A man’s got to know his limitations.
These words were spoken by Clint Eastwood in his role as Dirty Harry, inspector Harry Callahan, in Magnum Force.
I have thought about Eastwood’s movie quote a lot over the years.
In sports, I think they definitely ring true. An athlete has to know his limitations.
If a basketball player, for example, is not a good three-point shooter, he should not be chucking up three-pointers. He is only hurting his team.
A baseball player who does not have home run power should not be swinging for the fences. Long fly balls are just long outs.
A golfer, as well, should know his game. If he does not have the length, or the consistency, to hit it over the water, he should definitely lay up.
Athletes definitely need to know their strengths and weaknesses.
But, the older I am getting, I have come to believe we all have to understand our own strengths and weaknesses. In my own life, I have had to learn some hard lessons because I did not understand my limitations.
More than 20 years ago I took a summer job selling books door to door in West Virginia. I was persuaded to take this job by my best friend in college who made more than $10,000 the previous summer selling books.
At that time in my life, I believed I could do anything I put my mind to. Funny, how life has a way of knocking that out of you.
So, after a week’s training in Nashville, I was up in West Virginia knocking on my first door.
I made it through the first day, alright. I sold a few books and made a few bucks.
But then, it quickly turned into the summer of hell.
They called it “being on schedule.”
I was told to knock on my first door at 8 o’clock in the morning and keep going until 8 o’clock at night. Let’s just say, for the rest of the summer I would never get back to “being on schedule.”
Looking back now, I should have understood myself better and known that I was never going to succeed at the job. I don’t take rejection well, but the life of a salesman is full of it.
I remember driving by the same house five times, but each time I was too scared to knock on the door. After my fifth time, I just kept driving until I found a nice park bench to sit on. John Denver was right. West Virginia is really almost heaven. And, instead of selling books, like I was supposed to, I just kept driving up and down the Blue Ridge Mountains until my summer was over. It is a wonder my Toyota Corolla made it through all those miles.
Fast forward about 15 years later and I made a similar mistake when I did not realize my limitations. I had just been laid off at my newspaper job in Memphis when I decided that I would pursue a new career as a teacher. I have always enjoyed reading literature, and I thought that as a teacher I could really make a difference in the world. Boy, did I have delusions of grandeur.
My teaching career lasted a little less than three years, and I finally gave it up when it was clear that I was not meant for the job. I have always had a laid back personality, but in order to teach I needed to be more like a drill sergeant. So, whenever I tried to change into a disciplinarian, my students, seeing right through me, would laugh and just keep misbehaving.
I remember driving to work and saying a little prayer every day that the kids would not misbehave. But, alas, it was the same thing every day. The students misbehaved, and I spent every waking hour of my day stressed out over the consequences — coming from the parents and the principals — of the students’ misbehavior. In the end, it was my responsibility to get them to behave, and I failed miserably.
One day I realized I just could not spend the next two decades or so of my life this stressed out. For me, it was clear that being a teacher was not going to get much better. I felt horrible about quitting, and I beat myself up for a good while over my failure.
God bless the teachers in our community. They are truly doing God’s work, and don’t think for a minute that anyone can do it.
In conclusion, I hope this column has not been too negative. I hope no one gives up on their dreams because it may seem too hard. But, I also think people need to reflect deeply on who they are before pursuing a path that may not suit them.
The silver lining from my story is that I have relearned what I already knew deep down. I was meant to work at a newspaper.
Hopefully, I can spend the rest of my career working in journalism because it is something that I truly enjoy.
David W. Healy is the sports editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.