This time of year is filled with holiday events and family time. When the weather turns cold, another mental reminder goes off for me: the beginning of the college basketball season. Starting in elementary school, the beginning of college basketball was important to me and helped me connect with friends and be excited to practice and improve my skills. As I got older, going to college basketball games became a large part of my social life. Growing up in ACC country was fun–so many great teams and players. I have written previously about my adoration for Len Bias. He was my favorite player as a kid. I also loved the fiery coach from NC State, Jim Valvano.
In 1993, Jim Valvano died of cancer. Less than two months before his passing, Jim Valvano delivered an incredibly inspirational speech at the ESPY awards. This time of year, over approximately the last twenty years, I have taken the time to re-watch Jim Valvano’s speech. Each time I watch it, I am brought to tears.
I have watched less and less basketball as I have become more attached to fly fishing and learning all I can about the sport. But each year, I watch the coach’s speech. In 2020, his message seems even more important. I recommend everyone watch his speech and listen for the four major motivational ideas.
His first message is about the elements of a full day that make a full life. Time is a precious commodity, and it was especially precious for him at that time. He stated that each day people should strive to spend time laughing, thinking, and being moved to tears emotionally. Laughter helps me connect to fun, silliness, and to remember to not take myself too seriously. With fly fishing, when I am too serious or I feel like I can’t do anything right, I have to be open to finding the joke in my head. A passing hiker told me while I was fishing the other day that he wanted to try fly fishing but couldn’t find a hook small enough to catch one. His chuckle was almost funnier than the joke. Now I hear his voice telling that joke every time I’m tying on small trailers and laugh.
Thinking is something I may do too much of, but learning and trying to learn about fly fishing is one of my true passions. I have that one down. In other aspects of my life, I may ruminate on things instead of communicating them. I am a work in progress. Connecting to my emotions is something I struggle with, as anger dominated my emotions for a long time. Now, especially through my writing, I can connect to how I feel and I am learning to express myself fully.
Jim’s second message is to keep in mind three things:
- Where you started
- Where you are
- Where you want to be
Recognition of what and where you came from and how much you learned and were supported is integral to a grateful and healthy life. I have been given so much and been supported in so many ways, more than I can list or even always recognize. Setting goals for where you want to be gives you something to work toward and a strong sense of purpose. I am inconsistent in goal setting across different factors of my life, but I find when I commit to goals, I have more energy, more effectiveness, and more focus.
The third message is to keep an enthusiasm for life. Jim quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm.” Feeling like life is a grind or that things are going through the motions hasn’t produced happiness, productivity, or a sense of connection for me. It feels lonely. Enthusiasm brings energy from others and is a base for great accomplishments. Fly tying is a task where my enthusiasm becomes apparent in my output. Both the quality and quantity of flies are impacted by my level of excitement and attention.
His final message is his most famous: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Cancer was destroying his body. He needed help from Dick Vitale to ascend the stairs to the podium. His presence and emotion delivered through the speech brought the audience to their feet and always brings me to tears. Committing ourselves to always bring our best selves and to follow Jim’s four messages will help our lives and our fly fishing. As 2020 is coming to an end and one of the hardest years in many people’s lives has passed, it’s important to hold on to these lessons and to never give up.