For many people, there is no greater gulf than that between what they started out to achieve and what they finally settled for. There is not a person who didn’t spend his or her childhood dreaming of what he or she would be someday. I know a seven-year-old boy who when he heard that O. J. Simpson was retiring said he’d like Mr. Simpson’s old job. Now that’s high hopes and spirit, and that’s what we all had long ago before life pummeled us with discouragement. We thought we were going to be somebody.
But dreams have a way of vanishing, don’t they? Negative thinking takes over, and we start to be satisfied just to get by. You know, success or failure all starts in the mind. The game of life can be lost before the starting whistle if you think of yourself as a loser. And many of us do. We’ve watched ourselves fall on our faces, make faux pas, start our favorite diet tomorrow, and then tomorrow again, and then tomorrow again. Our self-confidence gets dashed. We give in, throw in the towel. We shout “Uncle!” Oh, we may call our giving up on ourselves by different names—but it’s giving up all the same.
Someone once pointed out that you can heat water to 211 degrees Fahrenheit, and all you’ve got is a lot of hot water. But just heat it one more degree—to the boiling point—and you’ve got steam, steam that can move trains and boats, steam that produces power. It’s all in one degree. (See Earl Nightingale, “The Boiling Point,” Our Changing World, no. 1023.)
And anyone who has ever tried to start a car knows that the engine can be in perfect working order, the tank can be full of gasoline, the parts of the motor can be perfectly tuned and ready to roll, and still nothing can happen—if the battery doesn’t lend a little spark to start the whole process going. Without that spark there is nothing but a lot of useless parts.
A degree. A spark. Wouldn’t it be sad to fall short of your best expectations in life because you were missing some little thing? Some little thing like willpower? Or a little thing like perseverance? Or maybe a little thing like confidence ?
As Johnson said, “Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance. He that shall walk, with vigor, three hours a day, will pass, in seven years, a space equal to the circumference of the globe.”
Babe Ruth is revered in the nation’s heart as the home-run king. He was a winner, a champion in every sense of the word. But did you know that while he hit 714 homeruns, he struck out 1,330 times? He struck out almost twice as many times as he hit for the circuit.
The story is told that in the summer of 1927 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, 35,000 baseball fans were all very busy booing one man. It was Babe Ruth. He had just struck out on three pitched balls for the second successive time. Two runners were left stranded on base.
He turned from the plate and headed for the dugout amidst the sounds of wild and abusive jeers. And before he sat down, he tipped his hat to the booing crowd with an unruffled smile.
His turn came up again in the eighth inning. This time the situation was critical. The Athletics were crowding out the Yankees, 3 to 1. The bases were loaded, and there were two out. He could win or lose the game for the Yankees, and he was going up to bat as a personal loser for the day. He selected his favorite bat and then stood at home plate facing one of baseball’s toughest pitchers. Now it all depended on him, the man who had just struck out twice, the man who had earned the insults of the crowd. The excitement was tremendous. All eyes were upon him.
The pitcher flung the first ball across the base. With all his power, Babe swung and missed. The next pitch was good, too, and Ruth swung so hard he fell over, raising a cloud of dust. It didn’t look good for him. But the third time, Ruth swung again, and this time he connected, connected with a loud explosion that sent the ball hurtling out of the park and beyond the houses across the street to make one of the longest hits in baseball history. (See Earl Nightingale, “Worth Remembering,” Our Changing World, No. 1180.)
Babe Ruth had staying power. He stayed in there when all looked lost. He didn’t become overwhelmed with his losses. He didn’t measure and remeasure again his failures. He didn’t declare himself a loser and curl up in the dugout and die. The greatest slugger kept trying, putting his heart on the line.
Do you remember reading about Patty Wilson of La Palma, California? She’s another winner. She’s an inspiration to every soul who ever ran the race of life. Patty comes from a family of athletes. But she is an epileptic. That in and of itself would stop some of us. But not Patty. She began running with her father, Jim, despite the fact that she occasionally had seizures. Once she finished a high school race standing up even though she was semi-conscious. She continued to run, despite the odds, despite the challenges. Then in 1977, at the age of 15, Patty and her father decided to run the 1,310 miles from their home in California to Portland, Oregon. On that fateful June 18, television crews, reporters, and state and local officials gathered to wish the Wilsons good luck.
Now, Patty’s run to Portland presented challenges that would have stopped most athletes. During the first 25 miles, she suffered a stress fracture in the metatarsal bone of her left foot. It would sometimes swell so much she could barely get her shoe on. But she could not quit. She knew what she represented not only to thousands of athletes, but also to the thousands of handicapped people who were watching her from around the country. Patty averaged 31 miles per day. She arose every morning at 4:30 A.M. Her mother had to drain a score of blisters on Patty’s feet each morning with a hypodermic needle. That process was repeated every noon and evening. She and her father ran mile after lonely mile, only to encounter hecklers who pelted them with garbage, dirt, and thoughtless insults. Sometimes she and her father would have to pull each other along. But they would not quit!
As they approached Portland on July 29, one month and a half after they began, the crowds poured out to meet them. People with handicaps came to run or talk to Patty. People with epilepsy shouted their encouragement.
During the last hundred yards, her father looked over to see if Patty had a smile of victory, but she could only grimace from the incredible pain. Then it was over. They were swooped up into the welcoming ceremonies. Some people in the crowd fought back the tears; others wept openly. It was a victory of immeasurable proportions. Think of it, a run of over 1,300 miles by a 15-year-old girl with epilepsy. Doesn’t it make you proud to be a part of the human race?
Babe Ruth kept slugging and Patty kept running. And you must do the same. Not only will it make a difference in this life, but in the one to come. This is the way Nephi said it:
“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Ne. 31:20.)
Press forward. It’s not just a piece of nice advice. It’s a commandment. Press forward—one step at a time, always believing that you can do a great and excellent work here on this earth and that your life matters, maybe more than you imagine. Progression is an eternal law. And those who are managing to just get by in life will find after an eternity that they are eons behind those who were willing to plod along, undaunted, one step at a time. May you have the confidence to keep slugging even when you are striking out and keep running even when blisters fill your shoes. May you be undaunted in reaching for the Lord’s kingdom where the righteous dwell and not settle for some miserable halfway house for those who gave up too soon.