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Bouncing right back

Andy Ziccarelli | Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This past Sunday was shaping up to be a memorable day. Coming off of the excitement of Senior Day, the football team from my dorm and home for the last four years, Dillon Hall, was playing in the interhall football championship game against Sorin, and it turned out to be a thrilling game. Unfortunately, Dillon lost 7-6 in overtime. And while it may have been disappointing for me as a member of the Dillon community, my heart went out to the players who had put so much time and effort into the team and had sacrificed so much to win a championship. It isn’t possible to be any closer to winning a championship than those guys were. But in the end, they walked away empty handed, just like every other team in the league not named Sorin. It just seemed so unfair.

That’s not to say that I haven’t experienced disappointment of my own over my time here. There has been plenty. I have been completely ignored by girls that I’ve had crushes on, like I didn’t even exist. I once got a test back and felt satisfied with my grade, thinking it was out of 50 points. It wasn’t. It was out of 100.

The football game at Michigan last year was so frustrating and upsetting that it made me feel physically ill. And while I fully realize how ridiculous that sounds, it is completely true. I had spent all summer before my junior year counting down the days until football season started; with visions of BCS bowl games and top-10 finishes dancing in my head. And with one gut-wrenching last minute drive, all of those dreams came crashing down. I seriously considered, on a number of occasions, asking my buddy who was driving to pull over because I thought I was going to throw up.

I also trained for four months my freshman year to participate in the Bengal Bouts, only to get dominated in my first fight. I sacrificed a lot to train for the tournament: I gave up going out during training, I was eating meals unsuitable for an elementary school kid in an effort to cut weight and I was sleeping through class because I was so exhausted, not to mention the few hours every day I was spending in the gym. Just like that, in less than four minutes, I had lost and it was like none of that even mattered. So, knowing what I was up against, I trained my sophomore year and entered the tournament again. I then lost my first fight. Again.

A natural human response in the face of repeated disappointment is one of apathy, an absence of emotion or enthusiasm. Apathy is a defense mechanism created by the subconscious to protect yourself from pain. Rationally, this makes sense. If you tell yourself that something doesn’t matter, there is no way that you could be hurt by that thing because, well, it doesn’t matter.

A dangerous thing happens, though, when you become apathetic: not only do you shield yourself from disappointment, you also shield yourself from excitement. This is because there can’t be one without the other, the same way that there can’t be light without dark or good without evil. And by not allowing yourself to get hurt, you also don’t allow yourself to be truly happy.

One man who knew this well was President Theodore Roosevelt. He is responsible for my favorite quote of all time, which I have on a poster in my bedroom. In a 1910 speech, he told listeners in Paris: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Whether or not they have actually heard that quote before, Notre Dame students certainly act like they have. One of the best things about this place is the enthusiasm and passion that every person bring to campus, regardless of whether it’s music, athletics, art, or anything else. Domers do not sit life out on the sidelines, and the buzz that everyone brings every day is one of my biggest sources of inspiration.

It is an uncertain time for us seniors. There are a lifetime’s worth of hope and dreams behind each job or service or grad school application, and we have been met by a work force that, essentially, is telling us not to get our hopes up. A lot of us are sitting by the phone, waiting (and praying) that the company that we interviewed with, or the medical school that we want to go to, will call us back.

So even though I’ve been beaten down before, both mentally and physically, I’m bouncing right back up. It’s the only way I know how to live, and I’m nothing if not stubborn, as my family can attest. So bring it on, real world. I’m ready.

Andy Ziccarelli is a senior majoring in civil engineering. He welcomes your adulation and veiled threats at

[email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.