The Value of Not Winning

Earlier this year there was a media blitz involving Charlie Sheen and his apparent circus show, part of which included the frequent use of the phrase “winning.”  I didn’t follow it, honestly I could care less, but I hear clips of this phrase “winning” popping up in various media outlets.  While winning is the goal in many things, I think there is much greater value in not winning.

Before earning my pro card, I had competed in two other competitions within a year’s time.  In those first two competitions, I placed 2nd in my division. The first of these competitions was my first time on stage in nearly 17 years.  I hadn’t even attended a bodybuilding show in those years in between.  My mindset for this first show was to get into the best shape of my life and enjoy the process of  being a competitive bodybuilder again.  In my strongest moments I felt I could win without a doubt.  In my weakest moments, I was just hoping I didn’t look like an absolute fool compared to the other bodybuilders.  I simply wanted to be able to hold my own and compete with the other competitors.

As the show got closer there was a passing thought of what it would be like to win  the entire show and earn a pro card in my first contest in years.  That however, was not my goal and the thought usually was a light-hearted idea that made me smile, but at the same time planted a seed in the back of my mind.

The Open Middleweight Division tends to be the most competitive and often largest class in the show.  Each time I have competed there have been 7-8 other competitors in my division.  I went out with those guys, hit every pose just as I practiced and at night nailed my posing routine.  I stood on the stage for the awards and as the names were called and places counted down I kept feeling a bit more relieved and pumped each time my name wasn’t called.  Ultimately I placed second.  The winner of my division  looked good, and even before we went out he had told me he won a previous show and that it would come down to me and him in a very close call.  After awards, when we were congratulating each other backstage I took note of what I possible could have been missing in comparison to his physique.  It was then I could see he wasn’t as thick as I was, but he was harder.  I was ok with that and certainly could see why he won.

For this show, the winning happened before I ever got on stage.  I had accomplished what I set out to do.  I looked better than ever, not only held my own on stage but placed second in my first competition.  I contacted the promoter and head judge in the days after the show asking for any input or advice they could offer based on  what they saw of me at the show.  They kindly responded with some honest insights and I took it to heart.  Armed with that information I planned my next competition.

The fall show  that year resulted in the same second place finish.  This time I didn’t feel as confident or as comfortable as I did in the spring show and was somewhat disappointed I didn’t win.  In the time between the first and second show the idea of turning pro was no longer a whimsical thought.  The fire was ignited and it was my focus.  Again, in the days after the show, I looked for feedback from the head judge and promoter and again received insightful evalutations which I would center my training program around in preparation for the next competition.

Those two losses, particularly the second loss in Buffalo, was the best thing to have happened.  That was my winning moment because it was from that loss that I learned more about what I needed to do to  improve.  Suddenly, I understood not only what I needed to improve upon, but I could clearly see the path I must take to get there.  The week following that competition was spent planning on paper a precise plan that would result in the changes in my physique that I was after and could see only in my mind at the time.  Once it was written on paper it was simply a matter of following the course.  I trained, ate, and tackled cardio with a determined and confident focus of where I wanted to be on competition day.  As the weeks passed and the show got closer, there was no doubt that I was going to enter this show with a different physique than in the past.  I looked different in  the mirror.  I felt different.  And with each passing workout, meal, week, my attitude and belief in myself grew stronger.

I arrived in the best condition I could possibly be in, or so I thought.  My attitude of the day was I would either win and turn pro, or be content knowing I was at my best and there was no stone left unturned.  I cannot control other competitors or the judging and so my only mission was to be at my best and I was clearly at my peak.

I did win that show, and did turn pro that night.  After I again contacted the promoter and head judge to seek advice.  Again with their insights I created a plan that I have been executing as I prepare for my pro debut in 25 weeks.  My goal is to be better than I was before.  In reflecting upon so many aspects after that show I realized I could be better.  If I am going to put myself up against the best of the best, the pros, then I must be better and I must aim to meet and exceed the expectations that come with being a professional natural bodybuilder.

If I bought into the superficial world of pop culture, I would have threw a tantrum the first, and definitely the second time I didn’t win on stage.  I may even have quit right there, or blamed the judges, the other competitors, the lighting, the weather, and who knows what else.  Our culture, or certain aspects of it, thrive on this notion of winning, and I don’t mean competitively.  Winning, instant gratification,  and popularity is what is thrown at us constantly through various media.  However, not winning is much more valuable and meaningful.  I often say anything worth doing is not going to be easy.  It is through the hard work, the determination, the struggle, that the winning happens.  If turning pro, or winning a game, acing a test, landing a dream job, or getting whatever it is that we want just because we want it were that simple, we would never discover the satisfaction  of accomplishing a goal. The reward of achieving that goal after having invested yourself completely in the process necessary to ultimately reach your goal is  far greater than if it were handed to you with very little effort.

Randy Pausch has said that brick walls are not deadends, but simply obstacles to see how bad we want something.  If you work and struggle because you want something bad enough, you will get around, over, and through that brick wall  and in doing so discover a winning that is meaningful and filled with substance.

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