Keep Track of Your Successes

You have probably had more wins than losses. canstockphoto21742927

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day; we’ll call him Joe for purposes of this missive. He’s a guy I’ve known for many years. He’s a good guy, a bit rough around the edges, rubs people wrong more than he should, but still a good, loyal friend.

He was lamenting at all the things that had happened to him over the years. He was the chief of photography at a local newspaper for more than 25 years--a great photographer, deployed with a Marine unit once during Desert Storm. He’d go to great lengths to get that one photo that told the story.

Anyway, his paper got bought up by a conglomerate a few years ago and he was sidelined; a younger, less experienced guy was brought in to be the chief. Predictably, he and Joe didn’t see eye to eye on, well, most everything and eventually it was suggested that perhaps Joe should consider retirement.

He did, but with much acrimony and bitterness on the way out. He is still shooting photos for various local papers, does weddings, family reunions, graduations and stuff like that.  But he’s still carrying the bitter taste of rejection.

So he’s talking to me about all this and as he was talking I got a pad of paper and a pen, sat down, stopped him and asked, “Joe, can you tell me what has gone right in your life?”

He stopped with a puzzled look on his face. “What?!” he asked irritably.

“Just tell me one good thing that happened in your life, at any time,” I repeated.

“Why,” he complained.

“Just do it!” I insisted.

He thought about it a few seconds, and then said, “Well, I was a good football player, did pretty good in high school.”

I wrote down “Football standout in high school.”

“OK, give me another good thing,” I said.

“There was my Firebird in college,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “That car was a chick magnet.”

I wrote down, “Had hot Firebird in college.”

We continued this for a few minutes until I had nearly filled one sheet of paper with things he brought up.

I said to him, “Now Joe, look at this,” and showed him the paper. “These are just a handful of good things that have happened to you in your life and we’ve only been at this for 10 minutes. If we kept on it you’d probably fill this whole tablet.”

By this time he had forgotten about his lamenting, gotten off his pity pot and was in a great mood reminiscing about things in life that he called successes.

“Joe, the thing is you’re a good guy, you do good work, you have a great wife, raised good kids, have a home, a retirement, you’re still working, so really, that little setback a few years ago was just a blip in life compared to all the great things that have happened to you. Why don’t you focus on those good things and as for that bad thing, just forget about it.”

I could see the mischievous glint in his eye and I could tell his good sense of humor was back. “Just fuh'git-aboud-it huh?” he mumbled, grinning, in his best Chicago mafia impression.

The conversation went in a totally different, positive, good humored direction after that and he never went back to his lamenting.

My little experiment in amateur psychology got me thinking about my own life. So I sat down and starting making a list of my good times, successes, wins, achievements, victories and triumphs. Before long I had filled a sheet of paper as well.

This little exercise made me theorize that generally speaking, the majority of people can probably make such a list because if you are an average or above human being doing OK in this world, you have probably had more wins than losses.

It’s easy to get pulled down by negative events in life and if you let them, they keep you down. I don’t think anyone is immune to it. But I think if you could focus on the good things more it puts things into balance.

I knew a Marine, a sergeant, who lived near me on base housing years ago. He was not a model Marine. He was a biker, rode a Harley Hog, a bit overweight, looked like a “bag of rags” in his uniform--nice guy but not highly motivated.

I lost track of him until a few years later when I walked into a Marine gym and there he was, looking impressive, fit and trim, on a stationary bike riding like a mad man. I went over to him and said, “Hey, how you been doing?”

He said, “Well, I lost most of my left leg.” He lifted his sweat pants and there was a prosthetic device with a shoe on it. I’d have never known if he hadn’t shown me.

He told me he was riding his Hog at night and went to pass a car but there was a car he hadn’t seen coming at him in the passing lane and as he swerved to avoid it the car pretty much severed his leg from the knee down.

He said at first he was devastated; went through a period where the pain drugs and alcohol took over. But when it came time to go before the medical board to determine if he should be dismissed from the Marines, he got his game on. He said he determined he was going to stay in the Corps.

He went before the board and pleaded to stay in. They gave him one year to prove he could pass the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test: max of 20 pull-ups, 80 sit-ups in two minutes and a three-mile run in 18 minutes. Of course he didn’t need to max everything, there were levels of passing. But he stubbornly decided he was going to max it.

He got a sports-type prosthetic, started working out and running. He trimmed down, got strong and painfully learned to run on the prosthetic. In less than a year, he ran the PFT and--well, he didn’t quite max it--the run was in the 20-minute range; but still a first-class PFT--on a prosthetic leg!

From that day forward, I used his story as my standard; if he could do that, then I had no complaints, no excuses for achieving anything in my life.

I’m going to keep my list of good times nearby and when I get a sore back or deadlines crunch me or money is tight or whatever, I’ll get that list out and spend a few minutes with it and whatever is pulling me down; well, I’ll just “Fuh’git aboud it.”

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email