How losing gets a bad name

I just got back from five days of watching tennis in Toronto.

Yes, I did say tennis.

I had a great time. It was fantastic just sitting in the sun in the Rexall Centre watching hours upon hours of superb athletic performance. What drew me to tennis in the first place was that it’s as much a mental game as it is a physical one, and you can’t win a match by only playing a physical game or vice versa. You can be the best player in the world, but your head can be somewhere else, and your opponent will use that against you. And they will win, more often than not.

Which is exactly what happened during the second match I saw on Wednesday. My absolute favourite player got beat pretty bad, all because his head just didn’t seem to be in the game. Not only that, but the guy who beat him went on to win the entire tournament.

It was a classic underdog story. As I often consider myself an underdog in life (for better or worse), it was quite gratifying to see.

It also made me think, though, about how hard we try to “win” in life. When, more than we would probably like to admit, it’s just not our time. That, and winning never really looks like what we think it will. And so even when we lose, we aren’t actually losing out on anything other than what may have been.

What we need to focus on is the process, not just the end result. I imagine that’s how this guy won the tournament: by looking at the big picture, as hard as that might’ve been at the time.

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I’ve tried to stay away from portrayals of the “woe’s me” disabled person in this blog, but I will be one of the first people to readily admit that the disabled life is hard. It’s hard because we are often praised just for showing up and aren’t really expected to do our best, and are still told that’s enough. It’s hard because a lot of us walk that fine line where we have to justify being “disabled” in some circumstances but “not disabled enough” in others, often within the same day. It’s hard because most able-bodied people have never even considered what it would be like to be disabled (even though, if everyone lives long enough, the likelihood of becoming disabled at some point is pretty high), and so they will say something that doesn’t make a lot of sense just because they’re flustered. Or worse.

But it’s especially hard because the world we’re all familiar with was made for people walking on it to thrive.

And the ones who can’t often feel like the losers; that in the game of life, we didn’t really make the cut.

I say all this because the last night in our hotel, we met a girl with her mom and grandmother in the elevator. She was likely eight or ten years old and was being pushed in a buggy-like stroller. I didn’t notice until later that she had bandages on her legs. And when I got out of the elevator, she just stared at me. Curious, and maybe a little envious.

This beautiful, beautiful girl. Staring. At me. Like all she wanted was just to be on her own in an elevator.

I can still remember her eyes, because I had seen them before.

I didn’t know anything about her life, but when we made eye contact, all I wanted to do was tell her it would be ok. Whatever she was going through, whatever she was feeling, was only going to help her in life. Mostly I wanted to tell her she wasn’t losing; far from it.

She may not have felt like she was winning, especially not if “winning” was based on what it looks like on tv. But it never really looks like that in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t mean she would be constantly losing, though, either. Winning would just look different.

It would look better, actually. Maybe not at the time, and maybe not right away. But it would be winning, in the bigger picture.

It was a small exchange, and there were no words spoken between us. But I’m telling her now: don’t worry about winning. In the end, winning is nice, but it will rarely ever meet your expectations.

It’s all in the journey. That’s where the real winning takes place.

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