Graduates, chances are you’ve never heard of Stan Wawrinka.
That’s okay. Neither has mostly everyone else reading this.
You pronounce those W’s like V’s, by the way. To the ear, it’s Stan Vavrinka. And, in his case, Stan is short for Stanislas, not Stanley.
Stan is a professional tennis player. He’s Swiss, like another tennis player you may have heard of, Roger Federer. Roger, who has become kind of a household word, has won 20 grand slam titles, the most of any male tennis player ever. Stan has won 3, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. The vast majority of players don’t win any. Roger, 37, and Stan, 33, are more than mere countrymen, they’re friends. They teamed to win the gold medal in doubles at the 2008 Olympics.
Federer has been an international star most of his adult life, ever since winning the Wimbledon Championship in 2003 at only 21 years old. He’s gifted, a tennis genius. Many consider Roger the greatest male tennis player ever, and all agree he’s the most graceful, artistic and elegant. Not so for Stan. His success is all because of hard work. He was 23 years old and somewhat of a nobody when he won that Olympic gold, playing for all intents and purposes in Roger’s shadow. Often referred to as a late-bloomer, Stan was 29 before he won his first grand slam title. That was in Australia.
I am writing this Tuesday morning, June 4, about an hour before Roger and Stan will begin playing against each other in the quarter-finals of this year’s French Open in Paris. I will finish long before I know who wins this match. Which is fine with me, because my reason for writing has little to do with winning or losing. It has to do with trying, and doing your best, and never giving up. And that’s why I began by addressing it to you, graduates, both high school and college. There’s a lesson to be learned here, a lesson to be taken to heart, and it comes not from the famous Roger Federer, but rather from the not-so-famous Stan Wawrinka.
It’s a lesson he has written on his arm.
Not written, actually, but tattooed. On the inside of his left forearm are these words:
It’s a quote from Irish poet Samuel Beckett, most famous for the play “Waiting for Godot.”
In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian in 2015, Stan Wawrinka said he got the tattoo just a year earlier but had read the quote years before and it had always stayed with him. He said it’s not only how he sees tennis, but how he sees life.
“The meaning of the quote doesn’t change no matter how well you do,” he said. “There is always disappointment, heartache. You need to just accept it and be positive because we are going to lose and fail.”
That’s important to remember, grads, because on your path to success, however you define it, you are going to encounter failure. You are going to trip up. You are going to make mistakes. You are going to run into obstacles. You are going to be tempted to give up. But don’t.
Your responsibility in life, grads, is not to get a great job or to make a lot of money. Your only responsibility is to be the most awesome “you” you can be.
That won’t be easy. You’ll have to put in some work. But would you have it any other way? Would you really settle for being an okay “you”? An average “you”? Even a mediocre “you”? Some people do. And it’s always sad to see.
Don’t let that be you.
We all have different gifts, unique gifts, whether it’s an affinity (a “feel”) for math or for music, for language or for logic, for science or for sports. Maximize your unique gifts, grads. Take them to the highest level possible. Settle for nothing less.
And along the way, don’t be afraid to fail. You don’t have to remember the name Stan Wawrinka, or even Samuel Beckett. Just remember this simple message:
Try again. Fail again. Fail better. You eventually just might discover that you’ve “failed better” yourself all the way to success.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.