“Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything” is a phrase I think I got from a Charlie Brown cartoon strip. It’s a horrible sentence really, but if it’s something that resonates with you, I want to take this opportunity to tell you exactly why your thinking is WRONG!
The Victor Ludorum
This slightly tarnished elastic band and pound coin holder is the wonderfully named “Victor Ludorum” (Latin for “winner of the games”) trophy that I won for athletic excellence back in 1994. A grand name for a prize in a northern comprehensive, the school thought so much of it they never asked for it back (it says “House Sports’ Trophy“…we didn’t have “Houses”.). It wasn’t long after winning this, however, that I became slightly tarnished myself.
I’m an oddly competitive person. I say oddly because I’m not always competitive. Ask me to play a friendly game of tennis, have a kick about, or play a game of golf or pool, and I will happily pass the time with you. I’m not going to try and beat you into the ground, I’m not that guy. Put me in a contest, however, or something I perceive to be a contest, and that’s a very different thing. If I’m competing, then I want to win. Here’s where it gets tricky with me though, it is vitally important that it doesn’t look like I’m competing.
Why? Simple really. If it looks like I’m competing, then you know that I want to win, which shows how seriously I’m taking it. Which is all well and good, except I’m painfully aware that there is a possibility that however hard I try, I might lose.
I won that Victor Ludorum at a literal canter. I won either three or four events (however many I entered) by barely breaking a sweat, I was that far ahead of my classmates. I didn’t train, I didn’t prepare, I was just naturally that good. I was also just a big fish in a very small pond (a pond that focused on playing football, not arsing about with running). Winning that trophy got me a place representing the school at the county championships, a much bigger pond!
The Big Pond
My first inkling something was amiss in that big pond was when I lined up for the one-hundred metres against kids wearing proper running gear (vests, short shorts, running shoes). I was wearing my PE kit. Preparation for this meet was a one-hour session after school the previous Wednesday night where I threw up after a couple of laps of the track (fun fact: I’ve also thrown up in the toilets of Gateshead International Stadium after running a couple of laps!). But I was there, I was competing…
I can recall the exact thought process behind what happened next. I was in one of the middle lanes and by about the halfway mark I could see we were all more or less in a line, although I was maybe falling back a little. In that instant I decided I wasn’t going to win…so I stopped competing. I slowed down, then walked to the finish line. There was hell to pay of course. I took part in the relay race to finish the event, but insisted on doing the second leg so I wouldn’t be the last man trailing in behind everyone else, and that was that.
I was called in to see the headmaster the next day and got the speech about letting myself and the school down. I didn’t recall him being at the event supporting the school, and I also didn’t feel particularly supported by the school in terms of training, but I didn’t mention these things. I was probably thrown by being in the one room in our school that had a fitted carpet and an electric fire.
Losing Isn’t Nothing
Even though it’s a very clear memory, this isn’t a therapy session. It isn’t something I dwell on or think a whole lot about. I’m not even sure I regret it. But it WAS stupid. Twenty more strides, and I would have finished the race. Then of course I would have actually lost, not just failed to finish.
Losing isn’t nothing, what I did that glorious summer day was nothing. Losing shows you’ve had a go. I’ve talked HERE about how perfection doesn’t have to perfect, and the same is true of competing; you don’t need to win to get something out of it.
At some point in your Chosen Field journey, or your life in general, you’re going to feel like you’re falling behind and just want to give up. Please don’t. If only the athletes who stood a good chance of winning a medal competed, the whole Olympic Games would be over in a couple of days. The others may know in their heart of hearts they aren’t going to “win”, but they take part to better their personal records, to compete on the biggest stage in the world, and to run against the best. None of those athletes will ever be losers. The ones that stay on the couch and say “what’s the point in trying, I’m never going to win…” they’re the losers. I should know!
You learn a lot more in the big ponds of the world, and even though they can be scary places, there are far more people like you than you might think! So, compete, and compete to win if you must, but define what winning actually means to YOU, that way, you can never lose.