Believe it or not, I’m really glad I got punched in the face.
During my junior year at Bowling Green State University I was playing on the ACHA hockey team. I was in my third season with the team and was proudly wearing the captain's "C" on my jersey. We were playing Robert Morris University in a game at our home rink. We always had great games against RMU. In fact, they knocked us out of the playoffs my freshman year and we knocked them out my sophomore year.
They had a good, and big team. We had a couple big guys as well and it just so happens that one of their fighters fought our best fighter the year before and lost badly. Unbeknownst to me, basically the only reason their guy was playing this year was to get a chance at fighting our best fighter again.
I was a defenseman and one of the cardinal rules of playing that position is that you don’t let anyone from the opposing team touch your goalie. Ever. So, our goalie made a save and a guy from RMU that was looking for a fight (but i didn’t know it at the time) speared our goalie. As the defenseman standing closest to him, I took exception to that and slashed him across the back of the legs. Normally this results in a brief shoving match that is quickly broken up by the referees. However, the next thing I realize is that Mr. RMU has taken off his helmet and thrown his gloves to the side, the universal sign of “Let’s go, buddy.”
Hockey is a sport of honor and having slashed the bejeesus out of the back of his legs, I couldn’t just not answer the call to fight. So, like a bit of a fool, I took off my helmet (because we were wearing full face masks) and threw my gloves to the side. And then I got a good look at my opponent.
At least 6'3" (I'm 5'9"). At least 210 pounds (I'm 180).
Scroll up to see how it ended.
Anyway, to make a long story longer, I’m glad I got punched in the face, and here’s why:
Showed I was willing to lead by example: I was by no means a “fighter” when it came to hockey. I can count on one hand the number of true fights that I’ve been in. My teammates knew this as well and yet, they saw me willing to drop the mitts with the biggest guy on the other team. I may not have won the bout, but I had teammate after teammate come up to me and say that they were impressed that I was willing to go with that goon. As a captain I always tried to lead by example. If I was willing to get outside my comfort zone it made my teammates more willing to get outside theirs.
Gave me an opportunity to bounce back: The adversity of getting punched in the face, breaking my nose, and getting 10 stitches in my lip gave me something to bounce back from. You never learn and grow if everything is roses and buttercups all the time. I learned not to lean in for the grab in a fight when your opponent is coming at you with a hard right. I learned that getting punched in the face really isn’t that big of a deal. It gave me an opportunity to get on the ice the following weekend during our next game and play well, even though it looked like my face had gone through a grinder. It also gave me the distinctly manly opportunity to cut out my own stitches during the intermission of our next game because they were falling out and annoying me.
The fear is gone: I’m not afraid to get punched in the face anymore. Been there, done that, wasn’t that big of a deal. I could play harder knowing that I could handle myself out on the ice if worse came to worst. Sure, it sucks to get punched in the face but after you do it once the fear is basically gone.
HOW TO RE-FRAME ADVERSITY FOR GROWTH
I don’t imagine much of my readership are competitive hockey players, so why am I telling a story about a hockey fight? Why does it mattered that I got my ass handed to me on a silver platter?
You probably aren’t getting in many fistfights but how many times have you failed spectacularly? It might kind of suck at the time, I’ll give you that much. It definitely sucked to leave a blood trail as I skated off the ice. But, looking back, it wasn't a big deal. In fact, I think I’m stronger now because of it. You are stronger because of your failures. You need to get punched in the face, metaphorically speaking of course, to know that you can bounce back from it.
Reframing the shitty times in your life as an opportunity to grow is a high level skill that dyed-in-the-wooloptimists use all the time. Getting fired doesn’t suck — it’s an opportunity to find a better job. That leaky pipe isn’t a pain in the ass — it’s an opportunity to learn how to do some basic plumbing. You get the idea. After I picked up my dignity off the bloody ice, I tried to view my colossal failure as a chance for growth. My teammates respected me more as a leader. I respected myself for being willing to step up and face the music. I learned how to better handle myself in a hockey fight. I could have just focused on how much it hurt and how stupid I looked when it happened, or I could use it as an opportunity to grow.
It’s up to you how you react to the events in your life. In fact, you control very little of what happens to you. However, you control every aspect of how you react to those events.
How are you going to react the next time life punches you in the face?