When I watch my son play basketball, the thing that most interests me is not the close game. It’s the one that is so hopeless that it’s actually over. They’re just playing out the clock.
I ask myself why the players on a team would continue to play hard when there is no way they can actually win anymore? Thirty seconds left on the clock and they would have to score 10 baskets to tie. That’s about 1 basket every 3 seconds and it’s just about impossible.
I think most of us answer the question in terms of the value of “not giving up.” We know it’s a virtue to keep going in the face of the toughest of situations. We expect that of our children in such a game scenario.
But what’s the real value of that? There are times when we know something is impossible, such as trying to make a flight that leaves from the airport in 5 minutes, driving 30 minutes across town through heavy traffic. Are you really going to try to make that flight, risking getting into an accident, when the odds are so low?
I’m going to give it up, say “Better luck next time,” find another flight. That’s a smart thing to do in a situation that’s impossible. Otherwise, I’m wasting my energy and perhaps risking something for nothing.
So why is a basketball game different? It it because the dangers for trying are so low? Because we want to show the other team they haven’t discouraged us?
The way I see it, those last 30 seconds are not about the game the kids are playing right now. If they give it their all during those last 30 seconds, they are really getting a head start on the next game, preparing themselves mentally while sharpening their skills under pressure. If they were to give it up in the last 30 seconds, they would in a sense be giving up on the next game as well because, if your attitude is bad, it doesn’t matter how much time is left.
In music we often fail, as practicers, as performers. At some point a performance may simply be ruined and one would want to throw in the towel. And yet, the show must go on.
Why? Because the music is only the vehicle for something greater. No matter how you play, you can always find a way to think of a performance as a failure if you want to.
By persevering, by fighting the good fight, the performer is dealing with being present to the moment, no matter what that moment is. They may be better prepared next time, or may not suffer a freak accident, but that won’t make for a good performance unless they have the presence of mind to make it one. Giving a hopeless performance your all prepares you for the one that isn’t hopeless.
I think that’s a valuable lesson for other situations as well. Do you find in your life there are times when it makes sense to persevere even though it seems pointless, even hopeless? Does this have relevance to our emotional states in general?