A colleague once asked me when I returned from war, “How did you manage the fear of death?” The answer is fairly simple. We know life has pain and ends with death. The real question is, “What are you going to do about it?”
You see the secret is to stare that reality right in the face and smile because you’ve found something that makes it worth it. A noble cause to serve overrides futility with intrinsic purpose. Serve a purpose greater than yourself to advance virtuous principle through action with faith that it matters.
We commit ourselves to growth through suffering to become more capable, more capable to achieve more and through achievement what we can do and leave behind for each other. This makes a quality life.
Measure the days through quality not quantity because we don’t control the number anyway. Many grow old but don’t live a single day. They die having never discovered who they are and that is the true tragedy…to leave the temporal world having served only your self-preservation is more tragic than dying earlier than had hoped but with a heart full of passion, love and at peace.
Before my time as a SEAL, I was a baseball player. I used to worry about the day my final game would come, because I loved playing. I loved everything about the ballplayer culture. I was blessed to play it, but I was scared of losing it. That fear – although motivating – also degraded some of the joy. It can limit what we’re able to accomplish and how much we can help others along the way.
The game – like life – will cause us to suffer. In that suffering we will either grow and become a more capable ballplayer, or we will become resentful. We may play well either way, but what kind of legacy will we leave? What kind of fulfillment will we receive?
Our statistics will one day be forgotten, and over time they’ll become less important. Our records will be broken. However, everyone will remember what kind of person you were on the field, in the dugout, at practice, and on the road.
Don’t believe me? We didn’t have social media when I played. Saying goodbye to teammates after a season was often forever. Last week, my best pal on a team from the Northwoods League found me. We haven’t seen or spoken to each other in 18 years. We talked for an hour and have plans to meet in the near future.
I don’t remember his ERA. He doesn’t remember mine, but I do remember how fiercely that guy competed. I remember how we had each other’s backs everywhere we went. I remember talking about our dreams late at night.
You have a last game in your future, and baseball is not a sport you can play forever. When it is over, you will never play it again. You will lose the opportunity to do something you love doing. So how do you manage that fear?
Well just like the fear of death, the real question becomes “What are you going to do about it?” Stare the reality in the face and smile because you’ve found something deeply meaningful to play for. Numbers will be forgotten, but your legacy never dies. Did you lead your team through hard times? Did you play every out hard? Did you have a kind word for you buddy in a slump? Did you degrade your pitcher struggling with the zone or help him figure out how to find it? Did you whine about every bad call or embrace it as part of the game and provide an example to the young kid in the stands on how to respond to adversity like a man with honor and in control of himself? Did you play with passion?
How you do baseball is likely how you will do the next chapters of your life. It turns out, my buddy is a wildly successful entrepreneur, and it doesn’t surprise me. When you look at an old picture of yourself, will you smile and feel free knowing you played for something deeper than the self-preservation of your limited career? Will your buddies find you 20 years later or have forgotten your name? That will be determined by what you do today.
Today, will you play in constant fear of that final game or embrace today’s game with a fearless heart? If you’re reading this, you’re already playing at a higher level than most ever will. Take great pride in that responsibility and do so with a humble heart. Live the game well.
Catch Jason’s new book, For Each Other, which was released in January 2021
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