Who is the voice in your head? Let’s get past the fact that it sounds crazy to even have a voice in your head, but we all have a nagging conscience. It’s the voice that persistently bugs you while you lie in bed between the 1st time you hit the snooze button and when you finally get up. It’s the voice that quietly judges you as you debate whether to finish a meal that was far too big for you to eat in one sitting. It’s the voice that audibly rolls it’s eyes and sighs when you’re on the verge of sending that text that you know you probably should not send.
For everyone, that voice comes from somewhere, or at least it sounds like someone. If that voice in your head sounds like Aaron Neville, then you’ve hit the jackpot. If that voice in your head sounds like your mom, maybe you need to call your mom more often. If that voice in your head sounds like Siri…well, it’s time to put your phone down for a couple of weeks. I’m not sure there’s rhyme or reason to who that voice is. All I know is that the voice in my head, for the majority of my adult life, was a guy named Jeff Pickens, or to anyone who knew him, “Pick”.
Pick was a wrestling coach at my alma mater for three decades, and Pick LOVED the sport of wrestling. Depending on how old you were, and what age you wrestled, it was possible that you were coached by Pick anywhere between the ages of 5 and 18. And when I say he was your coach, I don’t mean that he just showed up to practice and then cashed a monstrous coaching check at the end of the season; Pick was a coach who organized trips to go scout other wrestling teams. He would stay way after practice to help guys cut weight, despite the fact that he had already worked 8 hours in the factory before practice. He would go to a little kids meet to coach early in a day, and then show up at the high school meet later that day. Pick poured his life into his wrestlers, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.
There was one other thing that set Pick apart from other coaches: his voice.
That dude had a booming voice that no two sub-woofers could ever match. In a gymnasium filled with people screaming, you could hear Pick’s voice over all the rest. I wrestled in close to 400 matches between my middle school and high school career, and there weren’t many matches that I couldn’t hear him shake the gymnasium rafters with his low pitch bellowing.
During matches, there were two words that you would hear from Pick over and over and over. The first was the word “Again!”. Pick would say the word “Again!” when you tried to do a move, and it almost worked. He wanted you to keep attacking a weakness of your opponent, until it finally did work. He didn’t say “Again!” with the subtle, still calm of Mr. Miyagi, but rather with a booming command that you heard in your earholes, but you felt at the base of your central nervous system. When Pick yelled “Again!”, your body would do the move again before your mind could even process what you were doing.
Pick knew that, if you keep doing something over and over, that the habits of your body would become stronger than the will of your mind.
In a one word command, “Again!” represented the practice of becoming a better version of yourself. You couldn’t embody something you had tried 3–4 times…you had to keep doing it “Again!”
The second was the word “Finish!”. With any move in wrestling, you have to complete it to score points. If you only do a move halfway, you might as well not have done the move at all. So many times in matches, I would do a move part of the way, only to meet resistance from the other guy. At that moment, one word could be heard above everyone else in the gym; “Finish!”. You could hear “Finish!” 7–8 times in a row, at the same pitch, and at the same volume, all from the mouth of Pick. The combination of his will and his voice was nearly enough on it’s own to get you to “Finish!” what you started.
Over the course of my teenage years, between matches and practice, I probably heard “Again!” and “Finish!” thousands of times. The words, the tone, and the sentiments were drilled into my head, against my wishes, much like every Taylor Swift song for the three weeks after it’s released. (Haters really are gonna hate) I am now 18 years out of high school, and Pick has still successfully planted “Again!” and “Finish!” into my head, and those words have now infiltrated everything else I do.
Remember those two words for a second…
The other thing that Pick would do was, after the wrestling season was over, he would still show up and run practices for offseason training. We would have just finished 5 months of cutting weight, daily practices, and two meets per week, and he was there the day after, ready to keep pushing us. My junior year, at the end of the season, I had gotten All-State honors, and the next week, Pick was there rolling out the mats, ready for practice. He was teaching me, subtly, that life doesn’t have an offseason, and he wasn’t going to let me stop short of what I wanted just because I had gotten ‘close enough’.
For him “Again!” and “Finish!” were more than just words he’d bellow out during a tournament. For him, they were a mantra that was bigger than a sport.
You do things “Again!” to make yourself better.
You “Finish!” things so that they actually count.
I can’t become the man I need to be in the lives of the people around me unless I do the things I’m supposed to do “Again!”…and “Again!”…and “Again!” And when I get tired of, annoyed by, or sidetracked from the responsibilities I have as a man, I can still hear that low-pitched, echo in my head, urging me with one word…
All I have ever wanted, since the moment I became a “grown-up”, is for my life to count, and I know that it won’t if I don’t “Finish!” the things I’m supposed to “Finish!”. When I’m in the middle of what seems like an infinite, unendurable circumstance that makes me want to quit a project I’m working on, there, in the back of my head, I hear the commanding voice of a coach;
Recently I had stepped outside, saw the colors and felt the fall breeze, and was reminded that it was that time of year again: wrestling season. I can still feel it in my bones, even though I’ve been away from the sport for more than a decade. Every former wrestler can feel it when fall comes around. It’s strange how, years later, being a wrestler still is part of your DNA.
Sadly, this is the first wrestling season where Pick is not physically with us. He lost his fight with cancer 10 months ago. Fittingly, his memorial service was in our alma mater’s gym, with the mats rolled out. But, wrestling season or not, he has been with me ever since I left. Through career changes, life’s curveballs, goal chases, and evolving relationships, he continues to urge me to be better by doing things “Again!”. He continues to not let me quit what I start, pushing me to “Finish!”.
From beyond the grave, that dude is still the voice in my head.