I do not think this point can be hammered on enough…you learn more through losing than you do winning. As the pic that accompanies this blog states, when you lose you are forced to reexamine your approach to things. I can personally attest to this, and have multiple examples to point to from my own life where this played out to be true. It is a necessary part of growing and improving at anything. You fail a test, study harder next time; you finish last in a race, work harder before the next one. If you are going to try anything at all, you are not going to be good at it the first time out. You have to try and fail so you can learn to deal with adversity. Life is not always going to bend to your wishes. This is a cold hard fact of existence, and the sooner you can wrap your head around that concept, the happier and more resilient you’ll be.
There was a big dust up a little while ago when NFL star James Harrison got a bunch of (undue) attention for his stance on his kid getting a participation trophy. First of all, this is HIS CHOICE of how to parent his kids, and that seems to have gotten lost in today’s world to some degree. If you are at all familiar with his background, he had to fight really hard to even make it to the NFL. He was doing his best to instill this same kind of work ethic into his sons as well. Participation trophies lead to entitlement and waters down the effort of those who are willing to work hard. Not a good way to prepare kids for the real world that they will inevitably be thrust into in the future. Get them used to dealing with adversity now so they are better prepared for it throughout life. It is a part of the ride, so denying it or trying to avoid it will only make things harder in the end. I firmly believe the world would be a better place if ore people parented in this fashion. It used to be the norm, but it seems more rare as we move forward.
If you want to make it onto a sports team as a kid today, in many cases everyone gets a turn. Parents put their kids in soccer leagues that don’t keep score, in hopes of being inclusive and not hurting anyone’s feelings. If your kid is five years old, that is fine. But if your kid is ten, in my opinion, this is a terrible idea. Life is not fair, and the real world will eat the people alive who grew up in this fashion. You need to feel the sting of losing, of getting cut from the team, or riding the bench all the time. This does one of two things for you:
1. It gets you to learn that hard work pays off, and develops your work ethic to fix your weaknesses.
2. It shows you that you do not have what it takes in this particular area, so it is time to find something else to pursue.
I would have loved to have become a Pro Baseball player, but that wasn’t in the cards for me. I was a mediocre Little League player, I was a small kid, and I was afraid to stand in the batter’s box for fear of being hit by a pitch. As a side bar, I was a pitcher, and I knew how little control I had, and it was easy to assume that an opposing pitcher was in the same boat. Anyway, the point is that I tried that sport for a while, but I didn’t rise to the top. I wanted to, I did extra work, but it didn’t happen. So I switched my focus to wrestling so that I could compete against kids that were truly my size. But if you have read some of my other blogs, you know that this pursuit did not work out the way I was hoping for either.
When you start out in school at the kindergarten level, things are meant to be easy for the most part. We are encouraged, coddled, spoon fed and nurturing is part of the process. As you move forward to other grades, things get tougher. You have to work to learn and understand things. Subjects like math begin to separate those who think in a linear fashion from those who do not. But you don’t have much of a choice, if you want to pass those classes, you have to buckle down and do the work to understand the material. I can tell you from personal experience, math not my forte`, and some of the higher level skills like advanced algebra have been HIGHLY unnecessary throughout the course of my life. Despite a lot of effort on my part, I did not grasp these concepts well and they would not stick in my head for any length of time.
I took college algebra three times and never passed the class. My girlfriend in college would sit patiently with me, helping me study for a test the next day. When she would explain things to me and show me how to work through the problems, I could do it. But 12 hours later, it wasn’t there. I couldn’t remember the order of operations or other key processes to solve the problems. I don’t know what my IQ was back, but I am not an idiot by any means. Nowadays, I place my IQ around 140 based on several different tests I have taken, so general intelligence is not the issue, but THIS type of intelligence is not my brand. Eventually my room mate passed my online college algebra class for me, and I graduated with a Business Marketing degree BECAUSE this program had the least amount of math requirements. I wanted to do a more generalized business degree, but there were more math classes needed and so I took the path of least resistance.
Facing the adversity of this, in this fashion, taught me several things for life. First, there are career paths that are not in the cards for me. I am creative, and very much a people person. Finance and Engineering occupations were just not in the cards for me, and that is ok. I enhanced the strengths I had and steered clear of the things that required adequacy in areas that I did not possess a good understanding of. Sales was a much better fit for me, but even certain areas of this I needed to side-step, as some areas of sales require lots of math skills. Relationship selling of services or hard goods like orthopedic and trauma equipment were a better fit. No one is good at everything, so the approach that our education system takes with trying to force feed you knowledge that is just not aligned with the way your brain works is not only unfair, but it is flat out unrealistic as well. But I’ll save my rant about the education system for another blog.
When it comes to my athletic career, it is entirely possible that there are more loses than wins in my history. I really don’t know, as I did not keep track as I went through the process. When I had made it to the top, then I actually started to do a little math and see just what was going on. In a five year run I was 135-9 in my home state, but I was just about the opposite on the Pro Tour. I had topped out at #18 in the world, and because I was ranked inside the top 24, I no longer had to qualify for the main draw of the tournament. This meant I should show up, play one of the top 8 players in the event in my first round, lose and then be done for the weekend. Prior to this, in an average weekend I would go 2-1 or three and one, as I would play several qualifying matches to make it to the main draw. My record was better when I was ranked lower, oddly enough.
Slowly…very slowly, I learned that losing did not define me as a person. It was not a reflection of my social standing and it did not mean I was a better person just because I was a better player than many. These lessons came slowly to me for a couple of reasons, a major one being my ego of course. But some of it was the culture of people I was surrounded by at every tournament as well. The top players loved to keep everyone under their thumb every chance possible, and the toxicity of this was transferable. I returned that favor when I was in my own element at events in AZ. I loved reminding everyone “who I was”. I was an asshole, and I am well aware of it now. I would have preferred to have been like tennis pro Roger Federer, but I didn’t have the emotional maturity to operate that way. So instead I made my own life tougher; my behavior had everyone rooting against me instead of for me. This “loss” was very formative for me in my life today, as I probably overcompensate for past transgressions by being overly nice and giving in most cases.
Adversity is a part of life, as I hope the above points illustrated. This is a necessary thing, as if we all got what we wanted all the time, imagine the self-indulgent bastards we would be in short order. But losing at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it means you need to try again. If you have truly applied yourself at a skill or task and cannot every really improve, then and only then is it a good idea to move onto something else. In some ways this HELPS you find your way to the things you are well suited for. Sometimes its obvious, if you aren’t over six feet tall, it is very unlikely that you’ll make it to college on a basketball, tennis or volleyball scholarship. It can be done, but the odds are set heavily against you. Maybe you would be wise to use the talents you do possess in a different medium and excel there instead of swimming up river in a sport that a rote requirement is height.
Adversity will teach you many things if you understand that it’s job is to do so. It provides resistance for you to test your mettle against, to see what you’re really made of. It is easy to accomplish things when everything goes your way. What really separates the men from the boys (proverbially speaking) is when things get tough. Some will quit immediately, others will stick it out for a little while. Those of us who can keep marching forward despite now walking in mud, and then quicksand, those are the people who make it to the top at something.
This is a key life skill, one that should be taught more readily. If you want to succeed at ANYTHING, you need to develop the capacity to suffer but continue on.
Develop this skill early in life by participating in sports or activities that are competitive. If you played in sports leagues were “everyone gets a turn and everybody wins”, your resiliency has been stunted. You need to take steps now to develop this vital skill for the rest of your life. Take a Jiu Jitsu class, learn to play guitar, enroll in cooking classes, whatever you are not currently good at, throw yourself into something new and feel the struggle. Embrace it. Learn that this is what life is like in a microcosm, and figure out how you react and deal with adversity. This is your roadmap to success in whatever pursuits you chase.