The Accident of Winning

The paragraphs below were written by a slightly angry, extremely sleep-deprived version of myself at the airport, on my way home after participating in an international project that shall remain nameless, alongside people who became great friends. Although in many regards, this experience changed my life for the better, it also opened my eyes to how challenging, tiring and unforgiving it could be to play in the big leagues. I was more tired than I’d ever been, crabby after days of neither resting nor eating properly, and torn between disappointment and pride after having lost a final competition that we could have absolutely killed, had we been, perhaps, a little more rested and confident.

My experiences throughout this particular trip shaped and reshaped my worldview and personality in unprecedented ways. They helped me understand certain things about winning and losing; lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I share them with you today as a reminder, perhaps too necessary in today’s world, that winning is, for the most part, accidental. Like somebody I love and admire told me after I returned, it depends on too many variables and, too often, it is perceived as the only real proof of people’s hard work, when it is really a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. I can assure you that human beings constantly do incredible things, far more often than they are recognized for them. So here are my musings on victory, from July 2018:

“You ask if we were happy after the final competition. How could I not be happy? I just spoke on stage in front of people from all over the world, in a place where no Argentinean team has ever stood before, after days of effort and improvement and fun and sacrifice. I made it. How could I not be happy? It’s unbelievable to me that I just did this. It was impossible for me a few days ago to picture myself doing this. But I stood there and I spoke, and I’ve grown so much. I feel like I am floating. Hell, am I happy.

You don’t seem to be very happy. You proceed to list all the reasons why. We could have been better. We could have won. But I think we already won. We did amazing things. We had fun. And I am not going to let you convince me, after all this, that it was not enough. That it should fall second to something else. I won’t let you undermine this for me because this does not belong to you. I think I just did something incredible, and I don’t want to be convinced otherwise.

At first it fills me with rage that you are not happy. That you would dare take this away from me and my teammates. But then my rage just melts into sadness because I find it so pathetic that you can’t be happy. I find it so pitiful that all this simply isn’t enough for you. I challenge your definition of happy. I believe the things you expect from me don’t matter at all. The fact that I go home smiling while you are the one feeling angry and defeated can only be proof that I’m right. You may think you lost today, but I won. And this is not your victory to claim anyway.

You may not be happy; that is your right and your choice. But you also don’t get to dictate mine, and I am happy. Because I did win today, no matter how much you want to make me believe I didn’t. I won and you didn’t, because my definition of happy is far less futile, far less accidental, than yours. You win, therefore you are happy. I am happy, therefore I win. And today, one of us won. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t you.”

“Nosotros deberíamos aclararle a la mayoría que el éxito es una excepción. Los seres humanos de vez en cuando triunfan. Pero habitualmente se desarrollan, combaten, se esfuerzan, y ganan de vez en cuando. Muy de vez en cuando.
No permitan que el fracaso les deteriore la autoestima. Cuando ganás, el mensaje de admiración es tan confuso, te estimula tanto el amor hacia uno mismo y eso deforma. Y cuando perdés sucede todo lo contrario, hay una tendencia morbosa a desprestigiarte, a ofenderte, sólo porque perdiste. En cualquier tarea se puede ganar o perder, lo importante es la nobleza de los recursos utilizados, eso sí es lo importante; lo importante es el tránsito, la dignidad con que recorrí el camino en la búsqueda del objetivo. Lo otro es cuento para vendernos una realidad que no es tal.”

Marcelo Bielsa.

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