Wednesday, June 21, 2017
How to be a Champion Even When You Lose
A healthy dose of competition goes a long way. I think for many people, it works as a motivator to do one's best at whatever endeavor they engage in. In addition, it adds an element of thrill or excitement to see who will come out on top. It lets people dance with the fear of losing or coming in second place to push them to become more emotionally invested in what they are trying to achieve. At it's most basic incarnation, it provides tangible proof that out of a field of rivals, one person is the best. Besides those things, winning feels good. It's nice to be able to say, I gave it my all and I prevailed.
Unfortunately, it also has a down side. For some people, winning can become everything. It morphs into the sole validation for one's worth and value. When this happens, people can become ruthless, calculating, and obnoxious. Unless a person has a healthy relationship with and an attitude towards competition, being competitive can cause more heartbreak than satisfaction. It is essential to have the right perspective about winning, losing, and trying one's best.
It's funny how life cycles through themes, but this week's theme seems to be about competition. Through conversations with my children and friends, the topic keeps popping up in one form or another. It's made me think more about it lately than I have in a long while. Somewhere along the line, the need to win fell way back on my list of priorities. I used to be incredibly competitive about most things. I wanted to be at the top of whatever I did. I won a lot of the time due to hard work and effort, but I lost frequently too. I used to get so upset when I lost--tears, doubt, anger--the whole nine yards. Thankfully, as I've aged, life became much more about the journey than the destination for me and constant competitiveness fell by the wayside.
My daughter who is fifteen and has a similar competitive streak as I did at that age recently auditioned for section leader for the band. She practiced not only her music on a daily basis, but spent hours writing and reviewing her interview questions. She has innate talent, but more importantly, she has a solid work ethic, especially when it comes to achieving goals for herself. Even with all her preparation and her confidence that she was going to perform at her greatest ability, she was prepared to lose gracefully. And that makes me very proud of her.
Some people might question why I would be proud of her to be prepared to lose. There is a school of thought that believes if a person makes room for the idea of losing, they have already lost. They believe that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. I thoroughly disagree. I think evaluating what it might be like to win and to lose before it ever happens let's a person focus more on the experience than the objective and to frame how they will react to both outcomes. It makes you a winner at life, not just that particular test of skill.
Since they were very young, all of my children know that sometimes you just don't win, no matter how hard you try. No matter how talented a person is, someone out there could be better. The only thing to do is to give 100 percent of what they can do and wait for the results. Win or lose, if they did their best they could be proud. I wanted them to know early on that it is the effort that matters most, not the achievement. I want them to be champions at life, not just soccer, or band, or school work. Learning to be resilient in the face of defeat, gracious in both winning and losing, and confident in their attempts means more to me than any trophy, position, or grade. Winning is nice, but it isn't everything. Learning from your mistakes, acknowledging and appreciating skill or talent beyond your own, motivating yourself to work harder and smarter for the next test of skill, and being completely present in the moment no matter how painful it might be are all much more important than winning.
As section leader next school year, I know my daughter will continue to strive for excellence because it is something she wants to do for herself and for her band family, not solely for external validation. She will still be competitive, but mostly with herself, I am sure. Just like her Momma, she wants to be a little bit better tomorrow than she was today, and frankly that's the most productive and fruitful kind of competition of all.