Elementary School Motto: Try Your Hardest, and Never Give Up

My elementary school had a school motto, paraded by the principal at our school assemblies and over the morning announcements. My older brother, I guess the person I looked up to most as a kid… constantly berated the motto. He added his own personal corniness and sarcasm to the phrase, which always made me laugh. But upon reflection, it’s some of the most simple and sage advice I’ve ever received.

“Always try our hardest, and never give up. Together, these two things form a winner!”

And god damn is that some good advice. Definitely good material to indoctrinate into the heads of impressionable elementary school kids.

This phrase was also accompanied by a specific hand motions. ‘Try your hardest’ is accompanied by a right thumbs up. ‘Never give up’ is accompanied by a left thumbs up. And to form a ‘winner,’  you bring your two hands together to create a ‘W’ shape out of your two hands, with your index fingers joining together to form the central peak of the ‘W’.

The phrase combined with the hand motions has been stuck in my brain since those elementary school days 15+ years ago.

Every athletic event I’ve been a part of, I’m fighting and putting in all of my effort until the final whistle. I was never the fastest, most talented kid on the field. I was always just a solid player who systematically pressured my opponents and positioned myself well. When I had a teammate who gave up after being down a few goals, I felt betrayed by those types of players, and vindicated after my coaches took those who gave up out of the game and scolded them.

This advice has naturally applied to my life during competition, whether it be a team sport, or a competitive multiplayer video game, or a yard game. No matter the situation, I am disgusted by those who give up, and accept defeat with far too much time left on the clock, and whine and whine about how unfair things are.

This type of negative mindset reminds me of the Mr. Complainypants character that Mr. Money Mustache so often describes.

Difficult times, at the edge of or beyond your comfort zone, are the times in your life that lead to growth and improvement.

How will you ever improve if you give up or start complaining or whining when a difficult challenge arises?

When the rules are laid out and even for both teams, there is precisely nothing to complain about besides your own merit, skill, and teamwork. Even if your teammates have given up, joining their loathing by complaining about them does nothing for you. It’ll take twice your effort to make up for your lacking teammate, so step on it. A bit of encouragement is infinitely more effective than perpetuating the negativity.

I’ve occasionally encountered this ‘give-up as soon as something goes wrong’ mindset within online video games. Within Rocket League, to be specific.

For context, Rocket League is a soccer game. Except instead of controlling animated humans, you control a rocket propelled automobile that can fly. It’s quite the video game.

Back on topic: I’m not a brilliant player, so I’ll often make a mistake or two early in a game of doubles, giving up an early lead. Most teammates are totally understanding. We’re at the same rank for a reason, and nobody’s perfect.

But sometimes, you get a ‘special’ teammate. Upon a simple mistake leading to a goal for the opponent, my teammate proceeded to immediately berate me with a few “What a Save’s” in the chat.


What would you do in this situation? Return with passive aggressive quick chat messages, or ignore them and put your nose down, focusing your energy on the game itself and on getting the win.

A similar desire to forfeit occurred playing split screen with a friend of a friend. We were down 4 goals or so with two minutes still left in the game.

He threw up his vote to forfeit. What?! No, we’re finishing this game out. For context, the games are 5 minutes long. If your opponent can get 4 goals in 3 minutes, what’s stopping you from getting 4 goals in 2 minutes?

Low and behold, we came in clutch, getting a buzzer beater goal to send the game to overtime, where we eventually won the game.

The euphoria this guy experienced, the pleasure on his face from a simple comeback win in a video game was contagious!

His lame mindset of “forfeit, this one’s over” never allowed him to surmount the insurmountable, a massive deficit with little time left on the clock.

In competitive sports or e-sports, these are the most exciting type of victories.

Despite my competitive sports and e-sports analogies, that elementary school advice I received is applicable in every facet of life. Whether fixing up a broken appliance in the house, doing your morning workout routine, cooking dinner with your spouse, struggling with a tough assignment at work.

Whatever your goal, whatever your current activity, it’s important to try your hardest, never give up, be the best person that you can be day in and day out, for every single activity! Whatever you are doing deserves your undivided attention.

Your mind is powerful, and can accomplish amazing things with just a mild level of focus. That means the phone is on do not disturb mode (or completely turned off) in the other room. That means being present in the moment, and letting go of external worries.

Take this mindset everywhere you go and you have a tangible leg up on the rest of humans that are all to quick seem to give up, often blaming their problems on external forces out of their control

When something out of your control happens and causes distress in your life, there’s no need to blame someone else. There’s no need to blame yourself. You just need to deal with the difficulty in stride. Continue chipping away at whatever solution you find is working.

Try your hardest. Use your mind and body to their full potential. Never give up, but definitely take breaks. That doesn’t mean get to the office early and stay late, and show up on Saturdays. It just means continue your focused and concerted effort into solving whatever problem you are dealing with. Take time off to breathe, take a walk, take an extra long lunch break. And then come back and continue chipping away.

Make the impact you know you are capable of, and if you don’t make significant progress? No problem. Take a break, take another walk around. And if you can, leave your phone behind as a gift to your hardworking brain. It doesn’t need another distraction, it needs space. It needs a casual decluttering to recharge. And after coming back to the task at hand and giving it your all, it’s time to celebrate.

The breakthrough moment may never come, but your sustained focus and hard work will lead to progress. It’s not about a single breakthrough moment, but constant miniature instances of progress. Every moment where you are trying your hardest (and not giving up) is a tiny little breakthrough.

Over time, these unnoticable daily moments of focus build up to significant breakthrough moments.

So there you have it. Imagine a 9 or 10 year old kid who hates school, who has this corny life outlook/advice forced on him at least once a week from the school principal.

That is ripe for making fun of, so that’s why I remember it so specifically. My brother just roasted the crap out of the advice and the hand motions, adding in his own corny voice, embellished hand movements, and some real intense eye contact.

It was hilarious. As his younger brother, it was hard not to laugh at his mockery of the school principal’s advice. Without my brother’s parody, there’s no way I would have remembered it as well, or taken it to heart years later. To this day however, it’s amazing advice, no matter the situation. I’m still living my life according to it, but that doesn’t stop me from laughing about its cheesiness, and from the ridiculousness and hilarity of my brother’s parody of it.

I’m thankful for my elementary school principal’s relentless instilling of this mantra into my little brain. And I’m also thankful for my brother’s comedic retort of this sound advice with a cheesy delivery.

The easiest application for this advice for me and my life has been competitive sports. I’ve been applying it as much as possible elsewhere, including in my writing, this blog, my work, flexing my frugality muscles, and most importantly for me right now, working out.

I’ve never been a gym nut throughout my life, but building the habit of some cardio on my bicycle, both commuting to and from work and for fun, and then a bit of lifting has been wonderful for me. But it hasn’t been easy. I’ve been struggling along the way, but the sound advice of my elementary school principal has been echoing inside my head along the way. I’ve skipped days, missed workouts, but I’ve been making progress, trying my hardest along the way, and I will not give up.

So if you’re struggling with something, anything in life, (as we all are), just remember:

Try your hardest, and never give up. That alone makes you a winner.

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