Million Dollar Baby, the movie that stole our hearts as we watched the rags to riches, heart wrenching journey of Maggie, the unlikely underdog turned hero of a grungy boxing gym and underrated, past-his-prime boxing coach.
A plethora of profound words to-live-by and life altering dialogue wash over me as I watch in awe of this woman’s determination, drive and unwillingness to hear “No” or “You Can’t”. But the one line that stayed with me, for years to come, that has popped into my mind all along my short path of life was this; “sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back… But step back too far and you ain’t fighting at all.”
Frankie (Maggie’s trainer played by the legendary Clint Eastwood) is talking about her form, her style. But from the moment it rang in my ears, I heard the depth of that statement, it imprinted on my soul and to this day has never left me.
How often is it that we’re so entwined in a situation, in a problem, that all we seem to be doing is treading water. I like to call it the slump, the trough, the stagnation. Now, there is no one that believes more in the trends of life. The upswing and the downswing. The cycle. Sometimes it’s your turn to struggle and claw your way through an era, and sometimes it’s your turn to bask in the glory of the moment. But that line, it has a strange way of lightly tapping me on the shoulder in the middle of my greatest battles, my cyclical thriller in Manila. (Yes, I’ve fought my fair share of Frazier’s, so have you, don’t discredit yourself.)
1. Own your weakness, own your strengths
“Sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step back…” for me, this speaks to the art of detaching, for me specifically, this speaks to emotion. So often I cloud myself with emotion, blame it on any which aspect you like, I’m a Gemini, I’m an only child, I’m a woman, call it how you like it, none of the above offends me, and it shouldn’t offend you either. Understand yourself.
Understand the way you tick, the way you work, when you feel that wave of emotion, own it, label it, indulge and experiment with it. Assess what it helps you create, assess the damage it does if you let it be free, harness it and channel it. Be kind to yourself.
As humans we have this indescribable beauty within us that comes from being so imperfect, and having the ability to acknowledge that. So often the clarity we so desire, that we are so thirsty for, comes from detaching ourselves. It comes from decelerating the panic, zooming out.
Taking that one step back to regain our footing, regain our focus and deliver that knock-out punch, that winning number, the move that brings the crowd to their feet in awe and appreciation of you and your efforts.
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one” – Bruce Lee
2. Don’t step back too far
However, there’s always a “but”. There is a balance to be kept, and our beloved Frankie, Clint Eastwood’s character, brings it home with “But step back too far and you ain’t fighting at all.”
It’s a warning and it’s applicable to every aspect of our lives. Step back too far, and you aren’t even in the fight any longer. Remove yourself too far, cut yourself off, bottle yourself up, and you’re no longer competing. You’re no longer in the game. You aint fighting at all.
It speaks to spectatorizing yourself (yup, I made it up, give it a minute it will catch on). It speaks to side lining yourself. Again I say, be kind to yourself, we are such gentle souls, so delicate, we are so soft and so in need of love and guidance. When there is no one around to applaud for you, applaud yourself.
3. Acknowledge even the smallest victory
I once heard of a primary school teacher who was teaching her little ones to read. One day during class she requested that little Johnny get up and spell the word “cat” on the board. Johnny eagerly got up, ran to the board and in shaky, untrained handwriting Johnny wrote K-O-T. Instead of correcting Johnny straight away, the teacher ran up to Johnny and said “well done Johnny, you got the T correct. Now let us try to get the rest of the letters that you’re missing.”
Be gentle, do not jump to what is wrong first. Give yourself credit where credit is due. Don’t work on yourself because you hate what you are, or what you see. Don’t go into that gym despising your body, it’s been so good to you for this long, after everything you’ve put it through.
Be gentle with your mind and thoughts when learning something new, your brain does a million things at once, over and over, every single day, appreciate yourself. But do not step so far back that you no longer fight. So far back that you no longer compete.
“It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you” – Eddie Scrap
4. Show up on the night
Challenge yourself and change yourself, drive yourself to be what you have always wanted to be, how you’ve always wanted to be. Don’t make yourself a spectator of your own life. You are stronger and more resilient than you could possibly fathom. There is complete freedom at the end of the road of endurance, at the edge of the limits we set ourselves. But we should aim to always discover this positively.
Take that step back in today’s boxing ring, assess your situation, physically, mentally, emotionally… focus… distribute your weight evenly, and deliver life that winning shot.But don’t forget the number one rule; Protect yourself at all times.