In the opening sequence of the “Wide World of Sports” TV show – which ran from 1961 to 1998 – the announcer declared, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
The words “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” remind me that we often think of our own efforts and activities in terms of extremes: successes or failures. The televisions we watched in the early years of that show may have been black-and-white, but how we think about ourselves doesn’t have to be that way.
If we try to lose weight and we hit our target, we consider ourselves successful. If we’re unable to hit the target or we regain some weight – which is often the case – we may feel like failures. If we accomplish any goal we set, we feel proud. If we’re unable to achieve a goal, we feel defeated. While some people externalize the failure (e.g., “It’s not my fault,” “I wasn’t given a fair chance,” “There were too many hurdles in my way,” etc.), others may internalize the outcome as a personal failure or a shortcoming (e.g., “I lacked willpower,” “I was lazy,” “I didn’t try hard enough,” etc.).
Do we have to consider every outcome as a victory or a defeat? I don’t think so. I believe many things exist on a continuum, including our efforts and outcomes. Sometimes external forces swing in our favour. When they swing against us, we’re faced with greater challenges. The same is true for our internal forces such as our motivation. There are times when our motivational bucket is overflowing – we’re energized and we put that energy towards our goal. Other times we can’t seem to find a drop of motivation. Even when we’re fully energized, activated and committed, what we do may not move us closer to our goal. For example, we may believe we’re regularly eating healthy food in order to lose weight or to improve our health, but we may be unknowingly eating too much or making ill-informed choices that set us back.
Instead of thinking in terms of successes versus failures, perhaps we should take a nuanced ap-proach. Everything we do might be a necessary step along our journey. We can learn from each step and misstep. Sometimes what we learn along the way can be valuable in the long-term. Everyone experiences setbacks in life. Even the most athletic, wealthiest, or business-savvy – the most outstanding in any field have ups and downs. My philosophy is that if a goal is very easy to achieve, it may not be worthwhile pursuing. It’s the challenge, the work we put into it, the physical and emotional sweat equity that lead to a sense of fulfillment – even if we don’t fully accomplish our goal. Imagine, for example, a dedicated athlete – a sprinter, gymnast or weightlifter – who trains for many years for that one potential moment of glory at a high-level competition, but instead of outperforming the other athletes or achieving a personal best, performs sub-optimally. The athlete may feel like it’s a major personal failure. Let’s consider factors beyond the time on the stop-watch or the numbers on a judge’s scorecard. The fact that the athlete put in so much effort, qualified and gave it their best effort under extreme duress should be cause for celebration.
I recently bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in many months. “How are you?” I asked. She replied, “I’m fat.” I was caught off-guard by her self-disparaging remark. I didn’t have time to engage in a conversation as I was on my way to see a client, so I said to her half-jokingly, “Next time someone asks you how you are, you should say, ‘I’m hot!’” We both laughed.
The message I was trying to quickly convey in a few words and with a sense of humour is that we should not put ourselves down – through internal dialogue or when speaking with others – just because we don’t meet some culturally- or self-imposed ideal. In fact, her weight would never have crossed my mind, I was simply happy to see her.
While an anonymous broadcaster’s voice or other sources may have programmed us to think in terms of victories and defeats, we’d be happier, healthier and more inclined to persevere if we accepted that life is not black-and-white like an antiquated TV.