In Defense of Losing

(Bonus points to anyone who can get the connection between the title of the post and the picture I used to lead this off–without clicking through to the source material. No peeking!)

I’ve been watching the Olympics over the last few days (naturally), and I’ve been as disappointed as many people have been over the poor quality of NBC’s coverage. I never really noticed this before, so either I’m being more critical these days, or I’ve changed over the last few years, or . . . their coverage has gotten crummier. Probably a combination of both, plus the fact that I resent how hard they hold on to their coverage. CBS does a fantastic job with March Madness each year, letting anyone download an app and watch on their device of their choice for a small charge, plus ads. That seems more than reasonable. NBC seems to want to defend their coverage from any possible onslaught.

Me no likey.

But that’s not what I wanted to post about today. No–what I’ve really been thinking about is how important it is to learn how to lose. In many ways, life’s all about losing. You’re going to lose, and you’re going to lose often. I’ve always liked this quote by Michael Jordan:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Sure, it’s from a Nike commercial, but it’s still a great point. The only way to be able to win is to be able to lose.

NBC was hyping up the Phelps/Lochte showdown so much, a part of me was more than a little happy when both of them failed to live up to expectations. Because I think it’s important to see that dreams don’t always come true. That you can work really hard for something, but just because you worked hard for it, doesn’t mean you’re going to do the best or have everything you wanted. That’s a life lesson, folks.

I was reminded this during Jordyn Wieber’s failure to make the all-around finals in women’s gymnastics, as well. Everyone was talking about what an outrage it was, and how she should be allowed to compete anyway, and how she should have gone last in the order. All of that talk, but no one really focusing on why she didn’t make it to the finals.

She lost.

She wasn’t as good as the other two girls on the team. Despite NBC promo’ing the heck out of her. Despite all the commercials with her smiling face. She didn’t come through when she needed to, and she lost. (The cameramen shoving their lenses into her face while she was sobbing was a bit much, though.)

I was really happy to see her bounce back. To get over her loss and come together with the rest of her team to win the gold last night. That’s how you lose. You accept it, and you move on.

(Long aside: This same principle goes for other areas, too. In the same vein (but not a complete match) is the importance of being able to admit you were wrong about something. The other day, I posted on Facebook a minor rant against junk lawsuits–how disgusted I was that people kept using our legal system as a giant slot machine, everyone trying to cash in for a big settlement.

Then a friend posted a response, essentially telling me I was falling for a storyline that was based on hype and not facts. He even included some links to back his point up.

My initial response was to prove I was right. To find contradicting evidence that showed why I had been justified saying what I had. So I put on my librarian hat, did some research, and . . . discovered I had been wrong. I went back to the conversation, admitted I was wrong, and thanked him for correcting me. It was essentially good news, after all. I’d been upset that people were flooding our law system with junk lawsuits, and that wasn’t the case.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but I do wish this sort of mentality would be shared by others these days. Everyone seems so set on proving when they’re right all the time. Looking for ways to slice numbers and shave statistics until they find something that confirms their gut reactions. All it takes is one study, and they sit back and point to it and say, “See?” When an argument becomes focused on who is right and who is wrong, any hope of having a productive exchange of ideas has long since evaporated.)

Anyway. Back on topic. When I look at my kids, I want them to play games, and I want them to lose. Not all the time, of course. Winning’s fun, too. But I never got too good at losing when I was little. I’m still not great at it. I’m intensely competitive, and that does me no real good in the long run. I love playing board games, and I enjoy learning the rules and twisting them to my advantage. That should be enough–enjoying the process. But I sometimes get so hung up on winning that I lose enjoyment of the game.

I play Magic: the Gathering with a friend over lunch a few times a week. It’s a game I’ve really come to enjoy the more I play it. Full of strategy and replayability. I have a great time playing. The last few times we’ve played, I’ve gotten mowed over, however. My friend is a much more experienced player than I am. He’s been doing this for years and years. I’ve been playing for maybe one. I enjoy the process of learning–but I know I’d enjoy it more if I’d stop worrying so much about winning.

The temptation is there, of course, to tell my friend to lighten up, just as many youth sports have started focusing on “participating is the same thing as winning.” I’m not a fan of that, clearly. You get better by playing against better competition. You get stronger by working against resistance. And getting better is important–much more important than the simple “I won.”

I’m getting a bit rambly at this point. My thoughts are all over the place. Let me bring this back to the Olympics. The first night during the Opening Ceremonies, they interviewed Michael Phelps, who was asked if–if/when he won more medals than anyone else–he would have earned the right to be called the greatest Olympian of all time. To me, the answer to this was a no-brainer. You laugh, you say that’s a bit much, and you point to all the other great Olympians out there. Did he do this? No. He sat there and thought about the question some, then eventually pretty much agreed, as I recall.

I thought it was outrageous.

So I was really happy to see him come in fourth in his first race. But I was even happier to see him actually show some humility in his interview after the men’s relay victory last night.

Maybe losing had done something for him, too.

2 thoughts on “In Defense of Losing”

  1. Great post, Bryce! This magic playing friend of yours sounds like a real jerk.

    While I agree that best way to improve is to play against people who are better than you, I think it’s important to evaluate one’s goals in the situation. If your goal is to be the best you can be, playing against amazing players if a good route to take. If you goal is to have a good time and relax, sometimes that doesn’t work as well. I also don’t think the two of them are mutually exclusive.

    In the case of the posting about frivolous lawsuits, I do appreciate when people can incorporate or at least fathom a difference of opinion. It is too easy to just look for the argument that makes you right and use it (and often too hard to recognizing you’re doing it). I noticed that the person who posted a response did so on their own wall, and not in the comments of your post. I perceive that as not inviting a conversation and instead starting a monologue. However, I’m glad that the outcome was positive.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the post. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I hardly ever play games just to have a good time and relax. I wish I did. It would be a much more enjoyable and relaxing experience. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m working on that still.

    And re: the lawsuits posts, yes, it’s true that the response was on their own wall, but it was hard for me to miss. At times, Facebook seems built to NOT have conversations, but rather to have a bunch of individuals shouting into the void. When you happen to shout something and someone else shouts something moments later, it’s hard not to let that become a conversation. ๐Ÿ™‚

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