I have always been a sports fan, thanks in large part to growing up under the influence of my mom. As an only child, she spent her childhood years in New Bedford, Massachusetts, learning to love the local teams under the influence of her fisherman father. One of her most beloved teams was the Boston Red Sox, who throughout her lifetime struggled unsuccessfully to win that crowning achievement of baseball: the World Series. Eventually, in 2004 they stormed back from a big deficit and became world champions. This reminds me a lot of life: although we might not be playing for professional sports teams, personal success stories are that much sweeter when the victory is hard-fought as we overcome challenging odds.
Teams that go from underdogs to champions set goals for themselves. I strongly relate to this as I recall my first days working after college graduation. My degree in a human services field did not lead to a specific job that was easily attainable, and I struggled through temporary positions working in different offices. Some days seemed to be an endless loop of trying to free papers jammed in copiers or trying to type barely recognizable handwritten words. I eventually became a receptionist at an outpatient mental health clinic, where I identified my true career goal of becoming a counselor. I took the first step toward achieving that goal by returning to school. The road toward goal fulfillment seemed unbearably long and uncertain many days, but my work today feels especially fulfilling because of the sometimes difficult path I traveled to get here.
Teams that go from underdogs to champions refuse to quit. This is in almost direct contrast to current society’s emphasis on “instant gratification.” I think back to several years ago when I tutored a young adult in writing and reading. This dedicated young man had received a high school diploma despite being unable to read and write at a level necessary for job applications. He was now a parent and wanted to read books to his child. He never missed a tutoring session, even though he was tempted to stop several times: there were plenty of more appealing things to do on a weekend afternoon than sit and struggle through the often confusing rules in the English language. He persevered through tutoring, though, and eventually wrote me one of the most meaningful thank you letters I will ever receive. More importantly, he gave himself a lifetime of options as a result of his refusal to quit.
Teams that go from underdogs to champions believe that winning is possible, despite feeling that the odds are stacked against them. Some teams do have advantages, such as more money to spend, while others have far less financial resources. In life, we can see ourselves in these disadvantaged teams, as we try to win while feeling our own resources being depleted. We face so many incredibly difficult moments: medical crises, parenting struggles, job losses, and failing relationships. Somehow, against these odds, we must maintain faith in ourselves and the belief that we can overcome these obstacles. In our lowest underdog moments, we have to find ways to trust things can get better despite facing an uncertain future. Adversity is inevitable; how we respond to it is where we write the most important part of our life stories.
If you stop in any restaurant during the month of March, you will likely find people rooting for college basketball teams who are ranked much lower than their opponents. These teams face underdog status because they supposedly have less talent, less experience with winning, less quality coaching, etc. Yet every year, at least one of these teams shocks their opponents and viewing audience by refusing to let negative odds define them. We all have some of the underdog in us. When we get off the sidelines and unleash our potential, we give ourselves a chance to accomplish just about anything. Doing so also inspires others facing their own battles, by showing them that we only achieve victory by staying in the game.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 as an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.