Losing isn’t an option, winning is everything. These statements seem to be everywhere in society. You can’t turn on a movie without at least one of these statements being bandied about or read some cookie cutter quote online about success. Why does society perpetuate this misguided belief that only success matters? Do we really hate second place that much, or are we more fearful of the humiliation and embarrassment of making a mistake? Why do we all go to such great lengths to ignore the fact that failure even exists?
We’ve all likely been to a youth sporting event where there was an overbearing parent berating their child for not working hard enough or screaming about how they needed to work harder to win. Every time I saw this I promised myself that I would never do that to any of my children, regardless of how athletic or nonathletic they were. I want them to enjoy the competition, and while I want them to win, I’m not going to place value only in victory. So why do these parents pressure their children, so heavily? Why do they refuse to admit their children can fail?
Quite simply, failing sucks. It’s uncomfortable; it hurts; and it can be humiliating. If you never learned how to embrace, or even see the lesson in a failure, chances are you don’t believe your children should fail either. It’s far easier to stay inside your comfort zone, work at only things you know you can succeed in, and refuse to risk any embarrassment. Why work at something you struggle with when you can enjoy something you’ve mastered? It’s less stressful; it’s far easier; and it’s something you can always win. Winning is comfortable.
My wife and I recently had our first child, our son Maximus. The name calls to mind gladiators, heroes of old, champions that inspire greatness and are the picture of success. If I’m to be a good father to him, should I not focus only on those great success stories? Teach him to be the best at everything, show him only the way to victory. To teach him to always win, shouldn’t I always succeed at everything I do? This is an impossibility, so how can I hope to raise him to greatness?
Society has forgotten that winning isn’t everything. Americans like to believe we are the winningest nation, that we will always be the best and that we couldn’t stand to be losers. The issue is that we pass this idea to our children, that there are winners and losers, that they should always be winners. In this idea, we ignore that they can’t always win, just as we cannot always win. How can we hope to teach our youth to always succeed, when we ourselves cannot achieve a flawless record?
We need to learn how to lose, and teach it, perhaps more than we need to know how to win. Failure teaches us. We can learn far more in defeat than in triumph, but we need to know how to ignore the bitter taste of defeat and focus on the lesson at hand. Instead of wallowing in defeat, we need to take the lesson to heart so we can grow and avoid repeating the same mistake.
I spend every day failing in the gym. I watch and lift with people who outlift me consistently, and it’s made me far stronger because of it. Anyone that spends time in the gym knows the first few reps aren’t bad, a few more and you can feel the lactic acid begin to build, and a few more and your muscles burn and eventually forces your muscles to fail you. It’s far more comfortable to lift weight you know you won’t fail on, and you don’t have to worry about asking for anyone’s help. However, you will grow far stronger by failing, by sucking it up, asking for a spotter, and using that failure to make you grow. There’s something called forced reps where you force a few more reps out with your spotter’s help. It’s almost like repeatedly failing to make progress so you can fail again.
If losing isn’t an option, what the hell am I doing as a role model for my son? By teaching my son how to fail, to not fear trying at something he isn’t guaranteed to win, I can guarantee that he will eventually succeed where I fail. We forget that defeat can each us so much more than victory. We cannot force ourselves to always succeed, but we can force ourselves to learn through our failures. I recently became a father, and I’ll say it’s already a pretty big challenge. I cannot teach him to always win, I’ve failed too many times for that. What I can do is push him to take chances, to seek difficult situations, and use those situations to make him stronger.
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