I helped set up a martial arts tournament this weekend. As I was walking through, I walked by the trophy table. The smaller trophies caught my eye and made me think. The joy over the lower places in competition concerns me. Self-esteem is important but not so important that one should sacrifice the concept of winning and losing with dignity. The cure for being a sore loser is not a trophy.
The realization that one has lost is important. Sometimes winning is everything. In sales, self-defense or looking for a job there is no second place. If you don’t come in first is sales, you don’t get paid; in defending yourself, you get hurt; and in a job hunt, second place means someone else gets the job.
Not striving to win is striving for mediocrity. We won’t always win and we need to come to terms with that. One should be disciplined enough not to break down in tears when one loses but it is appropriate to feel disappointment when we lose. Losses teach lessons and should motivate us to strive to do better. We all can’t win all the time but we shouldn’t fool ourselves in believing we’ve won when we’ve lost. Lower place or participation trophies can provide the illusion of winning and can cloud the lessons losing provides.
The lower places should be ladder rungs to your goal, not an end. When one starts to compete or when competing in a very hard competition it is fine to be happy about taking third place. Take pride in doing well but always strive to win.
Striving to win means putting it all out and not leaving any effort on the table. At the end of the day there should be no excuses. If you don’t come in first place, it should be because you need to improve, not that you dropped the ball.
There is honor in the attempt to win. We won’t always win but it is in the attempt, putting it all out to test ourselves, that we should take pride in and learn from.