The reality of life is that there will always be winners, and there will always be losers. It’s a natural consequence of living. The interesting question is what motivates you more…the love of winning, or the dread of losing. The drive varies from person to person. Some gain their inspiration in life by the love and elation of winning. Others, including myself, are driven by the fact that they dislike losing even more than they like to win. But I have learned that I am in good company. Many of the most accomplished people have unabashedly declared their hatred of losing.
“Above anything else, I hate to lose.” – Jackie Robinson
Only those who dare to lose and fail can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
“I hate to lose more than I like to win. I hate to see the happiness on their faces when they beat me.” – Jimmy Connors
“To win, the first thing you must do is not lose.” - Warren Buffet
“A champion is afraid of losing. Everyone else is afraid of winning.” – Billie Jean King
Over and over again, this sentiment is expressed by the likes of Peyton Manning, Bill Gates, Magic Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Michael Phelps, Larry Bird, Derek Jeter, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, and Chris Evert. The greatest competitors are mentally fierce. For some, losing actually hurts, causing both psychological and physical discomfort. The thrill of victory stays with them for a while, but the agony of defeat can eat at them until they go at it again. The elation of victory seems to dim over time, but the anguish of defeat can stay ever poignant in our memories. I won many AAU races as a youth that are now merely hazy recollections. But I will NEVER forget the 100-meter dash I should have won when I fell trying to lean into the finish line.
Scientific studies have shown that losing just feels worse than the “feel good” of winning. In fact, humans have a definite bias towards avoiding loss…three times more or greater. In other words, people hate losing $100 at least three times more than they like winning $100! Everyone loves to win, but when a person hates to lose, that person will do almost anything it takes NOT to lose.
But we can’t let the fear of losing turn us into desperate people who want to win at any cost. It is then that we lose what makes us human…our heart. Nor can we let fear of losing become crippling. It’s a fine, mental line. Risk aversion can bring its own set of problems: stress, negative emotions, dodging tasks to avoid the risk of losing, self-esteem issues, or acting out in a socially unacceptable or irrational manner. If you haven’t experienced a lot of loss or failure in life, business, love, or sports, you may not be pushing yourself enough!
We must all learn the secret of losing gracefully. After all, no one likes a poor loser. And we will all be losers many times in our lives. Losing teaches us more than winning ever will, if we let it. Whether it is in relationships, business, or sports, how we handle losing is an indicator of who we really are. Do we own the loss, or blame others? Was it bad luck, or can we genuinely analyze our failures? Can we humbly admit when it’s not our best day, or when someone outworked us, or just had more talent?
I always try to remember this: winning or losing does not determine my self-worth. God gave me that! It doesn’t take away the sting of defeat in relationships, life, or sports, but it does keep my perspective in the right place. As terrible as losing can feel, if we learn to embrace it and learn from it, greatness can be achieved in life, love, business, relationships, and sports.
I am not a particularly special person or a particularly strong person. Nor am I all that gifted compared to a lot of people. But I am a person who really dislikes losing. So I try hard, really hard, to learn from my losses. My opponent is my teacher, showing me what I need to do better and what I am best at. The minute I start to think of my opponent as “the enemy” is the moment I veer towards losing. Losing is not failure. It is merely a delay, a detour to future success. And success is not built on success. It is built on failure, on loss, on frustration, and sometimes even catastrophic events.
We have all heard it said at some point in our lives, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” I get that. The value is on self-improvement, mastery of skills, following the rules, and attitude. There are even people who dislike competition in general and find it distasteful. I admit I don’t understand that notion. What I do know is that when I see a person who really dislikes losing, I want them on MY team. I’ll take a person who is driven by an aversion to loss over a person who is driven by success any day. I want to work with someone who won’t settle for just giving it their best shot. I want to surround myself with those who consistently work harder, make sacrifices, give more time and effort, and want to do heroic things. I just don’t understand people who are ok with losing.
I know we will all lose at times. It’s sometimes odd to think that success in baseball is batting over 300. Or that success in basketball is shooting over 50% from the field. And gymnastics is a totally different animal. You get ONE shot…only one. You can make 99 of 100 routines in practice, but you get only one shot at an event in a real match. That is truly mental toughness. I want to be around people who are not afraid to push themselves to be better. Those are the people who inspire me in life.
The best feeling is winning a game you should have lost. And the worst feeling is losing a game you should have won. A mature person recognizes those “should have” situations. Competition is not a bad thing. No matter what side of the coin you lean towards, each of us must LEARN to be winners AND losers. That learning process comes more quickly for some than others. Michael Jordan wisely expressed his recognition of this lesson: “I’ve missed more than 9000 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 have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Working hard for a goal or a relationship is a good thing. We learn to focus on what we can control. We learn to compete not only for the love of competition, but to better ourselves. We learn to face each task with courage and grace. Humility will always fight pride. But there can be great joy and fulfillment in competing. And as we grow, we learn that we are not defeated when we lose. We are defeated when we quit.
“In life, winning and losing will both happen. What is never acceptable is quitting.” – Magic Johnson
There are a few of those magnificent competitors who are motivated by the love of winning. These types of people tend to be more exploratory, risk tolerant, and have fewer self-esteem issues. But it is hard to ignore that most overachievers and highly successful people testify freely they are motivated by a very real dislike of losing. Unfortunately, these same people can be the worst of losers, at times ruthless and extremely unpleasant. Calling them “nice” may even be an insult to them. Yes, we all know people like that!
Loss and failure are the ultimate concern. God often grows us more in the valleys of life than the mountaintops. As trite as it may sound, those of us who hate to lose can evolve through adversity to be even worthier competitors, growing in character, developing more peace, kindness, self-control, gentleness, and patience. Sometimes, losing can even be winning. You may lose a relationship only to gain a more fulfilling one. You may lose a job only to discover you can be more satisfied and better used elsewhere. You may fail a test only to let it be a wake-up call to put in a greater effort. You may get beat in a game only to become aware of the areas you need to improve. Strength doesn’t come from winning, but from the losses and hardship we face. Everything we go through is preparing us for the next level.
In the long run, God is more interested in our character than whether we win or lose. When winning becomes more important than character, we need to do a hard self-check. When pride becomes greater than integrity, we risk losing our dignity. Training the body is often much, much easier than training the tongue or the mind!
The Bible has much to say about competing. During the time of Paul, Rome was known for its Olympic Games. Many of the metaphors he used in his writings dealt with competition, and they are words from which we could all benefit. We are advised to: run with endurance the race set before us; run the race to win and finish well; set yourself apart with dignity and high integrity; act not in a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control; never let ugly or hateful words come from your mouth, but let your words be beautiful gifts (or just keep your mouth shut!); handle yourself with dignity and respect others; train hard and push yourself; work hard and fight the good fight; do nothing in conceit, but be grateful in humility for all you have; compete by the rules or you will lose your crown; be genuine and hold fast to what is good; don’t grumble; find peace, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what is ahead.
Such advice cannot be argued. We must remember that in the long run the race is not always to the swift, the battle to the strong, riches to the intelligent, or favor to the wise. Time and chance happen to them all. We all win; we all lose. How we play the game of life does indeed make a difference!
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