After two weeks in an Olympic-induced comma, I couldn’t stop thinking about those who almost made it— the bobsled team that fell behind by two hundreds of a point, those skaters who missed gold with barely a point to spare, the hockey players who lost because of a shoot-out (ouch).
In short, I became somewhat obsessed with all the near wins instead of the real wins.
Most of us don’t identify with gold medals. But all of us know exactly what it’s like to have a near win — those times you come in second, or somewhere near the top, but not at the top. Someone else got the prize, the job, the recognition, the sale. You returned to the drawing board to start over again.
But near wins are not about failure to succeed. In a TED talk about near wins, art historian Sarah Lewis makes the point that coming close to what you thought you wanted is actually how you achieve more than you ever thought was possible.
There are countless examples of great artists who lived their lives with what they believed were near wins, not success.Monet left us with 250 paintings of water lilies, but Monet destroyed many more because he thought they weren’t good enough. Beethoven’s cut entire parts out of his works, only to be discovered later by historians as brilliant. After eight years of work, Michelangelo took a hammer to The Deposition and chopped off Christ’s leg (apparently there was a flaw in the marble he couldn’t fix.)
Unlike the concept of success, a near win is concrete. It means you were actually in the game –you prepared, trained, learned, worked, did whatever it took to reach the goal. And by doing so, you achieved mastery — like Monet, Beethoven, all those Olympic fourth place winners, and countless others we consider as great success stories.
Bronze, the silver, or worst, fourth place, the almost top ten—there are many times when my life seems full of near wins. Each time it happens, I feel stuck, not good enough, frustrated. But I’m trying to learn: when there’s more to do; then that’s when I get closer to true achievement.
Several years ago, three of our kids attended a Raptors’ basketball game attempted to win a contest for the group that cheered the loudest. The winners got a substantial prize and their photo on the Jumbotron. Our kids came in second place. They got a figure puppet.
So a bit late in the year, my resolution is to raise a glass over getting the finger puppet.
It’s a sign that there’s more to learn, more to do, more to master and more cheering to do. It’s not about being in first place that matters. It’s about always trying to get there.
“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” – William Shakespeare