Stoke That Rookie Spirit (Essay)

Oct 18, 2022 by Mike Magluilo

In my upcoming novel, A Reason to Run, Sam “Bags” Bagliarello suffers a string of poor results after winning his first race. 

“...I’ve lost whatever I had that day,” Bags says. 
“You haven’t lost a thing,” Coach Rip says. “It’s what you’ve gained that’s your problem. You knew nothing about running a year ago. Since then, you’ve learned how to train, what it takes to win, and the feeling of being a winner. Think about what led you to win that first race…You had a fearlessness you could do anything. Since then you’ve learned the fear of losing can be stronger than the hunger of never having won. Any idea how you can get that rookie spirit back?” 

Do you remember doing something BIG for the first time? More importantly, do you remember your state of mind in the moments (or days and months) leading up to the big wins in your life? Pick one—acing that exam, the breakout game, winning the election, the speech you nailed, making President’s Club, finishing the marathon, completing the project that got you noticed, seeing your child help another kid…

I remember. The periods preceding my personal victories unfolded with a sense of urgency, persistence and a focus on what I could do each day to give myself a chance at success. I was operating outside my comfort zone, and it was never easy, but like Sam Bags, confidence and determination overcame fear and self-doubt.

But what about the times our heads aren’t in the game? Can we blame the comfort of past success, a fear of failure, an inability to prioritize what matters? You’re better than you’ve been most days. Don’t let the fear of screwing up hold you back. Don’t sit around waiting to feel ready. Instead, press ahead and check how you feel later. And stop worrying about all the ways you might fail. Better to fail trying than waiting—you’ll be more likely to respect yourself and learn something from the experience.

What about the distractions of digital technology and a world hurtling toward certain destruction? The past three years have provided plenty of reasons to hide, become cynical and question authority but don’t confuse where you are with who you are. You face choices today between making progress and slagging off. Remember the satisfaction of those times you did the urgent, focused, uncompromising work. Don’t hide from the action. Don’t let trendy euphemisms for irresponsbility, selfishness and entitlement seduce you—loafers, slackers, deadbeats, freeloaders are nothing new. If you’re in a bullshit situation, quit loudly. Otherwise, be a part of the brave few that have always made up for the skimmers. 

Maybe they didn’t always skim by. Maybe one day they weren’t afraid. Maybe they’ve got a lot on their mind outside of all the people depending on them. Whatever. Don’t let attempts to sugar coat a disregard for self-respect, humility and responsibility distract you from being the person that made you most proud of yourself in the past. 

Go find the rookie spirit that got you where you are today and stoke it.