I stepped out of my car in the fall of 2013 at Richards dorm, ready to become a Lehigh student athlete. I was ready to pursue a degree in accounting, and I was ready to play Division I softball.
I was ready to make lifelong friendships and truly experience everything this new place had to offer. This is why I came here. I came here to be successful.
I hadn’t spent a second of my time thinking about not succeeding or even considered that I would experience hundreds of failures here. I mean, who wants to think about that?
Most things came easily to me in high school. I easily made friends, achieved high grades and was one of the best athletes on the field.
At Lehigh, everything was different.
During my time here, I experienced failure more than I ever could have imagined. I failed at everything. Even things I thought I could succeed at with ease.
What I learned from each of these different failures is the most important thing I will take with me when I leave Lehigh. I learned that failure can make or break you, but it all depends on how you react to it.
I chose to react with perseverance.
During my freshman year, a wise coach came up to me while I was stretching before practice and said, “Kid, you’re going to have a great career here.” I laughed it off and didn’t believe a word that came out of his mouth. I had just returned from a spring break trip where I had played 12 games and failed more than I had in my entire sports career. I had never wanted to quit softball more in my entire life than I did after that trip.
I distinctly remember striking out three times in a row against San Diego State University in a night game under the lights. I don’t even think I touched a single pitch in those at-bats. I was devastated. I resented softball and the failure it was bringing to my life.
My school work didn’t go any smoother. Even after being a straight-A student in high school, Lehigh academics crushed me. I was surrounded by highly intelligent people that all worked just as hard as me. When I was at softball, I wished I had more time to cram before my exams. When I was studying, I wished I was out on the field practicing so I would perform better in games. I’m sure many other athletes can relate to this paradigm.
The week after my birthday during sophomore year, I had three exams in three of the hardest classes I took during my time at Lehigh. This week took a huge toll on me. I realized how much work I had ahead of me if I wanted to eventually succeed in accounting.
If I’m being honest, my first two years here were terrible compared to how I felt when I first stepped on campus my freshman year. This was not how I imagined my college career would go at all. But I needed these setbacks to show me the importance of perseverance and how it trumps any other lesson you could ever learn in college.
I’m sure many athletes in college have careers that go exactly how they imagined they would. Some are four-year starters and are top players on their team. Some never see the field. Others play early on in their career, then learn what it feels like to have their spot taken. A few have a single breakout season.
I experienced a little of everything in my career playing softball here at Lehigh. It took me four years to believe what this wise coach said to me when I was just a freshman. That I would indeed have a great career here. It just wouldn’t be what I defined as greatness or anything like what I imagined it would be at all.
I now define greatness as being able to persevere through moments that are tough and you might not enjoy, and become better at things that once were setbacks.
I still experience a lack of success at things all the time. I play a game where you are considered successful if you succeed only three out of every 10 opportunities. I take accounting classes where the class average on a test is a 60 percent. My experiences in my four years at Lehigh have taught me, above anything else, how to react positively to these failures.
The difference is now, when I step in the batter’s box with the bases loaded or sit down in my chair in Perella Auditorium to take a cumulative accounting final, I think about perseverance. I see these situations as a challenge that I have the ability to persevere through. As my softball career and time here come to an end, I have this university and the game of softball to thank for contributing to this life lesson of perseverance.
Ashley Cole is a senior outfielder on the softball team and a writer for The Brown and White.