What You Can Do

John Wooden

(A Toastmasters International Contest speech.  Third Place; Division C, District 23; 2012.)

How do you face life?  Do you have a winning game plan?

Imagine that you have just lost everything.  And I mean everything.  Last week you buried your husband.  You have a child to raise.  There was no insurance money, no money at all.  And on top of everything else you have a third grade education.

Do you have a plan for that?  I do.

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and everyone in this room who was ever been intimidated by life—did you feel a knot in your stomach when I described this situation?  That is the world my mother woke up to when my father died.  She never made it past the third grade, was functionally illiterate.  Never had a job more demanding than waiting tables.  Now, as a single mother, she was responsible for everything.  Can you imagine how intimidated that woman felt day after day after day?

Life has a way of throwing intimidations at us, doesn’t it?  Whether it is health, family or career, it seems there is always something barreling down on us that is so large we can’t put our minds around it.  So big we can’t even begin to imagine how to solve it.  We just want to give up.  It seems hopeless.

It’s not hopeless!  My mama took everything life threw at her and she survived.  She survived by doing what successful people have done throughout history.  Would you like to know what she did?

Does the name John Wooden mean anything to you?  If you do not know, John Wooden was the legendary coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team back when UCLA was legendary for good things, not just bad.  Wooden’s teams won ten national titles… in twelve years!  It was a veritable championship machine.

And yet in the midst of all that winning, the scenes the coach would care most about took place away from the publicity, when no one was watching as you practiced free throw after free throw after free throw.  John Wooden believed in mastering the fundamentals.  In focusing on what you can do to be the best possible player.

John Wooden said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”  Do not let those things you can do nothing about keep you from doing something positive with your life.

There is a life lesson there if you think about it.  How much of our lives are wasted worrying about things that we can do nothing about?  How much of our lives are wasted trying to run other people’s lives?  When we are out driving around in a car how many of us tell the guy in the car beside us how he should drive his car?  I know I do.  And has that guy ever listened to a word we said?  I hope not.  We are wasting our time on things we have no control over.

There’s an entire universe of things out there to worry about.  Don’t worry, you’ll never run out.  An entire cosmos of things we hope will happen.  Things we fear might happen.  There is the next president of the United States.  Over here is the economy.  And sitting right up front is the guy you do not want your daughter hanging around with.

We know, of course, that we have almost no control over all these items, especially your daughter’s taste in friends.  John Wooden’s advice is not to waste our energy out there, but to focus on the things close at hand.  The things we can touch, things we can have an impact upon.  Focus on what we can do.

My mama was a simple woman.  She did not waste much time worrying about the philosophical metaphysical implications of the mysteries of life.  She had things to do.  For example, she knew that every day she had to put a meal on the table and no matter how small it was, she did it.  And she knew, from time to time, that she had to discipline the boy of hers.  And boy did she do that.  And she knew that she couldn’t face life reading at a third grade level.  So thank God, continuing education and Harlequin romance novels my mama learn to read!

In every case she focused on what had to be done, on what she could do and the two of us came through it all right.

My mama was a champion.  What about you, do you want to be a champion like my mama was?  Think about it.  Do you want to be a champion?

I’m not talking about basketball now.  I’m talking about being a champion of life.  About being the kind of person who is there when your children need you.  The kind of person who is there when your spouse or partner is counting on you.  The kind of person who is there when the community calls.

If you want to be a champion, then heed the words of one of our greatest.  Remember John Wooden.  Focus on what you can do.  You will find that you can do more than you ever imagined.  Focus.  It’s the first step on your personal lifelong championship season.  I have faith and confidence in everyone in here.  I can’t wait to see what wonderful things we will all accomplish.

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