I Coulda Been a Contender

This is the line uttered by Marlon Brando in the classic 1954 movie, On the Waterfront. The full quote: “You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” It ranks as one of the most famous quotes ever in any movie.

I thought of this line recently when I received an update on a former high school classmate of more than 60 years ago. In high school he was very popular; he was good-looking and charming and the girls fell for him. But he was a mediocre student who later entered but never finished college. His career success was limited; charm and good looks didn’t make up for the lack of hard work.

When we were in high school I recall his saying something like, “I could be a top student – if I wanted to be. I just choose not to.” It was as if that made it OK.

I think many of us fall victim to this type of thinking at various points in our lives. We look at a situation and rationalize why we haven’t done better at it. It might be work, academics, sports or, my favorites, getting fit and eating healthy.

I wish I knew what it took to go from “I coulda” to “I can” or, better yet, “I will,” particularly as it relates to fitness and health. The reality is that it varies by individual. Some may be motivated by the fear of negative consequences if they don’t take action. It might be the fear of spending years in a nursing home versus living an active, healthy life.

I have a friend who was morbidly obese in her early 50s. She had gastric bypass surgery, listened to her doctor, ate healthy – and lost over 100 pounds in a year. She discontinued blood pressure and diabetes medications. Her doctor told her, “Now you will live.” She said her biggest motivation was facing the reality of living a very short life and not being able to watch her grandchildren grow up.

I think many of us are motivated by a desire to lead a better, longer life. We develop a picture in our minds of what we would like to be doing five, ten or more years in the future and, over time, decide we’re going to take action to make that happen.

A picture plus a plan can lead to success. Add a bit of support – from family or friends – and the odds of success increase exponentially.

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2 Responses to I Coulda Been a Contender

  1. Great piece, I too had an acquaintance who shared the “I coulda” attitude about life……nice guy with no motivation…..however, everyone has met someone with a less than positive outlook on life, who has awakened to the need to make a personal difference….thanks for the blog and your insights….have a good summer and Happy Birthday (a tad early).

  2. Neale Sweet says:

    Harry, I love all your motivational essays, but this one is a topper. Best yet!

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