To be completely honest, winning doesn't come easy for me.
If memory serves me correct, in grade school I won the MS read-a-thon fundraiser by reading the most books. In junior high, by sheer dumb luck, I won a free throw competition at the Ralph Miller basketball camp…Although it was a bittersweet victory because my friend Andrew took credit for having made more free throws and ended up getting the accolades for the win. Years later, over a few beers and a lot of laughter, Drew fessed up and presented me with the winner’s certificate. I once won a NCAA “March Madness” pool by picking the Arizona Wildcats when they weren’t favored. I’ve hit a couple of numbers on the roulette wheel in Vegas and left town with a few hundred bucks in my pocket. But that’s really about it.
I’ve never won a big sporting event, hit the game winning home run, or been on a championship team. I’ve never hit it big on the lottery. I’ve never won a raffle or a car or a membership to a gym. I’ve never been given a lifelong achievement award. In the martial arts, I've probably lost more sparring matches than I have won. As an actor, though I have landed some parts here and there, I’ve never secured a role in a Spielberg film. I’m not a loser, but you certainly wouldn’t see my picture under the word winner either!
Not being born a bona-fide winner isn’t easy in our country for winning is as big a part of American culture as apple pie and baseball (I guess it’s now football). We’ve lost only one war (and had one tie). Between 1896 and 2016, the US has won more Olympic medals (2520) in the summer Olympics than any other nation (Russia holds the all-time tally for the Winter games). We have more millionaires and billionaires than any country on earth (by far). The US has had the most Nobel laureates and prize winners.
Whether it's science, commerce, or sport, we are a nation of winners. Culturally, we laud the Lombardi-esque mantra, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Even our president brags, “My whole life is about winning…I almost never lose.” But everybody loses sometimes and as of late, especially us. While we are a nation of winners historically, the tide has turned...
· Just over a decade ago, the US ranked third among rich developed nations for happiness. Now we rank 19th.
· Despite boasting many of the world’s most prestigious universities, the US ranks 14th in overall educational performance. Frankly, it’s surprising it’s that high – The World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. at 52nd among 139 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction.
· According to the WHO, the US ranks just 31st in the world for life expectancy.
But surely, our illustrious nation still takes the cake in something, right?? Breathe easy, we’re still tops when it comes to the following:
· Prisoners - the US ranks first in the world with the highest prison population on the planet with an estimated 2,217,000 incarcerated people.
· According to an annual questionnaire and conducted by Ipsos/MORI in 2016 we were number five in the world when it comes to ignorance (we were #2 in 2014, so I suppose we’re getting better!).
· We’re ‘the best’ when it comes to gun violence! According to a study published in the American Journal of medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries.
· We’re the heaviest country in the world. Look no further than the global pandemic of obesity (started right here in the US of A) as a glaring example of corporate greed and personal excess.
· America has the highest drug overdose rate on earth...by a wide margin. While our population comprises 4% of the world's, we account for 27% of the overdose deaths on the planet.
This for the most successful and ‘winning’ civilization in the history of the planet. Heck, we can’t even qualify for the World Cup! It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. But my purpose is not to be a naysayer or doom and gloom prognosticator. I believe in the inherent goodness of mankind and especially the ability of Americans to rise to the occasion when our backs are against the wall.
Now is such a point in history. While the tipping point may not have yet occurred, we can probably all agree that a necessary moment of drastic change is near. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and find our winning ways again.
As noted, I’m no expert at winning. But as far as I can tell, more than anything, winning takes the ability to be present. As the old adage states, ‘you have to be present to win.’
Many take this to mean showing up literally through the elements of discipline, desire, and determination. It’s hard to argue the importance of such qualities. But there is something even more imperative than mere tenacity when it comes to being at hand and ready. Being present essentially means the ability to see truthfully. To accept and deal with circumstances as uncomfortable as they may be. Through introspection comes humility, through humility comes perspective and perseverance, and through perspective and perseverance, character.
Being a winner isn’t just about showing up, but about expressing meekness, fortitude, and acceptance. Olympic Icon Wilma Rudolph captured the essence of what it means to win stating, “winning is great, sure, but if you’re really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all of the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.” The crux of winning is about modesty, self-awareness, and the ability to sit with the pain of our losses. With true presence we ultimately acquire qualities that champions possess - character, conviction, and courage.