The how of winning. There are books upon books about it. To win in sport, to win in money, to win in love. It’s the satisfaction of desire, Freud’s id, the breath we want at the bottom of the pool.

But losing is where the lessons are.

It teaches us acceptance, that in defeat we must recognize our lot, that if we divorce ourselves from reality, we lose not just the world, but ourselves.

It teaches persistence, that after being pack fodder, or even second, giving up isn’t the answer. We line up for the next race, and the one after that. We go out on the sunny days, and the days when every sane person is still in bed.

It teaches us to recognize mistakes. From sprints launched too soon or attacks on the wrong hill, we learn judgment. Years go by and then the boss criticizes, the kid refuses, the lover kisses your forehead and we know to coast, to recover, to wait for a better opportunity.

It teaches us grace. When we count through the events of lives in our final days, we have all lost more than we won. What defines us isn’t that we lost, but how we hold our heads as we face the victor. Perhaps the real winner is the person who can stand on the second step, turn and shake the winner’s hand and say to them without any irony, “Congratulations. I’m happy for you.” To say that. To mean that. The only way to do that is to have a life that is defined by neither the win nor the loss.

It teaches us to appreciate someone else in the spotlight. And that is little more than a study in sharing. Losing makes room for others in a way that no win can.

We’ve heard champion upon champion say it: If we define our lives by winning, the moment we cease to win, we cease to exist. A win can’t make someone whole; it just papers over the hollow. Losing well is proof that we’ve learned to fill that hollow and what to fill it with.

Sharing, dignity, self esteem, learning to lose teaches us far more than any win ever can.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. bluezurich says

    Basically, Pou-Pou is the most enlightened person?

    1. Padraig says

      I thought about him. An interview with him on this subject would be fascinating.

  2. khal spencer says

    Dear Donald J. Trump

    Please read this essay.

  3. southcarolinamtb says

    This is all true and I sort of always new it was true or the correct way to behave. But I didn’t really get it fully until I experienced it in cycling.
    To finally win after so many attempts; and then to lose; and then to podium again and again; and then to lose and win some more. It takes a lot of effort and commitment. These experiences, for me, were needed to fully appreciate the message above.
    Unfortunately, many can’t get past the effort to achieve the wins. It isn’t easy. Or many situations allow all of us to be “winners.”
    I’m not so surprised that many of us are gracious in losing. Our conscience can at least make us pretend that we are until we figure it out. But it is interesting (alarming) to interact with those of us who are not gracious in winning. After all, we all line up at the start to “run what you brung” and there’s no way two people are “brungen” the same thing. I’m not saying that to incline us to say that we are all winners. I’m saying that to incline us to respect the journey that each of us has.

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