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Who is a Winner? What is Success?

I came across quite a few conversations and exchanges, in person and on “social” media which focused on the aspect of winning medals, in the context of the Olympic Games at Rio.

And there seemed to be 2 predominant thought patterns.

  1. It does not matter what one has achieved otherwise, if one has not won a medal!

  2. The “effort” that the individual puts in is most important! And hence, a medal does not matter.

I somehow chose not to accept the “Winning is the ONLY thing that matters!” approach. According to my thinking, “Winning” is important, and if I did my best, and still a better player on the day won, that was fine! In this context, I remembered many events where a player was playing extremely well, and yet did not win, because there was someone who just did better ON THAT DAY. The latest such instance that came to mind for me, was the British Open Golf tournament of 2016. Phil Mickelson played some great golf and yet lost. Because Henrik Stenson played BETTER golf (definitely in terms of scores) especially on the last day of the tournament and won the trophy.

Coming back to the subject of the Olympic Games, and more specifically, how India was faring abysmally in terms of medals (as of this moment, not a SINGLE medal won). There were quite a few people who were making sarcastic comments, and jokes out of this. I am NOT referring to a supposed scribe who made some remark on Twitter at all. My statement is about general lay persons who probably were hurting inside that India had not won a medal. And chose to express their disappointment through sarcastic jibes at the athletes. And a very outwardly deprecative approach to the attitude of everyone in the nation, in this process!

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion and can state it, as long as they are not intending to cause hurt to others” is MY PERSONAL OPINION. And in this matter, there were a few exchanges that I also partook in that were interesting – and some of the exchanges and the thought process that I reflected upon, is the matter for another article, for sure!

And then I started reflecting on the various thoughts across the spectrum. And pondered more – was Winning everything? did not effort matter? Was it fair that only the winners are remembered and the ones that come second, or third or fourth, forgotten? I then searched for some more information on this aspect since I was certain that this was a topic that would have been debated by many across the years. And during this process, I watched this TED Talk by John Wooden which I found very good.

John Wooden: The difference between winning and succeeding

And in this talk, he had this to say about teachers and teaching, which I found extremely nice:

No written word, no spoken plea can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves, it’s what the teachers are themselves.

And he had this to say about “Success:”

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. Remember, results aren’t the criteria for success — it’s the effort made for achievement that is most important.

This reminds me of a statement I heard for the first time in a talk by Dr. David Hawkins, “We grow from being perfect to being perfect!” And as I have probably mentioned earlier, it took me almost 3 weeks of pondering, to get to an understanding of this statement that seems to make sense to me – that I am “as perfect as I can be” in every moment. That I am perfect now, and with the experience I gain in this moment, I become as perfect as I can be in the next.

We grow from being perfect to being perfect – Dr. David Hawkins

Does this mean that winning a medal is not important? No! Not at all! I am reminded of a chat that I had with a client of mine, some years ago. This client had embarked on a business venture and totally committed to making it work, and doing well. And there were many other businesses in the same line and working with the same principal that they were working with. In response to my question, “What do you want to achieve in the next 3 years, for this business?” the response was, “I want that my company should be Number 1 in the country for both Sales and Service.”

I listened and pondered over this a while. And then I put out both hands forward, palms facing upward. And I then said, indicating towards my right hand, “On this hand, is the trophy of being Number 1 in the country for Sales and Service 3 years from now” and then indicating towards my left hand, said, “On this hand, is the achievement of having 4 times as much sales AND 5 times as much profit as you make this year.” And then I said, “these two are mutually exclusive – if you are Number 1 in sales and service, you WILL NOT make 4 times revenue and 5 times profit; and if you make 4 times revenue and 5 times profit, you WILL NOT be Number 1 in the country in Sales and Service.” And after pausing a while for some effect, I asked, “Now, which will you choose?”

My client, after a few moments of silent thinking and evaluation, said, “I choose 4 times revenue and 5 times profit. I am in business for commercial gain and that is most important. Honestly, when you offered me these choices, it makes sense to me, where I am in my life and career to choose this option rather than being Number 1.”

And so saying, he then proceeded to create a goal that focused on the things that mattered to him. And started working in right earnest towards achieving those goals. And it is probably pertinent to also share here that the goals he came up with were those he thought were really “STRETCH” goals, bordering almost on being “impossible” at that time. To cut a long story short, 3 years later, when we sat down to evaluate how performance had been towards those goals, a couple of things became clear:

  1. The business had achieved 5 times the revenue and 6 times the profit of the year in which the goals had been set – significant over achievement of the stated goal, and

  2. The business had become number 1 in both Sales and Service in the country!

And when we reviewed how this had been possible, my client had the most profound message to share! He said, “The moment I took on this goal, I changed my approach to every aspect of the business – from dealing with my principals, to identifying ways that I had not even contemplated before! The moment I focused on the things I needed to control to achieve my goals, I went about it very differently.”

What this taught me, and my client was extremely important – the more concerned one becomes over the things one can’t control, the less one will do with the things one can control! Being Number 1 in the country was something that depended on a host of factors including how others performed, and this was something that one might not always have information about. However, just focusing on what one can do, and constantly taking stock of whether they are doing the best they can, is a great motivator and definitely easier to be in control of. And, there is always information, in many areas of life, from past data as to what might construe “great performance.”

In the field of sport, there is data about past performances and records that have been created that act as guides to evaluating where one’s own performance lies. This also gives invaluable information and data on whether one is progressing at all.

In my coaching practice, I have identified that the MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of achieving stated goals is to FOCUS on the key aspects and take action on these DAILY! The operative parts are “Key performance aspects” and “DAILY!” This again, is the topic for another article! So let me get back to the original intent for this article.

While there is much more that can be said on the subject, I will summarise my views thus:

  • The intent in any activity is to become as good as one possibly can, and to reach the excellence that one has the potential for! And if they do reach the best they can, that is SUCCESS!

  • Success means not just winning; the main thing about “personal” success is to do the best that one can!

  • If one becomes better than another on any given day, and they have done their best, then they have the added bonus of “winning” – maybe even a medal.

  • Success therefore means being the best that one can be, at that time, and to strive to become better than they were a moment ago!

  • If this is done, diligently and with awareness, then regardless of the “worldly” definition of success being a “winner” one will definitely become a “Success!”

  • And as long as one constantly strives to become better, and learns from others who might be achieving more, and gets better, that is success!

So, do the best that you can! And be happy with whatever you achieve when you have truly done YOUR best! And then, YOU ARE A SUCCESS!

(The use of the second person “you”in the last sentence is intentional! YOU ARE A SUCCESS!)

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