This post is the second of a two-part series on winning and losing. Read Why Winning Matters here.
At Liberty Classical Academy, we want our students to learn the value of competition. We want them to earn their victories and learn from defeats. And we want them to understand that competition is a classroom of experience. It’s rich with lessons on life and virtue that require a lot of work.
How do you define the word “work?” If you were to sit down and organize every area of your life, which parts would come under the category of “work” and which parts under “play” or some other heading?
First, let’s define the word. Work is activity involving mental or physical effort in order to achieve a particular purpose or result.
So let that sink in: Involving effort to accomplish something. If that is the definition of work, then almost everything we do in life is work. Saving for a boat or baiting a hook. Planting a garden or trimming a tree. Training for a marathon or planning a family picnic. We’re constantly engaging our efforts to achieve something.
Working, Winning, and Losing
An unhealthy life is passive.
A healthy one consists of purpose and goals.
Put one of your goals in your mind right now. Maybe it’s finishing a degree, getting debt free, going on a vacation, or creating new memories of adventure for your life or family. Imagine that you’ve succeeded with your goal. The imagining (the pretending or dreaming) is always the easy part. But think about what it would take to make it happen. A lot of it would come down to discipline and commitment. How well do you know yourself? How determined are you? Do you know your weaknesses and strengths? What have you tried and failed at? How many times did you try? Fail? At what point would you give up? When you met past goals, what did you have to try over and over again until you got it right?
Ultimately, we’re asking one question:
What’s it take for you to lose?
Loss is not one-dimensional. It’s not just reflected for a moment on a scoreboard or a ballot sheet. It’s not fleeting. It ripples through our lives. It pours through our minds and our bodies and has a unique superpower to keep our eyes fixated on the 24 inches of real estate directly in front of our feet. Our heads are down. Our souls ache with what feels foreign and demoralizing.
Loss is not one-dimensional. It requires so much from us. It makes us pivot. It teaches us how to work through emotions and open our eyes to our strengths and weaknesses. In loss, we put a mirror up to ourselves in a completely different way.
When we win, we are thankful for the losses of the past and for the lessons and the hard work that came with them. We have a prize in hand and a thrill in our hearts that puts everything into perspective. When we lose, well, that’s different.
Losing is unnatural and that’s why it feels so harsh. Losing is contrary to our nature. In loss, however, is the greatest teaching about work, because we must act if we’re ever going to reclaim what we lost.
It requires work.
It’s okay to lose
When you’re on a team, you take time out of your life to go to practice, to eat well, to push yourself, and play your very best in order to win. You want to win because it feels good. It satisfies that part of you that was created to win. But what if you gave everything to practice and to a healthy diet and to team unity, and at the end of a game, the ref said, “Well done everyone! You can all go and pick up your first place trophies, because everyone wins.”
To win and not receive what’s due feels the same as a loss. The mentality that says, “Everyone is a winner” doesn’t make losers feel like they've won. It makes winners feel like they've lost.
What do we lose when we avoid losing? A lot. We lose the ability to learn about ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses. We lose our ability to process emotions. We lose commitment, self-awareness, and character. We lose the soul-searching process that forces us to ask questions like, “Did I really give it my all?” and “What could I do differently next time?”
So what’s it take for you to lose?
Losing, just like winning, demands work from you.
Work is activity involving mental or physical effort in order to achieve a purpose or result. We work so that we can achieve; accomplish; win. And winning isn’t just getting the trophy. It’s learning how to work toward the goal. It’s the sacrifice. The journey. And losing isn’t just not getting the trophy. Losing is where you learn who you are, about the substance of your character and commitment, and about what it might take next time.
Winning and losing both matter. And losing matters because every loss demands an inventory of your efforts. And ultimately, every loss demands change. And change is good (and a bit painful).
Learning to lose—not because we should ever be content with losing, but because we see opportunity in it—is the beginning of understanding what it takes to win.