Either Win or Learn. Competition brings along a valuable lesson.

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Win

BY DR. THOMAS FISHER

Athletes are different. Not a very controversial statement. Obviously, the athletes we follow on our favorite team are remarkable physical specimens. They exhibit skills and abilities that are the envy of admiring onlookers. But, athletes process information and see the world very differently from non-athletes. Typically, athletes see exciting challenges where non-athletes only see insurmountable obstacles. I have been seeing athletes in my Private Practice for over 30 years. I had to have some way to relate to them to gain their trust. I needed to have some of the qualities that they possess so that they would be willing to talk openly with me.
At the very least, I needed to “look the part”. It certainly helped that I am, and always have been, an athlete (I need to make this very clear to provide proper context to this article). That being said, let’s look a bit deeper into what makes athletes different from their non-athletic neighbors.

Over the years, I have discovered that most everything of any real value in my life has involved competition. I learned to compete a very young age. I have always been competitive. Consequently, I find it difficult to relate to those who shrink from competition. As I matured and continued my studies of Human Nature, I began to dissect competition. I wanted to understand, specifically, what I admired most about competition and those willing to embrace it. Ultimately, I found that competitors are willing to take risks. They take a risk simply by competing. No guarantees. No promises. Just the opportunity to, perhaps, validate some expectation. Even if the outcome is less than desired, they probably had a helluva good time. They may also have learned something new!

Consequently, my Private Practice serves the needs of risk-takers (athletes), as I am drawn to those who seek the “competitive edge”.
Precisely what constitutes the “Competitive Edge”? Using the term “competitive edge” presumes that you’re willing to risk entering into competition. Athletes embrace competition. In fact, they seek it out. Through competition, they want nothing more than to get “better”. They thrive upon measuring themselves against anyone, anytime, anywhere. In the general population, the concept of the “competitive edge” elicits fear. The general population is risk averse. Thoughts of possible injury may be enough to shy away. Often, however, it may be simply that they may “look foolish”. Someone that is not only willing to compete, but compete to win threatens them.

We have determined that competition is eagerly embraced by “risk-takers” and actively avoided by the general population. Unfortunately, there is a segment of society openly opposed to the whole concept of “competition”. These same individuals contend that “Everyone is a Winner.” They believe that declaring a single “winner’ is inherently unfair. If everyone wins, then no one loses! Simple and logical. However, this attitude does not relate, in any way, to anything of significant value in Life. Tragically, the result is that standards are reduced and achievement marginalized, all in the name of having the “fear of failure” removed.

Too often, competition is seen in terms of “win/lose”. This implies a zero sum game. For every winner there, necessarily, is a loser. One of each, and each exists to balance and define the other. Life, however, is not so well ordered. Surprisingly, it is possible for both individuals to walk away from competition “losing”. By the same token, both may walk away “winners”. Perhaps this requires a wee bit of explanation…

Part of the explanation lies in the definition of the word “win”. “Winning” is defined by established standards filtered through the unique perspective of the individual. For example, if I were to have a bodybuilding Professional, a champion, challenge me to a weightlifting contest, I would accept. I would not accept because I thought I could beat him. I would accept, because of the difference in our lifting ability. He is an accomplished professional, and I am a weekend gym-rat. I would welcome the opportunity to learn. Because of this, there is no way I can possibly “lose”. Regardless how dismal my performance, or magnificent his performance, I have “won”.

I did so by, first accepting the challenge, second, making all the lifts, and third, having learned a very valuable lesson through a priceless experience. Let’s carry on this analogy a bit further… Perhaps, I held him to within a few pounds, and his victory was not as great as had been expected. Could this be a further “win”? What if I were to have beaten him on two or three lifts? There are a number of ways that I may “win” in this engagement. “Winning” could be the result of competing against others, against established standards, against “the World Record”, against the course/track/court/field, against the environmental conditions, or against yourself and your own personal best… There are many ways to interpret any outcome. You decide. Always remember: “Perception is 9/10 the Law.”…

Beyond the above example, many things in life may be referred to as “win/win”. Any successful business transaction, purchase of services, purchase of goods, or successful exchange may be regarded as such. When both parties are able to walk away from any engagement and are pleased with the outcome, a “win/win” scenario occurred. Let’s look at what constitutes a “lose/lose” engagement…

The “lose/lose” scenarios are difficult at best. There are no winners, and there is very little joy. Hopefully, in the end, a painful lesson may be learned. There are many examples. However, the one that I use most often to illustrate this scenario is somewhat graphic (please bear with me…). Without devoting a great deal of time to this, let’s say that a male were to physically strike a female… There will be no “winners”… The female would be in the hospital, and the male would be in jail… “Lose/lose” personified…

Ultimately, the label of “winner” or “loser” is decided by the players (that whole “perception thing” again). After each of my (many) losses through my young athletic career, I remember my parents asking me “well, did you learn anything”? I also remember answering “yes, I learned that I don’t like to lose…”! I am not sure if this is the lesson they wanted me to learn, however, it did stick with me! I have something that I emphasize to my clients when the subject of winning and losing comes up. I tell them “don’t ever lose, either win or learn”. This helps give meaning to any outcome of any competition. If you (truly) “win”, the meaning is clear. If you are disappointed with your outcome, ask yourself what (specific) lesson did you learn? Take something away from the encounter. Use it to learn the lesson. Chances are, in the next competition, you will not make the same mistake again…

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