The problem with self improvement is knowing when to quit. Mediocre people sometimes attain amazing success because they don’t know when to quit. We don’t quit playing because we grow old, we grow old because we quit playing. And boxing champ Bernard Hopkins,50, will quit when he’s wrinkled…

Any man with a wife is used to listening to orders. So when one (or was it all?) of my exes used to ‘order’ me to quit drinking coffee in the morning I would plead: ‘But then I’ll have to drink my bourbon straight!’

No doubt the whole fifth.

At that she would look at me sort of cockeyed — or, at least, after my third cup she/they always seemed that way — and snort: ‘You’ll get used to it…’

Or not…

Hmm… Another devious devil in a red flannel nightgown.

And sometimes I used to challenge the female Lucifer to a wrasslin’ match. With the loser giving up coffee and the winner giving-up ‘sum’. Trouble is, when you wrassle a gorilla you can’t quit when you’re tired. You can only quit when she’s tired.

And without my coffee I am always tired.

Hmm… I think I have a problem – with quitting, that is. And isn’t that the problem with self-improvement — knowing when to quit?

It all gets more than a tad confusing, doesn’t it?

And so, like the Philadelphia’s boxing champ Bernard Hopkins, I get more than a tad confused when folks tell me to quit while I am ahead.

Ahead of what? I keep wondering. Inflation? The bill collectors? The IRS? The mortgage? The Grim Reaper?…

What is it I am ahead of? In case you didn’t notice we are all perpetually behind something or other – especially in traffic. Human and otherwise.

So I don’t understand why everybody keeps harping on Hopkins – before and after the ageless title holder was roundly beaten out of his shiny IBF and WBA light heavyweight championship belts last weekend – about when is he going to finally unlace his gloves once and for all.

Hopkins could have just as well as said: ‘I wish I had an answer to that because I’m tired of answering that question.’

Hmm…

Calling himself the Alien for being an amazing, disciplined, boxing ‘freak-of-nature’ Hopkins, who is 9 weeks away from turning 50 and eligible for retired people’s AARP, already holds the record as the oldest world champion in boxing history.

By years.

The North Philly pugilist has a life time record of 55 wins. Admittedly last Saturday, in the most lopsided of his 7 losses in his 26 years as a pro, he got pummeled. It was a world title unification match unanimously won by the Russian wrecking ball who has knocked out 23 of his 27 opponents.

But Hopkins didn’t get decked. He not only went the 12 round distance he was the first fighter to last more than 8 rounds with the Russian Sergey Kovalev.

In other words, with Hopkins, it ain’t over till it’s over.

So why do we keep pestering him to quit? Obviously it’s not in his vocabulary. And instead of asking him to quit, perhaps instead we all ought to harvest the ethics and industriousness from Bernard Hopkins’ fields of knowledge.

In other words, we don’t quit playing or working because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing or working. Particularly towards a continuous goal.

No matter what that is.

Hopkins is going to figure out how to stay in the game because that’s what he does. Because that’s who he is. Because that’s what he loves. A freak of nature or just a freak about his craft the man’s total game doesn’t really have a wrinkle. Hell, the man’s body ain’t even got a wrinkle.

And I think that quitting would wrinkle his soul. As it should in all of ours.

Although, in some ways, Hopkins has made himself a ‘difficult’ man to embrace you’ve got to appreciate his loyalty and endeavors on the canvas. He’s like reading a grand poem – especially one that doesn’t rhyme. In his boxing he captures the mystique and essence of the majesty we call life.

And yes, there is the downside. Indeed, the trouble with boxing is that too often it ends in sadness. As former heavyweight champ and Philadelphia pugilist Joe Frazier put it: Boxing is the only sport you can get your brain shook, your money took and your name in the undertaker book.

But let’s stop being so sanctimonious. Surely, just like surviving the daily perils of our working lives with little or no safety net – physical, financial and otherwise — no sport is fundamentally about the safety of athletes. If it were, we’d probably have to ban professional football, right after boxing.

I know that as an athlete, especially a boxer, you supposedly only have so much time. But again I ask: What really is time? We all live a different length of time. We all die one way or another in our time. We can’t declare an end to our time – that is without screaming and simply stepping in front of a Mack truck.

Besides, time is merely an invention by man so that everything doesn’t happen all at once. And most of us are merely putting in time between weekends.

So why are we trying to dictate ‘time’ to this warrior. He’s obviously not ready to climb out of the ring. He still loves going to the Big Dance. He recognizes that boxing is just show biz with real blood. And, except for Kovalev, he is still favored to beat most everybody else.

But why keep taking the risk? Probably to Hopkins it’s no risk when you are always prepared. Like his favorite ancient warrior, Sun Tzu, wrote in the Art of War: Most battles are lost due to the lack of discipline, training and education.

That is not Hopkins’ problem. From the way he eats, to the way he trains, to the daily regimen of his discipline. Hopkins entire life is making a statement. He’s not just existing. He’s not just boxing. He is demonstrating for all of us that to live, to achieve is to serve a purpose.

Hmm…

Meanwhile, I think we have to relax about aging. What else can you do? Aging can be gradual to those who lay back and enjoy the process – and abrupt to those who don’t.

Bernard may stay in the game one fight too long. Or he may finally one day simply wake up without the desire to keep doing what he’s been doing so long and so well. But for now life inside the lines is simple. Its life outside the lines that gets complicated. Inside the ring, Bernard Hopkins is simply doing the job he loves.

And for now his job is not about when to quit, but to teach us all about when not to quit. For the world is in a constant conspiracy against the brave. It’s the age-old struggle: The roar of the crowd on the one side, and the voice of your conscience on the other.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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