Finding happiness in losing.

Join now to get emailed updates

Gary Wrestling

Sports and athletics has always been a major part of my life. I’m not exactly sure where the drive came from, as none of my parents are particularly interested in sports. The lone exception being the Nebraska Cornhuskers, which is not a choice if you are born in Nebraska. When I think about my lifelong commitment to helping people reach their physical performance goals, I can bring it back to a few influences and motivations:

  1. A desire to fit in. When you grow up in rural Nebraska, the opportunities for diverse experiences are somewhat limited. One of the exceptions is athletics. In my case, as a young child living in Imperial, Nebraska (pop 2,047), I was introduced to wrestling. Even as a physically small kid, it allowed me to compete. That opportunity sparked my love of sport and competition.

  2. I had two major adult influences associated with sports. One of the benefits of growing up in a small town is that I developed good friendships at a young age. Two of my friends since 3rd grade, Alex Reier and Jason Mayo (ok, I don’t think Alex and I liked each other until 4th grade), had fathers that coached many of the sports I participated in. Tom Mayo was my TaeKwonDo instructor through the majority of the years it took me to earn my black belt. He was also my basketball coach on several occasions. John Reier taught me how to shoot a basketball properly. He was always the loudest voice in the crowd when we were competing. They both shared their guidance as I pursued athletics. They also used athletics as an opportunity to teach us larger life lessons, even when I chose not to listen.

  3. I enjoy the pursuit of improvement. It’s an inner drive that I’ve always possessed. I’m rarely satisfied with a performance. I always feel that with a little adjustment, my next race will be better. It has taken a lifetime to harness and appreciate this, with a lifetime of learning to go.

The reason that my pursuit and love of athletics is relevant, is because it was through athletics that I learned that losing sucks.

I remember the situation when I realized that I wasn’t going to win every time. I was five years old and at a wrestling tournament. These tournaments are an awesome experience for a kid. You get assigned to a bracket based on your weight class and you get to see your name up on the chart. The mats are all rolled out on the basketball courts. And with parents and coaches on the side, you go out into the circle and compete. At the end of each match, there’s a winner. The winner gets his arm raised into the air by the referee and then sees his name advance forward on the chart.

While I do not remember the exact wrestling meet’s location, I do remember finishing a match and having the ref raise my opponent’s hand. I remember going into the bathroom crying. My dad had to explain that it was ok. I still got to wrestle some more at the tournament. I wish that I could recall the exact discussion, but my memory is not that good.

Throughout my school career, especially high school, I got the opportunity to experience a lot of losses. With the single exception of my senior year of high school, when I transferred to O’Neill and our basketball team faired pretty well (until Kasey Brosz got injured, then we didn’t).

It’s obvious that sports provide a great amount of positive memories for me, with a lot of benefit for my growth as an individual. But the question I’ve posed is this:

How can we find happiness in losing?

It took me into my thirties until I started to understand that even in losing, we have an opportunity for happiness and contentment. Losing in athletic competitions, business or any other domain that you find yourself does not have to result in anger, frustration, sadness or depression.

The key to finding happiness in losing, has been the discovery that the journey is worth the effort. When the daily experience is valuable enough, then the outcome becomes a secondary consideration.

In our business, I am thankful to have partners who take a similar approach. We spend a decent amount of time discussing the process by which we are doing our work. We evaluate the type of work that we are getting done each day, with the expectation that we are satisfied and content with the work we are doing.

A case in point, the Happier and Healthier You behavior change program. It is something I felt passionate about and had a compelling reason to work on, therefore it has become a part of my work life. What will the outcome of this program be? Will it be successful? Will our business ‘lose’ because of it? That question remains to be answered.

I do know that the process of creating the program. The feedback that I have received from those who have started the program, in these early days, has made the journey worth it. Win or lose.

I still like winning. It remains the desired outcome.

Last week, I participated in a local business pitch competition called “5 Across”. I pitched a product that our team has been working on for the majority of the year. As the judges announced the winner, I got very anxious. I expected the company that won the competition to win. However, I still waited there with hope. When the winner was called out, all the energy left my body.

I still love to win. In some respects, it’s this mentality that enables me to be an entrepreneur. However, I’ve come to understand that in athletics and in entrepreneurship, you better learn to find happiness from things other than winning.

There is a saying that people often use:

“focus on the process, not the outcome”

I like that saying. I use it quite often when I’m working with clients. However, even in that mantra, the underlying message is that if you focus on the process you will get the outcomes you desire.

I’ve learned through athletics and business, that finding happiness in the process, despite the outcome is just as critical.