Navigating your outlook with Clay O'Brien Cooper.

There are a lot of things in life that are just choices. One important lesson I learned early on is that a negative outlook—thinking and talking negatively—wasn’t going to do me any good or point me in a positive direction. Negativity is toxic, and complaining about your number, your partner, your horse, and the steers gets you nowhere.

I come from the old-school upbringing that kids are supposed to be seen and not heard, so I tend to be more of a listener than a talker. I remember listening to grown-ups talk when I was a little kid. What they held in high regard is what I held in high regard. A lot of my hopes and dreams, visions of life, and understanding of life principles came from listening to the older cowboys talk. I liked their wisdom, and their old cowboy sayings. My stepdad (Gene O’Brien) had a thousand of them.

He told me my favorite saying— a man is only as good as his word—when I was about 25 years old. That’s when I had my aha moment, and a dumb kid turned into a man. I’d heard that hundreds of times before, but that was the first time I looked in the mirror and evaluated myself on that statement. Moments like that one started to set the lines I didn’t want to cross, and give me a vision of who I wanted to be.

That’s when I started to learn the value of positive thinking, being a positive person, and thinking and saying positive things. Our world operates on relationships and doing business with people. I admire a person of high morals, who keeps his word, and uses his words wisely to convey a message that’s not vulgar, ignorant, or overbearing. Communicating in a way that translates a positive message is better for both people in the conversation.

There’s an old saying that who you hang around is what you become. I don’t care to hang around vulgar, ignorant, overbearing people, because that’s not who I want to be. I want to be around people who believe right, think right, talk right, and act right, because I’ve found it to be a more productive, enjoyable experience in the roping arena and in life.

Roping and competing isn’t always the easiest environment. It’s highly competitive, it’s your means of putting food on the table for your family and a roof over their head, and it can be an emotional experience. It’s easy for it to become a roller coaster—high when you’re winning, and low when you’re not. Everybody who competes feels those same emotions. But how we react becomes a decision.

It’s easy to act out of emotion—if you’re happy, everybody ought to be happy, and if you’re sad or mad, everybody else should feel that way, too. I try not to conduct myself based on whatever emotion I’m feeling. I make a decision to be more even-keeled, and conduct myself in a way that doesn’t let my emotions control me.

I’m not perfect. Sometimes it’s extremely hard, and I fail, just like everybody else. I do beat myself up for poor performance, but I don’t display that publicly. I do it in a private manner. I feel the emotions. I hurt from disappointment and failure, just like everyone else. But I choose to take it to a quiet place and let it simmer down. Within 30 minutes to an hour, I can rebound, start pulling positive thoughts back into my mind, and go back to the process of working at it.

I do that so I’m not throwing fits, whipping my horse, cussing in front of women and children, or tearing up my rig. I choose to hold myself to a standard that allows me to be in control of what I do. It doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else, but it’s better for me. I want to be responsible for what comes out of my mouth, and I want to be a positive influence. As an adult, being a good example is a responsibility. The next generation is watching. 

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