I get disgusted when I hear people say “If you’re not first, you’re last” or “Second place is the first loser”. They’re tired old expressions that simply aren’t accurate.
If you’ve been watching the Olympics you’ve seen some highs and lows, some amazing finishes and some touching moments. Just like in your profession, on paper an Olympian’s margin for victory is also razor thin. For example, just 4/10ths of a second separated 2nd-8th place in the men’s 100m breaststroke semi-finals.
Speed might be measured in seconds, but courage is immeasurable.
The fastest time might get you a gold medal but the real medal is simply the courage to complete. (That’s not a typo, I didn’t say compete, I said complete.)
In the Olympics if for whatever reason (injury, illness) you do not start the race they put DNS next to your name, if you get injured during the event and don’t finish they place a DNF next to your name. Life mirrors sport in that there are lots of people who Do Not Start and plenty more who Do Not Finish.
The DNS’s and DNF’s simply don’t have the courage to complete. Nobody wants to suffer through the journey but everyone wants to reach the destination. Part of suffering during the journey involves not cutting corners. Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong, whether that means an Olympian choosing not to use performance enhancing drugs or a business person not cheating or gaming the system. Real champions don’t take shortcuts.
What prompted me writing this wasn’t even the Olympics. Last week I was asked if it bothers me that my coaching career ended without a National Championship. I said “I have 2 championships & I tuck them in each night.”
Obviously that person’s idea of a championship and mine are a little different. Yes, I was fired as a coach for not winning a national championship. My boss even told me “John, the president and I think there’s just one thing keeping us from winning a national championship and that one thing is you. You’re fired.” Out. Done. Career over. Fired, on my birthday.
At first of course it bothered me that my coaching career came to an abrupt and pre-mature end. I thought I had “unfinished business”. That there was something missing from my resume, a national championship. Then after some hindsight and reflection I realized doing things the right way and having the courage to complete was the ultimate reward. The real championship is in how you complete not just how you compete. My championship was completing a 12 year career as a college coach without a single NCAA violation, seeing 24 of my former players pursue coaching and teaching careers, and seeing many more become good husbands and fathers. I’ll take that over a trophy that sits in a glass case any day. Trophies rust and gather dust.
We may have little or no control over the events, but we do have control of our response. Sometimes bad events lead to opportunities for us to change our lives for the better.
After every season of life there are coaches and athletes, employers and employees who experience bad outcomes. Maybe you’re one of them? Know that it does not define you as a person. What you do is not who you are,
You don’t have to “win the big one” to be a champion. If you’re not enough without a championship, you’ll never be enough with one.