones that I will cherish forever. But, more importantly, I will forever be grateful for the lessons learned.