It has taken me a week to process the notion that I read, enjoyed, and was inspired by an article on ESPN.com. I know. I?m ruined. But it was GOOD. (Says the robotic, brainwashed lab rat.)
Highlighting heavyweights like Texas coach Mack Brown and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, the article compares the feelings of victory and defeat and paints an interesting picture of wins and losses within the context of athletics. Coaches and players interviewed for the article admit that they are more deeply affected by losses than by wins and that "losing is more hateful than winning is joyful". The feeling of loss seems to linger longer because it's unexpected, in a way. Teams work and train toward a goal of winning so when they win, there's no big surprise – that was the plan all along. Sure they celebrate, but the feeling is somehow never as good as they had anticipated. But when the same team puts in the same work and training toward a goal of winning and they LOSE – it's a different story. It's the unforeseen. It's a shock. And they struggle.
I started to internalize it all when I read the sports psychologist's quote about halfway in, "A lot of athletes I have worked with compete to avoid losing, because the losing is so bitter. They not only want to win, they want to avoid losing. The highs are high, but the lows are really, really low."
I know people who operate this way. Living to avoid loss. And when they lose – it's really, really low.
Loss hurts. Grief is hard. There are people who don't survive it. Not that they die from it, necessarily, but they never recover. They never bounce back. They let one loss erase months and years of wins, because they just can't get over that feeling of defeat.
Truth is, life is hard. None of us get out undefeated. We live each day just trying to avoid the agony of defeat. We "get through" the week — living weekend to weekend, trying our best to side-step unpleasantness. Our minds are quickly saturated with news stories of war and natural disaster — and we can change the channel. Avoiding a loss.
Some of us avoid the game all together. We don't let people get too close, because there's always a chance that something could go wrong and someone will get hurt. People are imperfect, and they treat each other imperfectly. But the risk of hurt and loss is not worth not playing the game.
But it's inevitable. It happens. And no one sees it coming. So it hurts. A lot. And there it is – covering everything in our lives. Defining us entirely instead of being but a part of who we are.
I'm fairly certain that ESPN's sports writers don't write about things like this with me in mind. But I'm glad I read that article. I think the way I feel about it is exactly why I started my Life List. You can't truly avoid loss, and you shouldn't forbid yourself from grieving. It's important to appropriately experience loss. But be sure you're celebrating wins. Really celebrating. And don't let losses be just about losing. The best sports teams use a big loss as a time to learn and reflect and improve. The best thing that can happen to them is that they become a better, stronger team because of a lesson learned the hard way.
Don't play the game hoping to avoid a loss or two. Play to win.
And then dance in the end zone.