Lou Holtz: “Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

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Lou Holtz is revered as one of the premier NCAA football coaches of our time. Among his many notable achievements, he led six college teams to championship games within two years of his taking the helm. In the case of the University of South Carolina, it was his leadership that engineered an amazing turnaround from the nation’s longest losing streak to a winning level unprecedented in the school’s 107-year history of competitive sports. In his “retirement,” he has translated his positive attitude and philosophy from football to the larger game of life, and is highly sought after as a motivational speaker who continues to inspire people well beyond the realm of sports.

When we hear stories of remarkable people like Holtz, it’s easy to fall back into thinking that they must have started out with some kind of “right stuff” that helped them to succeed. Ordinary people like us — we never had that stuff. But we’d be wrong. Holtz started from humble beginnings in West Virginia, a child of divorced parents. He even admits that he was never much of an athlete as a kid. In short, he was an ordinary person who started out stumbling along in life much like the rest of us.

The arc of Holtz’s life story reveals a simple, commonsense lesson that we can all apply in everything we encounter in our own lives. It’s all about attitude, focus, and being passionate about our aspirations. It’s about not letting our current circumstances, no matter how bleak, cloud our view of the possibilities ahead.

I have no idea what Holtz’s spiritual inclinations are — I doubt he’s a Buddhist or a meditator, but that’s purely a guess. But I can say that his message resonates strongly with that of the Buddha. So much of the pain and suffering we experience in our lives are not caused by what happens to us, but are self-inflicted by our unmindful responses to them. We can’t change the fact that we face disappointments and frustrations in life, but we can separate them from our attitudes and motivations. It’s when we let go of our doubts and self-defeating stories that new possibilities open up to us. And meditation can help us to train our minds to cultivate the more positive thoughts, views, and attitudes that shape the ninety percent of our lives.

So as we embark on a new year and cheer on our favorite teams, I hope that we can all take a lesson from Coach Holtz — and start taking steps toward a happy and successful 2007.

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