The Fight is the Reward

It was my senior year and I was pitching against the #3 team in the country, the College of Wooster.

The first batter of the game was making my life difficult. He fouled off a pitch. Then another. And another. I threw a ball outside, hoping he would bite on it.

He didn’t. Ball one.

I tried again. Ball two.

Then another foul ball.

After what seemed like 10 minutes, we had battled back and forth to a full count.

When I think about what I miss most about playing baseball, I think about this moment.

I think about the struggle back and forth. I think about chance to compete against someone else. I think about the mental clarity and that rare feeling of being in the moment — not just living through it, but actually living in it.

There were thousands of moments like this one during my baseball career. Many times I lost the struggle. This time I won. The batter struck out on the next pitch (a fastball low and away). And a few hours later, we had pulled off the win and I had finished one of the best performances of my career.

But it wasn’t the win that made it worthwhile. It was the moment of struggle.

Gradually, I’ve begun to see that these moments are all around us. The problem is, the world tells us that we should be focused on the results. Society seems so obsessed with “appearing to be a success” that it has become dangerously easy to let the moments of struggle slip by without appreciation.

The world says that we should focus on hitting our sales targets, or on losing that extra weight, or on building a successful business, or on accomplishing XYZ result so that we can be praised for the achievement. But the real reward is found in the moments that come on the way to those results.

It’s not the results themselves that make anything worthwhile, it’s the fight that comes before them that gives our experiences meaning. I remember striking that batter out because of the struggle that it took to get there. It’s the process that makes the product worth remembering.

What is the Real Reward?

For the weightlifter, the reward is not losing weight or gaining muscle. The reward is the chance to wrap your hands around the iron and to sweat and train. The reward is every moment that you choose to live a physical life.

For the author, the reward is not having a best-selling book. The reward is the act of writing. The reward is every moment that you battle to string words together and craft a story that takes on a life of its own.

For the athlete, the reward is not winning a championship. The reward is the opportunity to compete and to fight for something you care about. The reward is every moment that you step between the lines and test your physical abilities.

For the entrepreneur, the reward is not owning a million-dollar business. The reward is building something of value where nothing existed previously. The reward is every moment that you choose to bet on yourself rather playing it safe.

For the artist, the reward is not showing your work in a top gallery or hearing the praise of critics. The reward is the act of creating something new. The reward is every moment that you struggle to overcome procrastination and resistance, and fight to express your vision.

You can’t guarantee the results, so don’t tie your happiness up in them. To struggle for something meaningful, that is success — regardless of the result.

The chance to compete for something you care about. The opportunity to work hard. The time and space to make something of value. Those acts and those moments are the real prize, not the result that comes afterward.

The fight is the reward.

52 Comments

  1. One of your best. Concise and to the point of remembering to be cognizant of all the benefits that are too easily overlooked. Happy to say I was there for that game and can still see that passion in your writing. You truly care about this team that you write to every week.

    Keep up the good work.

    JK3

  2. I am always reminded of Gary Vaynerchuk’s talk he gave on Entrepreneur On Fire. He compared himself to Mark Cuban who owns the Mavericks. Gary wants to own a sports team too. Despite all his successes, his #1 goal is still to own his favorite sports team, the Jets.

    But he doesn’t really want to own them because he knows that although victory will be temporarily sweet, he wouldn’t have anything to push for anymore. It’s the fight, the path, the road to getting where you want to be. Absolute failure can be crushing, but so can that realization that there’s nothing left to occupy your mind and drive you.

    I always try to remind myself to enjoy the moments in between.

    • I’m glad you feel the same way, Vincent. Thanks for reading and sharing your Gary V story. It’s great to have you in our little community!

  3. Thanks James. As I just came in from my garden – my first, and now a tangle of encroaching weeds, bolted greens and scabby tomatoes – I came to terms with just this kind of catharsis. While I failed at creating a bountiful, crew-feeding, aesthetically beautiful and ecologically prosperous masterpiece, I learned. I learned that both function and beauty are important. I learned the importance of being physically and mindfully present to tend to projects even as the world beckons with brighter, more interesting, more potential-promising things. I learned that next time around, I want to focus more on small successes and less on wild experimentation (having had the wild experiments to learn from!). Most of all, I learned that I did better when I trusted my own judgment, ignored the fear, and leapt into things early, before I was ready, and got them started rather than waiting for all the right information and circumstances to come together.

    You, Scott and Caleb all seem to say just the right thing at the right time : hearty, bountiful, delicious thanks!

    • Sounds like quite the gardening project, Susan! Scott and Caleb are great guys, so I’m in good company.

      Thanks for reading. And good luck growing!

  4. Fight is one thing you can always feel good about. I was the recipient of that game ball which now rests on a shelf as a reminder of true, focused effort and fight. Thanks James.

  5. Nugget: “It’s the process that makes the product worth remembering.” Stated as BP fact but this also implies so much! Makes the end product more worthy. Provides ongoing opportunities for reinforcement. Increases motivation along the way. Learning more readily sticks, increasing transferability. Embrace the struggle, don’t retreat!

    Love it James!

  6. Wow,

    Lots to be thankful for in this one, James.

    Your words, “…You can’t guarantee the results, so don’t tie your happiness up in them. To struggle for something meaningful, that is success — regardless of the result.”

    It’s true. The process, the genius of focusing your attention and strength on what is at hand is the point, the fine point of accomplishing your intention. Success is the endeavor of having given it your best effort!

    Encouragement Received!

    Joan Belle

  7. Amen, I agree one of your best and I almost didn’t read through because I am a bit burned out with sports metaphors. And I am a football nut! But I am glad I did as a business women in sales for Oracle for 30 years. This message is great! As a mom with now an adult child just starting his career I share everything you write with him.

    • I’m glad you powered through another sports metaphor and made it to the punchline! Thanks for reading, Kim. (And for sharing with your son. Much appreciated!)

  8. Hi James,

    I really love most of your posts and your very practical instructions on behavior change, such as “the Seinfield strategy”. You, Dave Ramsey, and only a very few other people in the self-help sphere actually provide solid life-changing advice. (Unfortunately, the subject area is full of impractical advice.)

    I’m respectfully pushing back a bit on this post though. I think that there is a tendency in our culture now to have a sort of compulsive “positivity” which Barbara Ehrenreich has done a good job talking about, e.g. in Smile or Die. I’m not accusing you of doing this in your article, but I weary of articles that stress how great even the experience of suffering is… I’d weigh in on the other hand and say that there’s nothing wrong with admitting how much something “sucks”. Like Dave Ramsey says, one day you wake up in debt or fat and out of shape and get “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” I think the experience of those hard times is easier for people if it’s OK to just say “yeah this sucks, and this is part of getting to where I want to be” rather than having to think to your self “am I appropriately recognizing the positive in this?”.

    Also, I want to point out that hardwork-in-itself is not a good goal. We live in the richest country in the world, where 5% of the Earth’s population consume 25% of the world’s resources–despite what might be most flattering, we got there through technology, and luck (it helped that we came out of World War II without being bombed to pieces like Europe and Asia). Having visited a third-world country first hand–”hardwork-in-itself” is one of those things that sounds poetic to write about, but actually doing physical labor and being poor is existentially meaningless.

    Keep up the good work nevertheless.

    • Peter — thanks for the compliments. Comparing me to Dave Ramsey is very kind.

      I think you make some good points, but I also think you are talking about something different than what I was talking about in this article. (Which is probably an indication that I didn’t do a very good job of writing the original article.)

      When I say that “the fight is the reward” what I really mean is that the experience is the reward. I’m referencing the idea that we should take pride in the act of creating art, or playing a sport, or doing meaningful work … and not merely focus on results like a championship, or a promotion, or external praise. I’m certainly not advocating that everyone should toil away in a poor, overworked, and unhealthy lifestyle. Rather, I’m just saying, “Don’t let this moment pass by unnoticed because all you’re thinking about is the goal that you want to reach. The moments that come on the way to the goal, those are the real prize.”

      On a related note: If you do find yourself in a situation that genuinely “sucks,” then I think a good way to approach that situation is to say “it might not be my fault, but it’s my responsibility to do something about it.” I wrote more about that attitude in this article: The “Chosen Ones” Choose Themselves.

      Thanks again and I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts. It’s great to have you in our little community!

  9. When I’ve rooted for a championship team I’ve come to realize that the moment the final game has been won, no matter how great it feels, all that’s left is a parade and memories.

    As for personal endeavors, you’re going to cajole me back to the open Mic comedy nights, aren’t you, bomb nights be damned behind the specter of the struggle.

    John

    • You’ve got my respect, John. Performing as a comedian might be one of the most difficult things in the world to do successfully. Good luck and thanks for reading!

  10. I am just 21 years old and I completed graduation in philosophy, so I also want to be a philosopher like you. Truly James you’re amazing and whatever you write, it’s for everybody. Thanks.

  11. Success doesn’t feel that good if there was no struggle involved to achieve it. Would you feel too happy if you win a baseball game without any struggle against very poor team? Nope. But if you win it against the top team, then you really feel good about yourself. Even if you lose against the top team you still feel product of yourself for the fight you gave.

    When you will look at your past achievements, it’s not the final accomplishment that you will remember the most, it’s the struggle which you will always remember. It’s not the success that you will be always proud of, but it’s the fight you put in about which you will always be proud of yourself.

    • Viraj, I totally agree with ‘Success doesn’t feel that good if there was no struggle involved to achieve it’.
      Sometimes I think that the success becomes a let’s say ‘by-product’ of this struggling process or sometimes even natural consequence. But the most important thing for me is still the struggling even though it’s difficult sometimes but totally worth it!
      James you made my day…again :)

  12. Wow! What a great eye-opener. To many, rewards are the actual results you get from the action. I am really impressed to hear other sides of the definition.

  13. “You can’t guarantee the results, so don’t tie your happiness up in them. To struggle for something meaningful, that is success — regardless of the result”.

    The above comment encapsulates a brilliant article. I always kind of believed this stuff but the above comment has exactly articulated it. Thanks.

  14. That is one of the biggest things I appreciate about Triathlon. The sport as a whole is geared towards the fight. It isn’t about winning, it is about what you come up against in training and on race day. It is such a powerful experience.

    • Awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Harley. I haven’t done a triathlon myself, but I have a lot of respect for how the athletes push themselves.

      As always, thanks for reading.

  15. Love this one! If the end result becomes too important then many will likely just lie, cheat or steal to get it. The good is in the work/fight. It’s probably more readily apparent in sports, but it obviously applies elsewhere in life. Thanks for another great post.

  16. Great article James, it remidend me of one of the best pre-game prayers that I have heard. (Nebraska Huskers football team)

    “Dear Lord,
    In the battles we go through life
    We ask for a chance that’s fair
    A chance to equal all our strife
    A chance to do or dare
    And if we win,
    Let it be by the code
    With faith and honor held high
    And if we lose,
    Let us stand by the road
    And cheer as the winners go by…”

    To me, what you wrote means to focus on the battle, because you can control that, not the results and this prayer starts with exactly that: a chance to fight.

    It doesn’t ask to win (or any other result) just a chance. It clearly states to accept gracefully and thankfully whatever the end result is.

  17. James

    Great Read!

    There is something magical about being in the zone. In that zone we experience all sorts of things, the ups and downs, joys and pains of being in that struggle. But, no matter the outcome, when we play ’till the end of the game we can be proud that we stuck
    with it.

    Remember, in the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson came to the plate all beat up? He was facing Dennis E. of Oakland, one of the best relief pitchers, what did Kirk Gibson do? He hammered that ball over the fence!

    James thank you for your posts!

    Stone

  18. Wonderful read to start my day! I love all analogies to baseball – a sport that I enjoyed so much as a kid. That pitching experience was an excellent example of truly being in the moment – focusing all of your energy, your heart and soul, your mind and body on accomplishing one thing. In that moment, it’s not the glory that might come from striking the guy out or the possibility of fame and fortune, it’s not even actually striking the guy out – it’s all about throwing that ball to the best of your ability, bringing everything that you have learned to that point together in a single effort to “let it fly” and land where it may. Those moments are some of the best that life has to offer!! Thanks for the reminder!!

  19. Great message James! As a professional artist, a musician with 2 CD’s on the market, and a professional coach, the process of creating (the fight) is what it’s all about. More folks in our achievement-oriented culture need to understand that that’s where the satisfaction originates.

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