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PODCAST: Pursuing Arete



Audio Transcript: Just before the school started at the end of the summer, I started thinking about the kids coming into their school year. I was concerned, not just for the youngest students here, the ones who are between seven and , ten but particularly the ones who are Middle School age and in high school, of course. Also, not just there, but also at Hilbert College, where I've been teaching for almost 20 years.


So, I asked the kids, what are you afraid of as you start this year? What are your concerns? What do you think you're afraid of, or you think most kids are afraid of? These were the answers I got:


"I'm afraid that I won't get good grades. I'm afraid of getting mad. I'm afraid of not doing as well as others. I'm afraid of being embarrassed. I'm afraid of looking weird. I'm afraid of letting people down. I'm afraid that no one's going to sit with me at lunch. I'm afraid of what they think of me. I'm afraid that just no one's going to like me. I'm afraid of failing. I'm afraid of being left alone. I'm afraid of not being good enough. I'm afraid of being judged. I'm afraid of being bullied. I'm afraid of being what everyone wants me to be."


When I ask these questions, when I pose these questions to little ones, I found the older ones had the same fears. Right up the line, I found that my college kids had the same fears. The vocabulary may have been a little better, but basically, the same fears.


I wrote these on the wall of the gym. I like putting things right out in the open. I like kind of a square stance in boxing. I like an authentic stance that says, "Here I am, come get me," because I'm more of a counter puncher. With these kids, I wanted to put the fears up on the walls because when we look at something and say it out loud, then we know what it is. We know what it is, and we can address it.


Over the last 32 years of having this gym, and a little over 30 years of working with kids, how do we address these fears? How do you combat them, and how do you tackle these challenges? That's all I see is fears. They're just challenges at our gym. Fear and anger, they're wonderful servants and terrible Masters. If I'm afraid of failing a test, well, damn it, I'm going to study my butt off. I'm going to study my butt off. If I'm running a race, I'm going to train as intelligently and as hard as I can so that I do well. That's good fear.


But fears where you just sort of stick your head in the sand and don't address it, and you freeze, the outcomes aren't usually so good. I like to think that at our little gym here, what we look to do is form good habits. Form good habits, and if you form good habits, and then you become a slave to those habits, you like who you are at the end of the day. You don't have to be exceptionally talented. You don't have to be Mozart. You don't have to be LeBron James playing basketball. You don't have to be one of those Kenyans who runs like a two-minute mile (I'm exaggerating). You just have to simply stick to the habits.


Some of the ways that we do it here at this gym, we have rules, especially for the kids and even the older kids. When you walk in, you bow to the room. You say, "Yes, coach. No, coach. I don't know, coach," or even, "I disagree with you, coach." You never break eye contact when the coach is teaching you something. You don't come in with dirty shoes. If you do, the coach has us all hold the pushup, and the coach cleans the floor for us.


If you yawn or break any of our rules, it's not a punishment, but the coach does 10 push-ups. Yes, that's right, the coach does 10 push-ups. But, of course, coaches get lonely doing push-ups by themselves, so of course, everybody does it together. Why? Because we are all on the same team. We're all on the same team. That's who we are. When you walk into the gym, you know these are the rules. You do these rules, especially bowing when you walk into the gym because it's a boxing gym, and it has a sense of martial discipline to it. It calibrates you. It calibrates you.


When you break a rule and the coach does 10 push-ups, and of course, we all do it with the coach, we do the 10 push-ups not as a punishment but as a way of calibrating our minds. To know, "Okay, we slipped, we fell, now we rise up." In this gym, we get up twice as fast as we fell. We get up twice as fast as we fell. The blackboard on the wall always serves as a reminder. Every week, there are different quotes that we put up, just different ideas. Of course, the one quote that's always going to be up there is Victor Frankl: "Between stimulus and response, there is a space, and in that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and happiness. In our response lies our growth and happiness."


That is always up on the board. In addition to that, there are quotes that go up every single week. Today's quotes, as long as we're here today, I'll tell you what they are. The first one was just so much not so much a quote but talking about an idea. It's called "Arete." It's a Greek word, and it really means Excellence. But it means more than Excellence. It's the act of living to one's full potential. The person who lives with Arete is living with their highest effectiveness. The pursuit of Excellence, Arete, is superior to winning. It's superior to winning.


We live in a country where everyone wants to win, win, win, win, win. But winning is weak compared to Arete because every athlete, everyone has overplayed a game, everyone has won something, but they didn't really play very well. And everyone who's been an athlete, a competitive athlete over their life, well, they've lost, they've lost. But guess what? They could not have been better. They could not have been better. They were excellent. They pursued Arete.


If you pursue Arete every day, every day for as long as you have breath, well, before you close your eyes for the last time, you'll meet with a success unexpected in common hours.


So, we address these fears. We address these fears by forming good habits. As we form good habits, we become stronger, more effective, we become better. It's not just how do I hook off the jab? How do I create space? How do I transfer body weight better? It's more, what am I thinking? What am I thinking as I do this?


The questions today are, how do you want to win in life, and how do you want to lose? Those were my two questions at the start of today's class. The answer is the same. Act the same way as when you win, as when you lose. Act the same way. If you do that, well, then, man, that's when the gods celebrate you. That's when you walk with the Gods.






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