Ernie Banks, one of America’s favorite winner-losers, died last week. The Chicago Cub hall-of-famer was a fan favorite who never won the World Series and played for a team that most seasons lost more games than it won. Among many records and distinctions, Bank’s holds perhaps the most dubious: no player has played more games without ever making it to a championship game.
In a 2009 interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Banks described how he approached the game with so many failures facing him and his team:
“Every year, I always looked at spring training as a brand new year and I didn't think about what happened in the past. I was thinking about new ways for new days, and I couldn't wait to get to spring training.”
Have no doubt, Ernie cared about winning. Decades later, he still got excited talking about the his 500th home run hit in 1970.
But win or lose, Ernie was especially good at keeping himself in the present.
“I care about it, but not that much. You know, we play a game, we lose, I care about it, but not that much.”
I tell people exactly the same thing about getting on stage for an improv show—it’s this funny duality of caring and not caring at the same time.
On one hand, when the scene fails it is apparent and very public and everyone in that theater knows you had a part in it. On the other hand, the only way to make your failure worse is to infect your next scene with the failure of the previous.
You’ve got to care enough that you’ll throw yourself at the next scene, the next choice, the next swing with every hope and belief that you’ll knock it out of the park while also holding full knowledge that it could be a heart-wrenching strike.
Care enough to swing hard, but not so much it scares you off from the next pitch.
Often we hold individual projects with too much preciousness—so terrified of their failure that we put more into not missing than into going for the fences.
Even during the worst Cubs' seasons, Bank’s was famous for his optimism and focus on what was next. "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let's play two today!"
We all get new at bats, new games, new scenes, new days.
Ernie was one of souls who understood that even losing was a privilege and exactly the reason why you should stay in the game.