Lately I have been struggling with the concept of competition and the youth of our country. I guess ‘struggling’ might be a stretch, because I don’t really know how I feel about this issue. In fact, I usually don’t get too worked up or chatty about societal issues because just about every time I step up and express an opinion, somebody presents a point that I had not considered and it forces me to re-think my position. I don’t like to waste a lot of time on thinking.
This makes me a poor candidate for a leadership role of any kind because other than:
- the love for my wife and kids
- my belief that child molesters deserve an equal form of torture
- failure to give the very best care for our wounded military personnel is a crime against humanity equal to the atrocities perpetrated by that Kony dude in Africa
…other than those things and maybe a few others, you can argue just about any social issue with me and you can probably convince me that your position is valid. Leaders need to know. I don’t know very many things; or at least I’m not sure about very many things. Life is complicated, and I know that I don’t know all of the things that I don’t know.
But here is something that I think:
I think competition, and winning and losing, and keeping score is a good thing. And I think that recreational leagues or ‘instructional’ leagues might not be as great or beneficial to the self-esteem of our children as their proponents claim. I think these things came about because of the jerk Little League fathers that got into screaming matches from the stands, and the small minority of ‘win at all costs’ youth league coaches that almost all of us have had an experience with. Those guys fucked it up for all the rest of us, and our kids.
I think motivation to win makes you better at things; I think it breeds passion (among other things). Passion is awesome. A life without passion is like a life without beer, or sex, or movies, or steak fries with cheese and bacon. Who would want to live like that? Competition breeds motivation. It also breeds a butthead every now and then, but dealing with, and learning how to manage a butthead is a useful skill. Buttheads are a fact of life and a consequence of a free society. (I’m using ‘butthead’ where I would normally use ‘asshole’ because by dropping that F-bomb in the previous paragraph I’ve pretty much spent my offensive language allowance…butthead will have to suffice, but you all know what I mean)
My wife and kids are pretty much my motivation for everything. From simply hauling my lazy ass out of bed in the morning when there is nobody around to notice one way or another, to (also simply) fastening my seat belt. I am motivated to provide a nice life for my family…our capitalist society works well for someone like me. For a man with an ego, (and that would be me) there are few things better than being needed. That’s my motivation, that’s why I compete in my day job.
I play golf. I play it for camaraderie and atmosphere, and the drinking of beer during camaraderie while enjoying atmosphere. The very worst golf course I have ever set foot on was a pretty place. Who wouldn’t want to walk on that grass, smell that honeysuckle, and look at that landscape? (And don’t even get me started on the girls who drive carts that are full of beer, peanut butter crackers and Snickers) I don’t understand throwing or breaking clubs after a bad shot. It’s golf. I like having a better score than you if we play a round together, but I don’t need to beat you. But that’s most likely because I compete in other arenas in my life. These things probably look different to me at age 52 than they did at 26.
Now put me on the field in my day job, and we have a different story. I compete all the time and I love and I am motivated by the competition. When we win it’s awesome. When I lose; it’s a very bad day.
On December 21st 2011 I lost a huge deal. It sucked. The deal didn’t change the course of my company’s future. Nobody is going out of business, lessons were learned that will make us better next time, and we have moved on. But… there is nothing that anyone can ever say to me that will make the deal that was lost OK. I lost, and I lost because I wasn’t better than whoever it was I lost to.
I will be OK. I am OK…but I will never forget December 21st 2011 as long as I am a member of the work force. That’s not a bad thing, and that’s the point of this story. Because of what happened, I will have many wins in the next 15 or so years; and I’m gonna win because of that loss. The ass kicking that I took on December 21st 2011 will be a thought cloud in the background every time I get a high five from someone for a job well done. When I walk across that stage in L.A. to accept my Best Screenplay Oscar, the memory of that defeat will be in the back of my mind, keeping me humble and focused and present. I won’t lose sleep over it (anymore), but it will be with me. This is what losing is like for me when I’m defeated in a competition that matters. I’m OK with that burden and weight on my soul. That weight becomes motivation.
When I was a kid nobody ever gave me a trophy for trying. There is not a single plaque anywhere in my home for showing up. When I was a kid we didn’t celebrate participation, we celebrated exception…we celebrated triumph. There was very little shame in second place…or fourth place. Disappointment, yes… but no shame. There was no shame because you tried…you competed. I have no shame telling the few dozen of you reading this story that I failed on December 21st 2011, because I did compete, and I took something from it, and I’ll win again. I’ll win again because of the scar tissue and ‘weight’ that comes with a loss. There is no shame in my failure, because I know this comes with competition. Nobody goes undefeated for a lifetime. You win some and you lose some, and sometimes it rains. I’m 52 years old, and I know that everybody doesn’t get a trophy. I’ve collected a trophy or two in my day, and I’ve watched others collect trophies that I had hoped for. I learned things from both experiences.
My kids don’t know this – they don’t understand the concept at all. They don’t know how to compete, and when I think about their future, this scares me more than earthquakes, salmonella, and those spiders that hop like crickets. I fear that good enough, or just showing up, is going to be OK for them.
It’s not. I think you have to compete.
Last fall I watched my daughter give up a few goals as a goal tender on her soccer team – never even touching a ball as they flew past her and puckered the net behind her. I watched these goals scored, and I watched her smile an ‘oh well’ smile. In my mind, as a twelve-year-old, that shouldn’t be a ‘smiling’ moment, it should suck. Not for the rest of your life, not even for the rest of the day, but for a moment at least. But it doesn’t suck for her because they don’t ‘officially’ keep score in this league. You don’t win or lose, you just play. It’s an instructional league. Because I refuse to be ‘that guy’ that messed it up for the rest of us, I just smile and give her two thumbs up. “Keep trying, sweetie!”
Instructional league…hmmm. What is being ‘instructed’ here? When she’s 27, she won’t need to know that you have more accuracy kicking a ball with your instep as opposed to your toe…she probably will need to know that when she gets a callback for an audition, she needs to be better than everyone else who was called back as well. She needs to compete. Competition is good. Lessons come with winning, and lessons come with losing.
My son is a physical beast, but he may also be the sweetest, most kind and gentle person I have ever met (I have NO idea what gene pool these traits came from). He will be an adult with the body of LeBron James, but he will have the disposition of that Stuart Smalley character from SNL. “Good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me…” doesn’t work when you’re interviewing for a job. You know what does work? “I’m the best person you can hire for this job because I know how to work when things aren’t great. I have been successful because of ABC, and I have learned things because of XYZ. I’ve slugged it out, and I’m better than anyone else you’re going to interview.” But he’s going to have to have been through these things to believe them and convince someone else to believe in him. I hope he does.
The games my kids play on the soccer field, or on a basketball court, or on the playground won’t matter 10 years from now, but the lessons that come with competing will matter forever.
At least that’s’ what I think.
Thanks for reading.
The Large Man