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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Costs of Losing

I am approaching the end of my professional life. My chosen field demands traits that diminish as one passes one’s prime: energy, concentration, optimism. Even in one’s prime, it is hard. You lose more than you win and it takes effort and patience to endure the losses. Now, I accept the rare wins with more relief than exultation; I find the losses are still bitter and depressing. I anticipate the probability of losses with dread.

I see a lesson in a sporting event which was televised this weekend. Tom Watson, at the ancient age of 59, lost golf’s British Open by one stroke, missing a ten foot putt on the 72nd hole. The grueling four day event in the chill Scottish coastal winds produced the kind of drama that scripted shows strive for. It was what reality shows so pitifully contrive to create.

Watson had been one of the best in his prime, which ended twenty years ago. Yet, here he was, leading the best of the current best under the harshest pressure an athlete performer can face. Tiger Woods failed. One by one, all the other top - far younger - competitors fell. Watson, who won the event five times, the last one in 1983, substituted his vast experience for his diminishing physical skills to place himself in a position to win.

It wasn’t a storybook ending; he lost, yielded to the pressure when standing over that final putt which he and the whole world knew would change the history of his profession and his place in it.

There are many parallels between sports and life as I’ve experienced it. The first is that there is satisfaction in preparing, doing the hard work needed to excel. The second is that experience counts; every failure teaches something. And the third - and most imporant - is that no matter how much you try, you are probably going to fail more often than you succeed. In the big picture, this probably true about anything worth pursuing. It is the effort that counts.

The fourth lesson is that it is always going to hurt to lose. Watson said it well in his press conference: "Losing eats at my guts ... but it isn’t a funeral."

1 comment:

  1. Someone said that successful people are those who fail more often than others. I am paraphrasing. Isn't it grand that they are considered successful, in spite of their failures/losses? Maybe they are successful because they have risked so many failures and transcended them? Everyone fails, and only the successful ones freely admit to their failures and losses, and move on. Although it hurts to lose, it is so much more rewarding to win after having experienced losing. So, I guess we are of the same mind here, judging by your closing quote, Mort:)

    I don't think that certain "required," or "aggressive" traits diminish with age, and that's where I disagree with you. It's not that the traits diminish - it's that our priorities change, and we tend to invest more energy into things that gain greater importance.