I messed up.
Several years ago, I was competing against a coworker for a prized promotion. We both knew who was in the running and that it came down who did the best on a project that we had been assigned. Unfortunately, I made a mistake, an error, at the wrong time and I didn’t get the outcome I wanted.
In Carolina Panther Quarterback Cam Newton’s world, I should have sulked and been a sore loser. I should have hit a wall in anger and made life miserable for everyone around me including my friend and coworker, who ended up getting the prized position.
I could be taking Newton’s words too far, but I doubt it. After critics questioned last week his behavior after the Super Bowl 50 loss, he said, “I hate losing. You show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser,” Newton said.
I’m picking on Newton, but many high profile athletes today and even legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who first phrased the quote that Newton stole, have it all wrong. Yes, like them, I consider myself extremely competitive. I want to be the best at everything I do. I want to be the best husband and father. The best worker. The best writer. The best Monopoly player. It doesn’t matter. I like to win. When I enter a 5k race — small or big, no matter the cause or charity —I want to beat every other back-of-the-pack runner like me that I can. I think that’s natural.
But losing and failure has its place. I would change Newton’s quote to say “show me a sore loser and I’ll show a spoiled brat, more concerned about themselves than the rest of the team.”
No one wants to lose. No one wants to put in countless hours of practice and preparation and walk off the field or conference room or court room with the emptiness that comes with losing. We all want to win.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way and many times there can be only winner. (And I’m not trying to say that I think everyone else who comes in next should get a “participation trophy.” I’m not saying that either.)
However, in my mind, the winner is the one who recognizes the lessons that comes with not coming in first. The winner is the one who recognizes where they need to improve, who gets back up on the bike or saddle and works double over the summer to get better, comes back prepared and battles to win the next Super Bowl.
To me those are the real winners.
Instead of Newton’s or Lombardi’s comments, I find solace in the advice of Olympic gold medal winner and civil rights and women’s rights pioneer Wilma Rudolph. She said: “Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be champion someday.”
Or even Michael Jordan’s often quoted comment: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Our culture is obsessed with winning. We love our winners and love to trample on the losers. I get that winning is good, but Michael Jordan played on just six championship teams. Does that mean he was a loser, a never-was, a has-been, the other nine years?
I don’t think so.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that if Carolina Panthers’ and Newton fail to understand why they lost against the Denver Broncos and improve on those areas, they’ll never win a Super Bowl with Newton as quarterback.
And by the way, that job I missed out on, I sought out the advice of mentors, former supervisors, coworkers and others around me. I got their critical input on areas that I needed to develop and I ended up getting an even better job six months later and succeeded in ways that I never would have expected. I learned from my “failure” and in the long run became a better person.
If that makes me a loser, then so be it!