I have noticed in myself today an ambivalence about winning. This isn’t a new ambivalence, nor even a new noticing. What’s prompted it?
This time a week ago I had zero interest in this year’s Olympics in Rio. I have other personal fish to fry, closer to home. Literally.
But all that changed yesterday when Team GB leapfrogged up to third in the medals table, behind the USA and China, both of whom have populations gazillions of times bigger than ours. Suddenly, I’m in. Not enough to actually watch anything on my non-existent TV, you understand, but enough to google once or twice a day to see how we’re doing and to share the Team GB successes on Facebook. #Proud
Winning is sexy. And my team winning is especially sexy. Some of their golden dust rubs off on us all.
I was brought up in a different time, in the Fifties and Sixties, and I was taught by my parents and at school that it wasn’t the winning but the taking part that counts.
Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin was a French educationalist and historian, founder of the International Olympic Committee, and is considered the father of the modern Olympic Games, and this was his quote by which I was taught to live my life:
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
The first time I remember being disabused of this idea when losing a Jenga competition in the Randolph Hotel in Oxford as part of the promotional launch. I was heard to say this aloud by a professional sportsman who immediately replied with something of the order of “that’s the trouble with you Brits” by which I took him to mean that as a nation we put too little store on winning. I think he was probably right, definitely in that time, the Eighties. And certainly, when it comes to the Olympics, that’s changed in my adult life as we have invested in sports people. For the win.
Because, as a nation, winning is good for us. Good for our national pride and good for our GDP.
But still, I don’t think of myself – or even aspire to – as a winner. I don’t think of myself as a loser, either, mind. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose. Mostly I live in the vast hinterland between the two.
I neither think of myself as a winner or a loser. And it is clear that losing is very much a part of winning. My own preferred spectator sport is tennis, and just this summer I have seen the world’s #1 Novak Djokovic lose not once, but twice and, judging by his tears, his loss in Rio was by far the harder for him to bear than crashing out of Wimbledon early.
Winners must live with losing. And I have certainly seen winners abstain from taking part in competitions and other areas of their lives they know they cannot win, which would suggest some are frightened to lose, or averse to it at the very least. I guess it keeps your stats up?
I’ve not paid much attention before today to the second part of the Baron’s quote, that bit about fighting well. I’m more of a a lover than a fighter, but I think I see where he was going there. What’s important to me is playing fair, if not always by the “rules”, and feeling good about myself and others, whatever the outcome. It’s not just important, I realise. To some extent it is who I am.
In my life and business winning and losing are hard to measure, and I like it like that. I can easily call to mind the times when I have very definitely “won”. And times when I’ve ended up at the bottom of the heap. But most of the time I dwell in the middle, and closer to the top than the bottom.
But this afternoon I can’t help wondering how/if life would have been different had I been brought up otherwise, been two or three decades younger and schooled in excellence and trained to be a winner, assumed and inhabited the winner’s place in our society and in my life and work.
We’ve all known people like that and I am certainly not going to take away from their commitment and hard work, but if you know you are a winner and have no doubt about that, does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Sometimes it appears to look like that. I could cite quite a few examples, people I know and know well personally. Come to think of it, I can remember their “failures” too.
No sour grapes from me. You pays your money and you takes your choice. I’ve paid my dues and made my own choices and could change them again if I wanted, and more than once. I don’t think I do want to change. But that, in part, is down to my ambivalence. And I reserve the right to continue to think and re-think that.
Maybe the Olympics speaks to that part in all of us, the sleeping winner. It speaks to our potential. And this from a woman who, you will remember, hasn’t even watched any of it yet this year!
One area of my life where I feel no ambivalence about winning is when I am a lucky winner. That sits very nicely with me indeed. And I always do all I can to put myself in the way of that, increasing my odds of success.
Winning. Fascinating topic, eh?
What do you feel about winning and losing, or are you one who is content with taking part?
How much of an impact, if any, do you feel your own upbringing and conditioning still has on the way you think about winning in your life and biz?
Are you a winner? Or is that for other people?