Farrar's Faucet: A psychologist’s candid, productive and often humorous take on principled business behavior and better business outcomes.

Life lessons from a boxer's life

Last night we went to a boxing gym to support a mate of ours in his first big bout.  Genevieve didn’t think she would enjoy it, but she got caught up in the moment.  I didn’t expect to still be interested, and yet I got totally absorbed in all the matches and couldn’t wait for Andy’s turn in the ring.  When I was younger my father taught me how to box, and I was surprised how much of it came back to me.

My Dad boxed in the British Army.  I guess that would be back in the late 1940’s and after.  He was a child of the depression, and I think he had a tough childhood.  I think fathers take their children to sports, (or science fairs, or libraries or whatever), because they want to pass some life lessons on to their children and it’s often hard to put those lessons into words.  A friend of mine recently showed me a list of life lessons learned from playing ice hockey.  I suspect the parents who are taking their children along to hockey, (or whatever), want them to learn those lessons, even if they can’t articulate what they are or expect their children to listen to them if they tried.

My father has a million opinions on life, but he could never get them across to me in words in a way that would engage me to listen.  (Probably as much my fault as his.)  However, through boxing as a young kid and early teenager I absorbed a lot of what he thought was important.

Appearances can be deceptive.
  My Dad is a little guy.  He's 4'11".  That's him in the photo with Mum and I on a recent trip.  I don't think size ever stopped him from doing any thing.  All my life he has always been faster and feistier than me.  Never underestimate anyone and always look out for the little guy who is hungrier than you.  No matter your size never be afraid to step in to the ring, and never let anything hold you back from doing what you want to do.

Ok…that may be more than one lesson.

Keep your head down and hands up.  Sport is supposed to be fun, but anything worthwhile is usually hard work as well.  Once you start you need to focus, and keep your gloves up and ready for what’s next.  No looking up, looking around, daydreaming or dozing.  Work hard, play hard.

And while you’re at it…

Turn up for training.
  You might think you just get into a ring and belt the heck out of the other guy.  You’d be wrong.  There’s an art and a science to boxing well.  You need to practice enough that it comes naturally, and you need to study enough that you get the form and execution right.  You can’t do that if you don’t turn up because you have a case of the sniffles, or you had a late night, or it’s cold out.  I tried all those: they didn’t work.  My Dad was the original “just do it” man long before Nike’s ad campaign.

Get on the front foot.  Unless you really, really need to back off and regroup, the best strategy is always to take the game to the opposition.  Sometimes you can be tempted to ignore a problem and hope it will go away.  Many people have a problem with procrastination, and sometimes that includes me, but no-one ever got into a ring and won by hiding in the corner.  You have to tackle life head on.

And speaking of corners.

You need good people in your corner.
  After you’ve done a few rounds with your personal demons everybody needs to get back into their corner for a while and take a rest.  When that happens you need supporters.  Don’t piss off your mates, don’t look down on people whose role is different from yours, and never forget you don’t get anywhere without a lot of help from a lot of people. When someone has just watched you go toe to toe with your opposition and they have good advice…take it.

Once you’re in the ring you’re all alone.
  Make sure you’ve prepared, and believe in yourself, because once the rumpus starts you have to rely on yourself.  I think as a kid boxing built tremendous self-confidence in me.  Some people think boxing does that because it makes you a better fighter, like you go around thinking “I could take him”, and “I could beat him up”.  That isn’t it at all.  It builds confidence because you develop self-reliance.  It’s just you and your opponent and a pair of gloves and a roped in ring.  You can’t call for your mummy and you can’t wait for anyone else to help you out.  If it’s going to happen it’s going to happen because of you.

Few are fooled by fancy footwork.  I’ve worked with some people who have amazing moves.  When you try to hold them accountable for something or plan something solid for the future they have a dozen excuses for why it didn’t get done, it’s not their fault and anyway, “look at this great shiny object I have here”.  Some people think they can avoid you looking at their results by distracting you with their moves, (or their fancy marketing, “blue sky plans”, smart clothes or latest electronic gadgets).  At the end of the bout, results count.

You’re only as good as your opposition.
  Boxers are matched up according to weight and experience.  If you’re good, you can expect your opponents are going to get better, just as you will by being matched up with them.  If it’s all too easy chances are you’ve rigged the system somehow and you’re not progressing.  Seek out worthy opponents that stretch you.

You don’t win them all.
  Sooner or later you’ll be counted out of a match by a technical knock out, (like a cut lip, bloodied eye or other injury that prevents you from going on), or perhaps you’ll get beaten by someone bigger, meaner and faster than you who scores more points on you.  Maybe one time you’ll miss a move and cop a blow to the head and need to get taken out of the fight.  Maybe you actually get knocked out.  Tough!  Life happens.  It’s not about the match you’ve lost, it’s about whether or not you come back.  Suck it up and train for the next time.

While you’re at it.

Be magnanimous in victory.  When you do win remember what we said about only being as good as your opponent.  Be gracious, be civil, be a good sport.  We always had to stand together at the end of every fight, and if you lost you congratulated the other.  Thank him for a good fight.  Hold the ropes open for the loser, and let him leave the ring with dignity.  There’s always plenty of time to celebrate later.

And finally, don't be afraid to show your emotions.
  In the picture my parents are holding hands.  They've held each other's hands when they go out walking all their lives.  Whether I won or lost, did well or did poorly, I could always tell what my father thought of my efforts.  He lives life large and encouraged me to do the same.

Our friend Andy won his bout, was a great sport, and afterward we all went out for a few drinks and celebrations.  Well done.  He got knocked around a bit but I’m sure he enjoyed it.

I’m fifty now, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like to get into a boxing ring at my age.  I equally can’t remember my father ever sitting down and trying to give me life lessons.  My Dad’s still around, in his 80’s, just as feisty and opinionated as he ever was.  I believe he still thinks of himself as a boxer, although he's obviously thinking of how he lived his life, not his ability to get back in a ring.  I have never had a very close relationship with my father.  Perhaps that was just the way of his generation.  Maybe, even though I would have resisted it furiously, just maybe, some of those lessons that got him through his life rubbed off on me.  Maybe that’s what he wanted all along.

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