Relax, this isn’t an article about Charlie Sheen but his claim of “bi-winning” did probably influence me in taking a hard look at what it means to win.
So what does it mean to win? According to the dictionary, winning means “gaining, resulting in, or relating to victory in a contest or competition”. For anyone who has ever won a game, a contest, or a competition of any sort, the feeling of winning is unforgettable, capable of generating some of the most intense emotional experiences we ever feel in our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love to win, but sometimes I think our personal definitions of what it means to win can get confused. Over the next few paragraphs, I am going to attempt to share some stories that suggest we don’t always win when we think we win and that we don’t always lose when we think we lose.
You may want to make sure that you are sitting down for this first analogy because I am going to attempt something that I don’t think has ever done before – use the movie White Men Can’t Jump to make a philosophical point. The female lead, Gloria Clemente played by Rosie Perez, makes the following statement about winning. “Sometimes when you win, you really lose. And sometimes when you lose, you really win. And sometimes when you win or lose, you actually tie and sometimes when you tie, you actually win or lose. Winning or losing is all one organic globule, from which one extracts what one needs.”
I hate to start with this example as I believe I’ve already lost any credibility I might have had with you by referencing this movie, but I think this quote is actually dead on. These lines would have been so much better being said by The Dude character in The Big Lebowski but we are stuck with them being spoken by Gloria Clemente. Nevertheless, the truth of this movie dialog rings so true. Sometimes when we win, we really lose, sometimes when we lose, we really win, sometimes winning or losing actually results in a tie, and sometimes when we tie, we really win or lose.
However, the part I like the most about his quote is the last part in which she says we all extract what we need from winning or losing. While I do not think that most of us actually do this, I think we would all be better served by attempting to take what we need from any win, loss, or tie. Good coaches will tell you that they often learn more about their team in a loss than a win. Sometimes you will even hear coaches privately tell you that their team needs a loss.
I think the same is true of individuals as well. I think we learn more about who we are and what type of people others are when they are faced with a loss. It is easy to be part of a winning team, it is a much harder thing to be part of a team that piles up the loses. (I originally thought I would reference Carson Palmer here to illustrate this point, but I think the Bengals had a 4-12 record with him playing last year so the only point I can really make in reference to Palmer is that your team is likely to lose with Palmer as your QB).
The other thing of beauty about extracting what you need from winning or losing is that it is actually quite sound psychologically speaking. Research shows that people who handle stress and adversity well have the adaptive ability to see positives in whatever situation they face and to learn from trying situations.
I was struck by the recent reaction of Dirk Nowitizki in the 2011 NBA Playoffs after he and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat for the NBA Championship. He walked off the court as the last few seconds clicked off of the game clock. He headed straight to the locker room giving a couple of handshakes and high fives as he left the court. He looked to be on the verge of tears and did not join his teammates in celebrating on the court as time expired. It was reported that he had to be coaxed to come back out for the Playoff MVP and championship trophy presentations.
Part of what struck me is that here is a man that some have said is one of the top ten basketball players of all time, walking off the court very humbly. This is in stark contrast to many of his peers who openly tell you how great they are and what they did to contribute to the team’s victory. The backstory here is that Nowitizki had been to the playoffs once before with the Mavericks in 2006. In 2006, the Mavs were up 2 games to 0 over the Miami Heat and leading by 13 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3. They ended up losing Game 3 and the next three to lose the title when they were 13 minutes from going up 3-0.
Nowitizki was reportedly so distraught over this that he went on a three week drinking binge. However, once he dried out he committed himself to working harder than ever to get another chance at winning the NBA Finals. He got there and he and his Mavericks dismantled a team that virtually everyone had already crowned as the champions. Nowitizki took the painful loss of the 2006 finals and used it to turn himself into a winner. Sometimes our greatest losses turn into our greatest victories.
Now for those of you who cannot relate to sports, I will share a country music analogy (for those of you who cannot relate to either sports or country music analogies, Google has failed you and you have come to the wrong blog. I apologize for wasting your time). Kenny Chesney has a song called “You Win, I Win, We Lose”.
Nothing left, no regrets You take yours, I’ll take mine
No hard feelings wish you all the best We’ll leave nothing but the memories behind
No blame, no shame Of a love, and a dream
Just time to say it’s over I guess That just somehow faded with time
We both agree it’s the right thing You say you’re goin’ your way
The only thing left to do I’m goin’ somewhere too
You win, I win, we lose You win, I win, we lose
This song is obviously about a couple who has decided to breakup and end their relationship. Based on the song, by each of them winning and getting their respective ways, the narrator sees the individual wins by each partner resulting in a collective loss. I fear that this is exactly the thing many of us do in the families, the relationships, and the organizations in which we happen to find ourselves. While it may be true that there is no “I” in team, it seems like most teams have at least one individual who seems to be shooting for individual wins rather than team wins.
How many families, relationships, and organizations would be better functioning and better run if we truly took a collectivistic team approach rather than an individualistic approach which says, “I’m going to do what is best for me and if it happens to help out the larger family unit/my partner/my company that is just icing on the cake.” There are many reasons why families, marriages, and organizations fail, but individual members trying to win individually (or not lose) certainly seems to be a prime contributor.
Another sports analogy.
With two runners on base and a strike against her, Sara Tucholsky of Western Oregon University uncorked her best swing and did something she had never done before, in high school or college. Her first homerun cleared the center field fence. But it appeared to be the shortest of dreams come true when she missed first base, started back to tag it, and collapsed with a knee injury. She crawled back to first but could go no farther. Her first base coach told her that she would be called out if her teammates tried to help her. Unable to continue on her own, the umpire ruled that a pinch runner could be called in for her, but that the homer would only count as a single.
It was at this point that the originally apparent win that turned into a loss turned back into a win for Western Oregon. Members of the Central Washington University softball teamed stunned spectators by carrying Tucholsky around the bases so the three-run homer would count – an act that contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs.
Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman asked the umpire if she and her teammates could help Tucholsky. The umpire said there was no rule against it. So Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace put their arms under Tuchoslky’s legs as she put her arms over their shoulders. The three headed around the base paths, stopping to let Tucholsky touch each base with her remaining good leg.
As the trio reached home plate the entire Western Oregon team was in tears. “In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much,” Holtman said. “It was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain, and she deserved a home run.”
Then there is also Garth Brooks. I know, he annoys me also but he had a song some years back that really reinforces the point I am trying to make – some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.
Just the other night a hometown football game
My wife and I ran into my old high school flame
And as I introduced them the past came back to me
And I couldn’t help but think of the way things used to be
She was the one that I’d wanted for all times
And each night I’d spend prayin’ that God would make her mine
And if he’d only grant me this wish I wished back then
I’d never ask for anything again
She wasn’t quite the angel that I remembered in my dreams
And I could tell that time had changed me
In her eyes too it seemed
We tried to talk about the old days
There wasn’t much we could recall
I guess the Lord knows what he’s doin’ after all
And as she walked away and I looked at my wife
And then and there I thanked the good Lord
For the gifts in my life
Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers
Remember when you’re talkin’ to the man upstairs
That just because he may not answer doesn’t mean he don’t care
Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered
Now I know some of you are thinking, didn’t Garth leave his wife (the woman he is so thankful to God for in this song) for Trisha Yearwood? Yes, he did, but I’m asking you to suspend your knowledge of this inconvenient fact for a moment.
Sometimes when we think we didn’t get what we wanted, we actually got what we needed. Sometimes when we think we lost, we actually won. Sometimes when we think we won, we actually lost. It is all one organic globule from which we extract what we need.