Molded on the Mat – Refined on the River

Many of us are currently finding ourselves smack dab in the middle of some of the craziest times of our lives while we attempt to sort through the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many people have lost jobs, businesses, retirement accounts, missed special events, and even lost family and friends during this non-sense.  Phrases like “how you holding up”, “stay safe”, and “do you need anything” are rolling off of peoples tongues at an unprecedented rate, with the looming question of “when will this all be over?”

I was recently tagged in a Facebook post where a friend had commented that I seem to be abnormally resilient to stress and adversity and that got me pondering if that was really true, and if so, why?  Shortly after that Facebook post my law partner sent me a blog he had penned discussing what the ocean had taught him about life and shaped who he had become as a person and as a professional.  Interestingly this spawned further self-banter with the original Facebook post which has led me here because…well…why not.

For those of you that don’t know, I was a wrestler.  I wrestled all through grade school, high school, and college.  It is something I am proud of and much more willing to divulge to an unsuspecting new- comer than the fact that I’m an attorney.  The reason for this is simple.  Wrestlers are a different breed and generally garner the respect of many who truly know and understand the sport.  Why you ask?  Well here is my spin.

For starters, wrestling requires self-sufficiency.  There is no one to blame for your shortcomings and few to credit for your success except you.  When it is time to compete, you and only you are the one stepping on that mat waiting for the whistle to blow.  There is no one else out there with you, no one to rely on, no one to lend a helping hand.    The outcome is solely dependent on you.

Second and directly tied to self-sufficiency is discipline. It is impossible to be self-sufficient without discipline.  One of the most controversial aspects of wrestling centers around weight cutting.  Weight cutting is controversial because of the health risks associated with it if it is not done correctly or taken to an extreme.  The amount of discipline and sacrifice that is associated with weight cutting is unimaginable to most people.  Not being able to partake in Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners, walking by a water fountain and not being able to take a drink, watching a classmate slug a Mountain Dew not realizing that sweet nectar is more valuable than gold to you, and the sleepless nights driven by hunger and dehydration are just a few examples.  Weight cutting is simply mind over matter and being able to tackle that endeavor is no small feat.  However, once you are able to do so, the power of that conquest is endless.

Third, wrestling builds confidence.  Once a person understands and accepts self-sufficiency and is capable of being disciplined, confidence is natural and unavoidable.  Whether it is confidence in your skills, confidence in taking risks, or simply the confidence to try something different, confidence that you are capable is a milestone to becoming successful whether in wrestling or any other aspects of life.

There are many more quality traits that are developed through the sport such as work ethic, respect, toughness, and sheer grit. The end-result however is that when a situation kicks up the fight or flight survival instinct, there is only one option for me…fight. These are the foundational underpinnings that have allowed me to accomplish what I have and continue to propel me to accomplish more whether it be in inside or outside the courtroom.

The above foundation is important but so too are the refined aspects of being able to spot details others may have missed and an ability to anticipate a looming change in circumstances and take appropriate actions.  Having grown up fishing the rivers and lakes of central Iowa has provided many opportunities to hone these skills.  Whether it be navigating the subtle changes of a flowing river in order to successfully make it through a course of rapids unscathed or a mild shift in the wind that may signal a looming storm, nature has a way of forcing you to identify details and use those details to anticipate outcomes of various situations.  Recognizing these details and taking appropriate actions in a timely fashion has provided countless opportunities for me to avoid added stress and aversity to many aspect of my life.

There is no doubt that being an attorney is a stressful job.  Being responsible for recovering money for the death or injury of a loved one or having the looming possibility that a client may spend the rest of his/her life in prison on your shoulders makes it difficult to leave your work in the office.  This constant pressure can be suffocating at times.  Whether you are an attorney, a doctor, a carpenter, a parent, or even a child, everyone will find themselves in this position.  When that happens you simply have to take a step back, detach from the situation, prioritize your approach, pull up your bootstraps, and re-engage.

After engaging in this self-reflection process, I think there is some validity to the fact that I may be abnormally resilient to stress and adversity.  This resilience has been a part of me for a long time and has shaped me both on a personal and professional level and I can only hope that the trend can continue to be duplicated in the years to come.