It’s time we change our minds about what it means to be a winner. We have become so careful about protecting people from losing that we’ve forgotten the true meaning of what it means to win. Let’s take a minute and define what it means to be a winner. Does it have something to do with “beating” an opponent? It’s important to understand that in order to truly win, winning is more than competition.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word “winner” is “one that is successful especially through praiseworthy ability and hard work.” While this definition is accurate, I see it differently and think it’s time we redefine the term.
In my eyes, the definition of a winner is someone who gives 100% of their effort in preparation for and during competition 100% of the time, regardless of the circumstances faced before them. Winning involves more than beating an opponent or the final score on the board. A person can be a winner as long as they give everything they’ve got.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping score and there’s nothing wrong with competition. If we didn’t keep score, competition would be meaningless. If the score didn’t matter, we wouldn’t watch sports. However, winning is more than just beating your opponent on the scoreboard.
A fantastic example of this is Switzerland’s Gabriela Andersen-Schiess who finished 37th in the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon at the Los Angeles 1984 Summer Games. “Her refusal to quit the race despite the exhausting conditions and suffering from dehydration led to an iconic Olympic moment,” according to the International Olympic Committee. Determination saw her over the finish line and everyone watching looked on stunned, and even better, inspired.
“I looked at the women around me and I knew I couldn’t run with the leaders. I knew I wasn’t that good and not everybody can win. There were a lot of us in 10th to 15th place and we ran as a group,” Anderson-Schiess explained in the Olympic video An Unforgettable Marathon Finish. As she approached the final six miles, Andersen-Schiess’ body began to shut down due to dehydration and high heat. She managed to make it into the stadium and across the finish line. However, she collapsed into the arms of medical staff immediately upon crossing the finish line.
“At the time, after the Olympics, I would have traded anything for 10th or 15th place … I can see now though that what the crowd was cheering on my determination to overcome the obstacle before me. I was still a winner and that is one of the things I remember the most,” she said.
Losing and failing matters. I guarantee that you can’t look at your accomplishments without also looking at your failures. When this happens, I find a way to be thankful for each failure; I turned my failures into lessons. When I was young, my dad used to say me, “David, when are you going to stop goofing off? You have more talent in the tip of your finger than most people have in their own body but you won’t apply it.” And you know what? Thankfully I had someone there to tell me that.
Now, my only competition is me. Which means that your only competition is you. I used to constantly wonder about my competition and tried to follow everyone else’s moves, only to realize that I couldn’t win if I was constantly focusing on what others were doing. So, I stopped! I started focusing on what I had in my hand and the talent I have around me and we innovated. I grew and so did my team. Our agency’s position quickly changed as we pulled ahead of the competition. However, our motivation wasn’t in beating them, but rather in improving upon where we were last year.
When I say that you are your only competition, I truly live by that mantra. You will progress a little every day, and 365 days later, reflect and see truly how far you’ve come.
Doing your very best means doing everything you are capable of. The standard that you compare yourself should be what you were capable of yesterday. As Vince Lombardi stated in his biography Vince: A Personal Biography of Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to is.”
The standards we are comparing ourselves to are external. It does not matter how we perform relative to our opponents, so long as we perform better than we did yesterday. What we have to remember is that our competitors are not other people, companies, countries or teams – our competitor is ourselves.
We shouldn’t shy away from wanting to win. We just have to remember that winning has two meanings – and we need to measure our success against a more appropriate definition. Are you competing against yourself, or are you competing against other individuals, companies or teams?
Go out and give your all, and in some cases, you will be the best. Proudly exclaim that you want to win – that’s where winning starts.
Originally published on Forbes.com.