The confidence I usually carried with me as I trotted up to the line of scrimmage was gone. The guy across from me, wearing the same number on his jersey as I had on mine, was just better. It wasn’t just about being bigger or stronger, though he was, it was about skill and aggression.

It was the end of my first season playing ball for the Marine Corps; the Championship game that would put the icing on the cake of our undefeated year. It was a close game, and for the first time all season, the idea that we might lose was creeping into my head.

With more than two decades of contact sports under my belt, I’d played against plenty of stronger guys. I’d also played against more talented ones. Usually, the really talented guys tended to be a bit soft, the really strong ones tended to lean too hard on their power, and I was able to find a way to win, to work around their advantages and make mission. This was different. I couldn’t out-fight him, I couldn’t out-think him, and with each snap of the ball, I was met with another brutal reminder that this monster was my better, and I was letting my team down.

If you stay in the fight for long enough, whether it’s football, rugby, MMA, or competitive ice dancing, you’ll eventually find yourself in a no-win situation. If you’re incredibly unlucky, it may even be in a fight for your life. Not every loss comes as a result of being outclassed by your opponent – sometimes it’s just about the way the dice fall – but sometimes, sometimes you’re just not good enough.

The internet would have you believe that every failure is a learning opportunity, and while there is certainly some truth to that, sometimes the only lesson there is to learn is that you have limits, and when you meet them, it doesn’t matter how bad you want it, or how hard your drive is.

I played ball with some incredible athletes in the Marine Corps, but it wasn’t often that I found myself totally outclassed by the competition.

We live in a society that tells us that we can all achieve whatever we set our minds to. We live in a culture that shushes away the idea that you might not be good enough for anything. Each of us is “the chosen one” in our own movies, each of us is the hero of the day; until the moment comes that you realize, all you are today is a supporting actor in that other guy’s story. You’re nothing more than a speed bump between him and victory.

If you’re training to stay in shape, to keep your weight down or because you enjoy the great outdoors, you don’t have to put much thought into those kinds of days. Fitness is, after all, a personal journey based on personal goals, but if you’re like me, training is about more than maintaining a waistline, it’s about staying functional. It’s about staying capable.

There’s a common expression that goes something like, “walk a mile to avoid a fight, but when one starts, don’t back down an inch.” I thoroughly believe in that mentality. While I’ll admit to being in (and maybe even picking) my fair share of bar fights in the dimly lit drinking holes of Southern Vermont and Upstate New York where I hail from, I’m not that guy anymore. I have nothing to prove to a world full of tipsy egotists hoping to prove their own mettle in a parking lot.