Winners and losers. Isn’t that how most people view the world? And usually, the “win” involves money, a title, and stuff.
Along with the spoils of winning come reassurances that the basics in life will be taken care of, and a great deal more: satisfaction in your accomplishments, the realization of a dream, and maybe even a spot in the record books. At least – until the guy nipping at your heels grabs the next win. And then what? Are you a loser?
It’s a weekend of Wimbledon finals, after two weeks of incredible upsets for both the women and the men, though two great champions – Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal – take the 2010 Wimbledon crown. For me, it’s been a time of pondering what winning means, and how to recapture the feeling of being a winner.
Major challenges in life often call for extraordinary efforts, not to mention heart – that elusive quality that garners support from others, suggesting an openness of spirit and a belief – even in the impossible. Talent helps, naturally, but work ethic and attitude transform the right stuff into the winning stuff.
We all know that overnight success is rare; what appears as overnight success is generally years of obscurity during sustained efforts, considerable sacrifice, and risk. It all adds up to coming in second, or two hundred and second, and many times, not making the cut at all.
Wise counsel, friends and family, as well as luck tip the scales in favor of hanging in long enough to win, whatever the game.
Winning at life
So is there a magic formula when it comes to winning at life?
- What does winning mean for you?
- How do you define it?
- Do you set the bar high?
- Do you constantly move it?
In American culture, we worship our winners, showering them with special status. But winning for most of us is less opulent and often elusive: a happy marriage, a healthy child, a job, a college scholarship. For some, winning’s Machiavellian edge takes us by surprise; it may involve beating the opponent to a pulp – in a legal action, in business, or in sports. I’ve witnessed that sort of so-called win. I have no admiration for its players.
For Rafael Nadal, who just defeated Tomas Berdych in straight sets to win Wimbledon?
For Serena Williams who won her fourth Wimbledon title yesterday?
I imagine winning on that scale is inexpressibly sweet. And I think about the years of unwavering determination that is required to achieve at that level.
For anyone who dares to compete in anything, losing comes with the territory. Losing gracefully is something we can teach our children, as we congratulate those who win, and show the perseverance required to gear up for the next battle – well-prepared, focused, with whatever resources are required, lined up.
Losing is about preparing for taking risk all over again, learning from experience, and increasing the odds of improving, which to me, is a win.
Picking your battles
When I was younger, I took on too many battles. Oh, for the days of youthful innocence and vigor! But we get smarter as we mature, and learn to pick our battles. Hopefully, we don’t sweat the small stuff, and we save ourselves for the fights that really matter.
There are certainly periods in life when the challenges are slamming us fast and furiously. That’s when we do sweat the small stuff, because it isn’t small after all. Picking battles is nearly impossible. Each is important – especially when you’re battling for survival for yourself and your children. Still, only by prioritizing and fighting smartly will we make any progress in these battles that have little to do with a title or prize and everything to do with making it through the day.
Finding the win
There are all kinds of wins in life. We know that. It’s a matter of circumstance and definition. This weekend, I attacked a gargantuan task I’ve been procrastinating for months. It is the necessary prelude to the unpleasant process of filling out financial aid applications, writing letters, searching for college scholarships. I am sifting through mountains of paperwork.
I have begun before, and made little progress. This weekend, as I watched tennis champions get the job done, I thought about winning. And I told myself – begin in earnest – that is your win. As for the prize? Doing right by my sons.
While I have weeks of work ahead of me, I accomplished a great deal in the past 48 hours. Whittled away at the mountain, so to speak. I’m looking at this beginning as a win. I hope for the momentum to continue, and I am moderating my optimism in the gray area where most of us live our real lives, without fanfare. Where we focus on winning when it counts, and by our own definition.