Is winning everything?
In today’s society, we grow up in a culture so focused on results, which is winning. It is no wonder that people these days have forgotten to engage in the process of finding, and being satisfied with their own personal excellence. There is only one gold medal, but there are many winners. No matter if it is a story from a high level Olympic competitor, or from a business owner, winning is important; however, there is more in life than just winning.
Winning is not the only thing, but our brain devotes a lot of attention to the result of competitions. When participants play games, such as a simple game of tic tac toe, almost the entire brain is involved; not just the reward centers of the brain, which have been given the role for controlling adaptive human behavior. When one’s life or pride is being threatened for survival, the fight or flight response within our brain will be triggered. The response will be initiated through the sympathetic nervous system that innervates the adrenal medulla, producing a hormonal cascade that results in the secretion of catecholamine. Because of this, the amount of adrenaline hormone produced will increase; this leads to a bigger quantity of the neurotransmitter being released per millisecond. In other word, for a marathon runner, this will make the runner run faster than their physical body can afford. This also explains why a mother can lift a car when her baby is under it; the brain wants to win, to win over its own physical ability. This theory has been scientifically confirmed “through the scans of the functional magnetic imaging, it shows that high level of activity in the dopamine network when subjects are presented by desirable or frightening stimuli” (Chun). Dopamine is a pleasure hormone so the reward of this is immediate. The brain is so much involved in focusing on the result because we train our brain for the “winning factor” on a daily basis. The factors include: “self-awareness, motivation, focus, emotional balance, memory, resilience, adaptability and brain care” (Brown). Thus, due to all the influences that we make on our brain, we become a highly competitive person and feel the need to be a high achiever.
Furthermore, “a deal will naturally come if you have the right attitude with the right thought” (Trump 151). Although running a business is completely different than participating in the Olympic Games, the necessary attitude and approach toward winning is the same. When a deal is not successfully made, the company might lose a great deal of money, but the lesson learned during the process is the key for the next deal to be successful. Amy Wu – the president of Fisher Price in the Asian and Pacific area – describes her path to becoming who she is today as “learning from mistakes” (Huang). It is not a shame to admit failure, the only thing that matters is whether you learn anything from the whole process. Wu started her career in Fisher Price as a product manager, but the first toy she created only went into the market for six months. She states that if the product had not been a failure, she would never have realized that parents these days are willing to pay more for a higher quality product for their child. This was not Wu’s only mistake that she made during her whole career, but she continually maintained her attitude of learning from them. She did not allow the mistake to prevent her from succeeding. Winning a business deal is important to her, but losing makes her a better executive, a better mother and even a better person. If you can be the loser who engages in the process of investigating and learning from the mistake, then you will be the real winner when crossing life’s finish line.
Moreover, some groups have argued that if winning is not important, then why keep score? Although it is true that humans are naturally competitive and always want to get ahead; a competition is not whether you win or lose, but how you perform in the race. In a 2008 study by Michigan State University, they asked ten thousand athletes at any level to list their top ten reasons for participating in sports. At the top of the list for both males and females was “to have fun” (Michigan State University). Males ranked competition as the eighth out of ten; females rated it the least important reason. The data from this study was surprising, but this does not mean all those ten thousand athletes are not competitive; they would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team. It has been a myth that competitors who enjoy the process have to sacrifice success. Indeed, the only reason for an athlete to continue to do what they are doing – regardless of the level of skill – is if they love the process of the sport or the competition. Athletes have to train hard to attain an exclusive level. If it is no play and all work, then the continuation of the career is minimal. Success is determined by one’s own desire to succeed, which develops from a love of the process of the race. Furthermore, if there is no loser, than there won’t be a winner. Losing is one of the best ways allows people to strive to do better. By believing in doing your personal best, you will be rewarded by becoming a better achiever. Business owners believe that their employees did their best by handing out bonuses and making promotions. Sport teams reward it when they give out best improved awards to some individuals (See fig. 1). The award has a greater meaning than the piece of metal on the winner’s neck.
Real athletes view competition itself in a different way. Regarding their results, athletes perform to their best ability and enjoy the competition itself. An athlete should be wholly focused on the process to reach the goal; winning will naturally come if they have taken the right steps. High-level competitions, such as the Olympics, are designed to bring nations together in peace, celebrating human performance. It was never meant to be about counting medals. In 2012 an important study by Harvard Medical School appeared in the Statistical Science. The author, Gordon Allport, studied athletes from North America, aged from fifteen to fifty. Seventy-two percent of them believed losing was unacceptable, and winning was the only way to show their ability. The reason for this high statistic is the external pressure that comes from representing your nation. National pride is a serious issue and expectations are extremely high. There are also factors such as the need to earn money and the political standing within the country. Meghan Montgomery, two times World Champion Rower from Canada, strongly disagrees with the 72% athlete population; she believes “we can’t necessarily control whether or not we win, but we can control how we perform” (Huang). Moreover, when an athlete considers all the training, sacrifices and dedication that they put in, it will be clear that what they learned along the way is far more valuable than a medal or being called the winner.
Athletes participating in the Olympics were overwhelmed by their belief: “’winning at all cost’” (Dorland 89). After an upsetting performance by Jason Dorland at the Olympics, he realized a lesson: although they were trained physically, they were not prepared to accept the idea that winning is not everything. All the things he learned as a two time Olympian “loser,” allowed him to become a better coach and person, “losing in the Olympics is the biggest gift that I ever received, because the value in my life for having lost in the Olympics is far more than it would have been if we had won” (Dorland 108). As he shifts his career from an athlete into a coach, he brings a different perspective for competing. Although he still wants his crews to win, at the same time, he coaches his athletes to not get upset over losing. The crew should fight hard and race their best, “if the best means you win, then that is terrific, but if it does not, that is okay too”(Huang). There has to be value in doing your best. When winners achieve the highest pinnacle of success, the rest of their life becomes anticlimactic. For losers, their life can only get better. Jason’s life kept getting better after his coaching career; he is now the co-founder and creative director for an organic food company – Skeet & Ike’s, and also the head of one of the best rowing programs in Canada. The lessons learned through the process of a competition can teach us are far greater than those a medal can teach.
Therefore, because humans are so naturally competitive, we are led into the wrong thought that winning are everything, and the only thing. This false concept about the topic causes many outstanding performers to run into the problem of depression due to the outside pressures that they receive, as already discussed. We must begin to take this problem seriously. The part which provides greater opportunity for learning is the process of the competition itself. When there is just a medal on your neck, the medal will never promote people learning and growing from it; rather it may bring a negative influence because of the self-aggrandizement. By all means winning is important, as shown throughout the Olympic Games. The pride and excitement feel great when the Canadian flag rises up from the winner’s podium. However, “it’s not whether you win or lose in life that’s important but whether you play the game. Lose enough and eventually you will win. It’s only a matter of time” (Sugarman). People in general will attain a happier and more fulfilling life if they understand the principle that winning is not everything. There is much more to enjoy in life than gaining medals.
Allport, Gordon. “Truth of Athlete’s Brain.” Harvard Statistical Science (2007): 08-12. Print
Brown, Jeff. “How to ‘make’ a Winning Brain.” Statistical Science. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2013.
Chun, Marvin. “In the Brain, Winning Is Everywhere.” Yale University Reserch Center News. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 May 2013.
Dorland, Jason. Chariots and Horses: Life Lessons from an Olympic Rower. Victoria, [B.C.: Heritage House, 2011. Print.
Huang, Wilma. Personal interview: Amy Wu. 28 April. 2013
Huang, Wilma. Personal interview: Jason Dorland. 1 May. 2013.
Huang, Wilma. Personal interview: Meghan Montgomery. 25 May. 2013
“Joseph Sugarman.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 Apr. 2013. Web. 04 June 2013.
Michigan State University. “Having Fun More Important Than Winning.” MomsTeam. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 June 2013.
Trump, Donald. Play to Win in Business and in Life. New York: Trump UP, 2006. Print.
Wayne Smith, RUGBY UNION. “The Competition That Says Winning Isn’t Everything.” Australian, The (2012): 33. Canadian Reference Centre. Web. 9 May 2013.
Wong, Jim. Cartoon. Taiwan News 22 July 2012: C21. Print.