Brace yourself, this one might be a harsh read for some of you. And if it, please re-read it as you of all people need to hear what I have to say about this.
If you are someone who pretends that things don’t matter to you in effort to save your ego and not look bad in front of others, you are lying to yourself.
That’s right, I said it. Don’t pretend that you don’t care about the outcome of a test, or a competition, or a promotion at work. If you truly had that little concern, why would you enter a tournament or show up at work every day in the first place? True complacency is rare, there is usually an underlying motivator, and in many cases that is ego protection. Allow me to share some examples to drive this point home.
If you have read any of my other blogs you probably know I was a competitive racquetball player for about 20 years. During my time on the courts I learned a lot about myself and lots about human nature in general. One thing I was baffled by for a while was playing against someone who did their best to appear to not being trying too hard, or be too concerned about the outcome of a match. I played against a guy who refused to tie his shoes when he played. Others would show up just in time for the match to start, do a half-ass warm up and put up a fight just long enough to make sure I wasn’t going to roll over, and then they would do it themselves. It took me a while to understand the psychological reasons behind this, but once it clicked, I understood. It is not easy to put your ego on the line.
Personally, I busted my ass to be the best player I could. I worked out almost every day, I monitored my diet, I consulted a sports psychologist, a fitness trainer and more. I wanted to leave no stone unturned in my pursuit to my highest level of play. This is not for everyone, I understand. I had a maniacal approach during my journey to the Pro level, and many people don’t have those same aspirations or the desire to do the work necessary to reach the highest level. Even so, I do find it completely hypocritical to pretend that you don’t care if you win or lose. You paid money to be in a competitive event, and if you win a match you are not going to blow off the next one, so don’t give me that crap. You care, you just don’t want it to appear that you care. That way, when you lose, the perceived “penalty” of that loss is lessened. And herein lies the real truth: you don’t want to take the ego hit by putting out your best effort and coming up short.
This is a self-defeating attitude that will hold you back in everything you do. If your goal is to be partner in a law firm, you are going to have to work as hard or harder than your peers to get that opportunity. But there are no guarantees that you will be the one chosen for that next partner spot. So, are you willing to do the work just for the chance that you may get what you want? Many are not; those who are get that chance and those who are not, don’t. It is as simple an equation as that. The same applied to my racquetball career. I was willing to trade my twenties for the shot at (my) glory. I traded nights out partying with friends for practice sessions at the health club. I traveled to tournaments on the slimmest of budgets, sleeping on couches and hotel room floors when necessary, just for a shot to compete, learn and grow. I was willing to play, lose, and come back for more. I didn’t care what others thought about the journey I was on; it was mine not theirs. I was focused on the big picture and not worried about losses in the present.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that you are okay with bad outcomes simply to avoid the ego bruises. This is lying to yourself on a deep level, and that is never a good thing. The guys I competed against that tried to pull of this act (and I firmly believe it was an act) rarely if ever had signature wins or the results they secretly wanted. They did want the big wins on the big stage, but they were not willing to put their ego on the line. I have experienced some crushing losses, both close losses and defeat by a wide margin, and none of them felt good at the time. But I can tell you despite losing a couple of close matches to Pro’s ranked higher than I, those matches are deeply satisfying memories now, I was happy I got the chance to be in the mix, to put some real pressure on a high-ranking Pro with a bunch of players and fans watching. The worst loss I ever took was in my own state’s championships, where I completely choked away a win in hand. But I learned way more from that loss than I ever would have had I won. In my opinion, those ego hits were well worth it in the long run, even if I didn’t see it at the time.
You need to trust that the ego bruises are worth it in the grand scheme of things. This is where growth occurs. And I mean real growth, the kind that makes you step back and really evaluate who you are as a person, what you are willing to commit to, etc. in pursuit of your goals. I can attest that the losses are where the growth occurs. The wins reinforce what you are currently doing, the losses make you go back to the drawing board and retool. You need to see the big picture of things and understand that one loss, one time of getting passed over for a promotion, is not the end of the world. It is not a reflection of your worth as a person or your real social standing. Using the law firm example again, many professionals in this field come to realize that the 90 hours a week is not a sustainable schedule, and the time away from family and other activities is not worth it in terms of lifestyle. Does a pivot away from this career a failure? Or it is a realization that there are other things I want to focus my life on now? That is for each individual to decide. “Only” making it to number 18 in the world was not a failure on my part just because my goal was the top ten. It was just where I finished, I reached my maximum potential at that level. I never had a career-ending injury or anything like that, I just topped out at 18 and my peers ranked above me were better players than I.
Don’t bubble-wrap your ego just to protect yourself. Get in the game and give it your best, regardless of the chosen field. Toughening up comes from taking hit and coming back for more. Even if you think you can’t handle much of that now, you will develop a larger capacity for this the more you do it. Learning to perform under pressure only comes from exposure to the pressure. Part of this learning curve is making it to your first final of a tournament and losing. It comes in studying your ass off for a test that you get a C on, it comes in trying to be the youngest partner at the firm, only to get passed over for someone else. None of these things devalue you as a person, they only show that you were in the mix in the first place while others watched from the sidelines. Don’t ever forget that… And to echo that thought, here is the video link to the famous “Man in the Area” speech that is a classic, and so spot on. This two minutes and forty-three seconds just may change your life… Thank me later ;-)