Well, What If You’re Not Good Enough?

The TV clip at the gym caught my eye even though I knew nothing of Sara. It was a replay of her win in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. McMann stood on the podium, the first American woman to earn a silver in Olympic wrestling. And she was crushed. She hung her head because it was nothing less than gold she’d wanted.

The snapshot was in part a preview of the highly anticipated Mixed Martial Arts match between her and undefeated female MMA world champion Ronda Rousey. When Sara became pregnant she realized she was not done competing. After having her daughter, she took up Mixed Martial Arts. Here she was, gearing up to face the most talented, feared fighter in women’s MMA. I never cared to watch Ronda. It was enough and somewhat reasonable that I came to appreciate men in their fighting glory. I couldn’t wrap my head around women’s flexing biceps and bashing each other in the face. But Sara’s journey was so intriguing I was sold on the match to come. Many of you know achievement is a pet topic of mine. The women rekindled my fascination with people who “repudiate mediocrity, forgive nothing substandard,” as I’ve said in Part One of my series on greatness. Now I’d like to explore in a more personal way the question of being good enough.

See, I saw myself, I saw culture when I contemplated Sara’s face on that Olympic stage. She didn’t look Korean, but she was. Second place is not something Koreans are proud of. The “as long as you did your best” is a delusional American dream. McMann said, “I fight to win.” No one does this to lose. She and Ronda attacked the gym, beat their body because only one would walk away with the championship.

Few of us live for a tangible trophy but these stars play out on the global radar what the rest of us do in our own little world. We all want to win. What do you like to win at? I mean, do you get up and clock in at the office for the distinction of Mediocre Employee of the Month or the reputation as the weakest link on your team? Do you set out in the morning to be a bad mom? You don’t play Monopoly to go bankrupt. We don’t always vie for the farthest we can go but our pride keeps us from sinking beyond a certain point. We want to be good enough. I can’t count how many feel-good posts I run into that assure me I am beautiful enough, strong, smart, talented enough and gosh darn it, don’t let anyone tell me otherwise. What does this mean? That we’re all attractive? How can you tell me I measure up when you don’t even know me? I’m bad at so many things. I couldn’t resist leaving this comment once on a blog: “I am not a troll. I’d just like to share another perspective. What if you really are not good enough?” If we’re all so hunky dory, why bother with certificates, honors, congratulations? Obviously we reward those among us who stand out.

Talk about standing out.

The first American to win an Olympic medal in women’s judo, Ronda Rousey has transformed women’s MMA on the international field of sports. The fight with Sara I did go on to watch was the main event of the night, the other matches all men. Unheard of. Can you imagine men flocking to watch women’s basketball or soccer? But flock they did to catch the Olympiads, “two elite athletes in their prime.” The commentator said of Ronda, “She’s beautiful, she’s bad. Her skill is unparalleled. With no losses, she’s the perfect face of MMA.” Sara was the greatest challenge Ronda had faced in her career up ’til then and she had no plans to give away her title. “Have you ever lost in the Olympics? My mom was the world champion in Judo and she was the first American to ever do it and I had my shot to be like my mom [at] the world championships in Judo and I lost. It feels like dying to me. I’d rather die,” she said on Showtime recently. It isn’t just her drive and record that set Ronda apart. She’s Drama Queen. Known as a polarizing figure, you love this villain or hate her. And people don’t want you staying at the top, not when the world is your footstool.

So what happened with her and Sara?

It was vicious from the get-go. No feeling each other out, as I’ve seen with 170 pounds of male muscle. Sara gave Ronda a run for her money but in a sudden turn of events went down in the fastest knockout in history. After throwing a series of ground strikes, Ronda kneed her in the liver. Sara just went limp and the referee called it out to keep her from further injury. The glare Ronda had painted on broke into a sweet smile of exultation and Sara looked to be holding back tears. Female tears. The fighting wasn’t over; she had to stonewall the tenderness that makes her a woman, in a cage (we call the octagon) no less. Sara managed to compose herself and answered into the mike with clear answers and a smile. It was her own fault: “I should’ve gotten off the cage [wall] faster. I wouldn’t have gotten kneed.” Excuses are lame and owning up is noble but — an apology? I’ve not watched that many men fight but have yet to hear them apologize for losing.

It was an interesting, puzzling end to a cliff-hanger of a fight. How we handle defeat and aching disappointment. While my own sense of fulfillment grows from the things I labor over successfully, my sense of worth is not tied up in what I can and cannot achieve. At the same time, what’s hair-raising about a high-profile competition is you win all or lose all. Whether you miss by a hairsbreadth or a freefall, you staked everything and that is what you feel you’ve lost. Where does our fear of not measuring up come from? Did your upbringing feed your need to prove yourself? The commentator said, “There’s a big difference between wanting and needing to win.” Your thoughts?

92 thoughts on “Well, What If You’re Not Good Enough?

  1. so many thoughts: 2nd place is first loser; everyone’s a winner…. so many clichés. I don’t know, Diana. Hindsight is 20/20. You do your best. It might not be the best of the person who bested you, but you do the absolute best you can. If you don’t ‘win’ (a word I dislike the more I write it), you learn from it. Hopefully, you take it and learn from it.

    • Yeah, many thoughts is right. The thing is, in high-stake competitions like MMA, and ones where the world is watching, 2nd place is last. I continue to watch, enthralled and intrigued, these fighters who lay it all on the line and chase that title with blood pouring into their eye. They’re crazy – but you don’t get a trophy for no reason. It’s a question I keep circling.

  2. I see winning/losing/victory/defeat not as a single event, but as a process, and sometimes the prize is one that doesn’t matter to anybody else. Having a good relationship with your child, for example. It wouldn’t matter to other people, but I fight for it because I value it. It’s got good days and bad days, ups and downs. Win one day, lose another. But the person who stops trying, that person has no chance of ever getting it right. That’s how I see it anyway.

    • Love the process. The thing is, in structured competitions, that process has a time limit – and a title or prize at the end. Or not.

      But the person who stops trying, that person has no chance of ever getting it right.

      Well said, N.

      • I love process too. I think it also applies to competitions, if there are a string or series of them. But then, Eminem said it, “You got one chance, one shot to give it all you got.” thankfully, most of us have more tho.

      • Right, it’s not only the killer discipline but the psychology behind the years they train for the one shot that fascinates me. And yeah ha ha it’s nice that the rest of us enjoy second, third, eighty chances.

  3. Growing up, I was a swimmer on an age group swim team and, later, high school. Later in life, I became a coach of an age group swim team. Sara did exactly what my coach (my father) taught me and what I later taught my swimmers. She self-analyzed. She figured out what she did wrong, and has no doubt spent oodles of time in the gym working it out, working hard to make her best better. That is the ultimate goal, to keep striving and building upon accomplishments, and never, ever settling or becoming complacent. One may not always win, but one can always become better.

  4. For myself, I really don’t understand competing against other people, and certainly not in a public arena. I understand doing the best I can at whatever I’m doing – aiming for it, if not achieving it. Entering a contest is not only about the combatants either – it’s more about all the vested interest that’s stacked up behind them. It is part of the entertainment business after all, irrespective of the participants’ great sporting talent. I can, however, well understand an athlete’s moment of glory, but to think you have lost because you come second in such a contest seems so self-destructive. To win a gold medal is marvellous, but where in the end does it take you? Next you have to defend it. Then finally you will lose to someone else. If this process makes you a more enlightened human, then fair enough, but winning for winning’s sake seems ultimately rather empty to me. I think this is probably a very English perspective, Diana 🙂

    • Ha ha ha I love the deconstruction by your Brit Brain. You sure make a tempting case that the fighters are wasting their life LOL. Seriously, you stripped it down well. I find myself feeling about on this tightrope of a question on achievement because on one hand you rightly have what you spelled out so rationally and on the other, the awe-inspiring law of nature that competition with another human being really amounts to competition with yourself. And that trophy is motivation to dig more deeply into yourself than you thought possible. Maybe that’s a more American and Asian perspective. An insane one, I admit. =)

  5. I have a lot of friend that into MMA and I don’t think I’ve even heard of this girls name, I’ve heard of Ronda a lot though. Which I find extremely said, I wonder how many of them talk about her just because she was the number one female in the world.
    How said though Sara McMan think she’s not good enough because she came second…Second in the world! That’s pretty darn good I think!

    • You’re right. =) “Second in the world! That’s pretty darn good I think!” It’s so interesting, the perspective we take on in a certain (game/sports/competition) culture. Ronda would literally die than come in second (she said of a fight that she realized she’d rather her neck snap that moment than lose). An Olympic medal wasn’t good enough for her bc it wasn’t the world championship.

      BUT….THIS madness is the stuff of champions and I am drawn like a bird to nectar or one drunk with an addictive elixir. These guys and girls are pushing themselves, their seLF, their body, their muscle, mind, will to the hilt, daring themselves to give out in the exhausting exploration of what it means to live, achieve, and be human.

  6. That’s an interesting take on this!
    As for my opinion I think results matter but its the path to the end that matters more. If it wasn’t the back story of Ronda and Sara I don’t think you would have watched the match either.

  7. Perspective is interesting because I’m certain that the majority of British people would view the American psyche as being “1st is the only worthy outcome” and we view our own plucky shouts of “as long as you did your best” as our delusional dream.
    I know that one of my heroes the American the 200m and 400m legend Michael Johnson said something along the lines of “2nd is the same as 6th, 7th or 8th they all mean that you lost”

    Excellent article as always Diana, very thought provoking.

    • Hey, thanks for piping in and adding to Tish. So this really is interesting to see you Brits do think differently. Oh, the things you guys teach me.

      And yes, MJ’s take on 2nd place is what I’ve been talking about. It’s the same as last place when it’s you and the one other opponent in your way.

      I’m fascinated with how we live this out in our own way, our smaller scale. You experience shades of it as a student – depending on how hard you tackle those books and the honors – you face it as a parent as you wonder how much you ought to push your precious little. We face it at work.

      Love having you here, buddy.

  8. To hold yourself or anyone to that standard is crushing. Yes “Everyone is winner” is lame. A famous football coach once said, “…it’s not so much as the victory, but the magnificence of the struggle….” That’s the way I feel about. I wrote about it…What if your best isn’t good enough. All I worry about these days…after my 40th birthday is to be better than myself each day. Less drama. Mostly.

  9. I love to watch Rousey fight. Her armbar is unstoppable and now that she’s adding some competent striking to her arsenal she is very much ahead of any competition. Her drive to win is without equal. But she is, for the most part, an emotionally stunted human being. Perpetually unhappy with an ability to manufacture slights and resentments that have fans scratching their heads. Rousey’s mother talks about grooming her from childhood to succeed and frankly it sounds like a shitty existence and perhaps someone with a stronger ming could have obsorbed this without becoming a bit of a monster and bully. I felt that her fight with McMann was stopped early and I would really like to see a rematch. I look forward to Rousey being defeated as I think she is poor embassador for the sport. Too much thug and not enough intellect.

  10. Welcome back Diana! I had wondered where the deep thinker and questioner of life had gone. As to this topic, I don’t seem to have that competitive drive or at least have let it go fallow. I used to pursue excellence in school and work, but ultimately found it a very shallow victory that never gave a lasting sense of satisfaction, so I stopped pursuing outer success and began the inner journey, which has turned out to be just as illusive and frustrating. What seems to be left is learning to love myself, accept what is and develop my capacity to give, love and be present to life. Check back in 10 years and we’ll see how this turns out! 🙂

    • Ha ha ha. I was well aware it was time for a deep post. So nice you know me, B. So I put it out in the nick of time, as you were about to unfollow. Ha ha. Secret: how far I run between such posts is the measure of the wind gusts of tiredness and homeschooling this side of the blog. =)

      Don’t mean to make you feel like a lab rat but I can’t help find this interesting: “turned out to be just as illusive and frustrating.” Well, you’re right. The last thing you want to do is top it all off with self-deprecation! I don’t think the pursuit of excellence in studies, work, or art has to be a hollow victory, I think it’s why and how we go about it.

      Two decades post-college (goodness, I feel ancient), I find no one asks what school I went to or what degrees I have. I think it’s in part how the West Coast doesn’t care as they do in parts like NYC. More significantly, how insanely hard I worked before and after undergrad and grad, and my master’s in education almost don’t matter. Do and don’t because though people (outside LinkedIn) don’t care about my résumé, all those experiences come to bear on the ways I parent and serve as T’s teacher and principal. No greater reward, I’d say.

      In the last book of the Bible that I know is not among your guiding texts, it shows us a circle of elders casting down their crowns before the Lamb of God in heaven. We are a mist. These trophies we will have to lay down one day. And yet our days matter. Life is such a puzzle.

      I hope this comment earned points as a deep minipost. LOL

      • OK, you win bonus points! 🙂 I’m not sure I understand your point. Yes life is a puzzle and often paradoxical. I have a faith of sorts, it’s just rather vague and inclusive. I’ve read the Bible and it touched me deeply, though I don’t believe it all literally. I also believe in the sacredness of all life and many paths to God.

        All I really “know” is that loving others and myself feels good and right. I try to be open to life and growth and wisdom wherever I find it.

        But do I have a lasting sense of peace, trust or purpose? No.
        The journey continues…

      • I didn’t have a fixed point, was just pointing out the pieces of the puzzle. But I think I got the points for puzzling you with the mystery and sounding deep LOL.


  11. Frankly I detest competitiveness. Love watching excellence, especially in highly skilled, individual activities. Love the burn I get from striving to excel, and the joy of succeeding in accomplishing a goal. But when you judge your own self-worth based on what other people achieve, that makes no sense to me. I think having the freedom to fail, the freedom to step back from the mountain and choose to change direction, is essential to a rich and balanced life. It’s key to learning and growing. And it makes me really, really sad to see uber-competitive parents smacking the joy out of their children by demanding a win instead of letting them get out there and simply love what they’re doing. Personal context: my daughter is a horsewoman who probably could have “gone far” but instead chose a different direction for her life and now rides occasionally for pleasure. When she was a child taking part in gymkhanas (games on horseback), it horrified me how often I saw parents screaming at their kids, threatening to take away their expensive ponies, because they dropped the potato in the damn potato race. Really?

  12. Dear D:

    I think the drive to be the best comes from a combination of genetics, how you were raised, your environment and past trauma. I think people who had rough upbringings tend to ponder over stuff more “to plumb the depths of the human heart” (Mary Karr, I think) and analyze mistakes so they are not repeated. That tendency to constantly improve is drilled in early by influencers, but if the opportunities to excel in whatever activity it is are not there, then someone who could have been a pro wrestler will not be (think Gladwell.) Similarly, the person has to be receptive to this pressure and opportunities in order to excel, and that receptiveness can be brought about by trauma or just a competitive personality.


    • Nice summation, Elizabeth. That was a mouthful. =) Another way to put what you say on those who’re reacting to trauma is we can be running toward success or running from failure. And I love your pointing out the receptivity factor. Obviously we go by that, with our kids. Thanks for the insights. =)

  13. It’s a challenge when one is not a competitor, which I never was. I do, however, appreciate competitiveness in others. Perhaps, it’s in how we are wired, and what our life experiences have taught us. Plus, I think working for years with developmentally disabled adults gave me a different perspective; victory was counted in the maximum effort, and ones heart was the measure of a true champion.

    • Yes, it is my appreciation for the drive that sets these people apart that leads me to write about them. And absolutely, your rich experiences would lend an invaluable perspective, one we all could use. I’m reminded of a video my friend shared once of her autistic teenage son who bit the bullet and finished a race. The heat, the noise had confused and bothered him. He came in last but I teared up to see him having won that day. He didn’t give up. It was awe-inspiring and he put many of us to shame for giving into our appetites and fair-weather winds.

  14. Hmmm. Interesting.

    After reading this post, I know I frustrated many because I never understood the exhilaration of competition. It is so exhausting and I find no thrill in beating down a component or getting over someone. So what does that really prove? That you are bigger, better, faster and stronger? Meh, on a comparative scale or standard, we will all find ourselves wanting. Apart from the motivation of money, I don’t get it. I run in one lane for one team and that is “Team Cheetah.”

  15. Well, most Americans today are not products of he Agrarian Work Ethic. Most of the younger ones I know are satisfied with an 11th place ribbon in a swimming competition that only had 12 swimmers. Why is that? They have been trained to think they are all successful as long as the coach buys everyone pizza and Coke after the swim. Try this link for a bit of humor and comfort too.

    Aren’t you glad to know a few of us are still “Korean” in our thinking? At least the speaker is. Desire to achieve might be a birthright or it just might be training. I can’t help thinking of our younger son and his goals as a child. He is Asian born and we prepared him from an early age to reconcile himself to being shorter than the average. Our philosophy was that if he grew taller he could thumb his nose at us later.

    Each year on birthdays we measured the kids height (not anything they can control–right?). That was our tradition. He was only 13 months older than his Sri Lanka born sister, but she was Caucasian and generally on the tall side. Each time we measured he stretched up to his full height, even if he had to tip toe. Instinctively he feared he might be equal to or shorter one year. We waited and watched. Sure enough the Lord blessed him to be quite tall and he never did have to hang his head in shame because a younger sibling passed him.

    Not everyone can succeed. I could never be an architect like my elder brother, but that does not bother me. I can paint, but drawing is not my forte’. We work with our limitations and don’t let them get us down. We find some area where we can taste success. It is sweet like a honeycomb.

  16. Winning is OK I guess. The problem for me is that in dominant culture not winning often brings shame. It is as if winning were everything. You could not repeat your mother’s accomplishment. yet you did your best. That is enough.

  17. What is our value? How do we determine our worth? For me, the simple answer is–we haven’t any–we are worthless, meaningless creatures that swarm the face of the earth, a tiny ball of dirt in a very large universe–not that there’s anything wrong with that–and not that there’s anything we can do to change that. But, since we all have to do something with ourselves to pass the time, it makes sense that we get caught up in wrestling matches, olympic competitions, keeping up with the Joneses, earning a pile of money, and generally comparing ourselves to each other. It’s meaninglessness is made up for by in the happiness it gives us to think that we matter, that our rank in the standings has some absolute meaning. But you have to expect comments like this when you’re being ‘followed’ by an Eeyore-like creature such as myself….

    • Well, Eeyore, I will venture to say you don’t entirely believe we are worth nothing. If you did, you would not mind if I came over and did an MMA move on you, unsolicited, and sent you to the hospital. We mean nothing. You don’t deserve respect. I don’t deserve censure. There are no values.


      • Mind? Why would I mind? I’ve been to the hospital. It’s ok, but the food sucks. You could outright kill me–it still wouldn’t give either of us the slightest meaning or importance. We have to make up our values–but perhaps we cling to them all the tighter for just that reason..

  18. Hmmm. It’s like when my daughter exclaimed today, “Brothers don’t like Dora!” I “shouted” back, “So what? Do you like Dora?” She looked puzzled for a moment and then went back to her school work. I want her to intentionally live outside mankind’s arbitrary standards. There really is only One opinion that truly matters. The world doesn’t believe that and I shouldn’t expect them to, but I won’t conform as if I don’t know better.

    Thanks for letting me toss around the thoughts in that mind of yours! 😉

  19. When your moment comes you have to TAKE it. Rousey has no fear of TAKING it every time. One of the key distinctions in a champion. Thank you for the discussion, HW.

  20. Never was much of a competitor myself except for when it came to beating the odds. If one were to look at the statistics based upon my upbringing I should be living a totally different life and not in a good way. Being a believer that anything is possible I changed my odds. Some might say I’m a survivor and that may be partially true but I think it was the challenge of wanting more for myself and proving the “powers that be” wrong.

    Is there a sense of pride in my achievements? Perhaps but for me it’s more important that my sons were able to start from a better place than I was. Being in my 5th decade of life things that seemed important long ago are no longer relevant.

    I intentionally try not to play the comparison game because I just want to be content in who I am. This doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with the issue, I do, but then I look back to see where I came from and once again I feel centered.

  21. Competition seems unreal. No matter what you achieve, someone will come along and do it better, if not tomorrow, then in the next generation. Some personalities are born setting goals either in competition with others or with themselves. They don’t detour. But some of us simply search out of inborn curiosity, others dance,sing or play something in a celebration of joy, others delight in seeking pleasure, beauty, or relationships, while others use their talents for the sheer fun of it, and some work at something that appears to make the world a bit better for a moment, while knowing that for every disease we cure, world hunger we defeat, problem we solve, there will come another disease, another famine and another problem. It seems to me in the light of the seeming infinity of the universe and the possibility of eternity, one makes as much sense as any other, particularly if done with respect for others’ journeys.

    • What a touching, rich post you wrote here, Eileen. =) That’s why it’s so fascinating watching dragons like Ronda. They don’t detour and it’s interesting to see that better fighter hasn’t come along yet. As I said to Writing to Freedom here, we are a mist indeed. And yet we strive so, struggle for the fullest experiences of all the colors we can taste – even if it means our own blood.

  22. I like to do my very best, there’s no doubt. If something’s worth doing it’s worth doing well, my mother used to tell me. But this high stakes competition thing, where you train and sacrifice and suffer so that you can win or not win – well, I’ll be honest – I just don’t get it.

  23. Whenever I watch a competition like the Olympics, I always find myself wondering about those competitors who are destined never to win, always to be those outside of the medals. And I consider how that must feel and why they continue to compete. I’ve always had that sense of needing to achieve and I read a quote recently about ‘only children’ that suggested to me that perhaps that’s a part of it for me – you’re the only child so you have to be good enough because there isn’t another child to take the pressure off and be the achiever. As others have said above, I do think culture plays a role – striving to win does seem to be more of an American value than an English one. I’ve now got to the point in my life where I’m not seeking achievement – I don’t feel the need to be the best at everything 🙂

    • Well, yeah I can’t answer the ques on the Olympiads but it’s quite an accomplishment just to have made the cut, and perhaps the exhilaration of competing against the best – on a global platform at that – is enough for those people. Maybe some train beyond that experience to go for the gold later.

      That is an interesting take on only children. I have a special eye and concern for them since I have only one. And I’m really intrigued as to how you Brits became this way lol. We’re studying the American Revolution and how GReaT Britain once ruled the world and had the best navy and all – until the Americans broke away.

  24. You gave us something to think about there. It’s hard to take an impartial look at what motivates us to success. I can remember as a teenager fitting the image of a hard driving person who had to reach the top first. Doing that is brutal and people get hurt as you rise to the top as you’ve expertly illustrated. Fortunately I had a change of heart in my early 20s. There’s too much tragedy in the world and few to deal with it. I decided my personal goals could add to someone’s hurt along the way and decided to work with charitable organizations and take less salary as a means of keeping my selfish goals under control. It was hard! However looking back I see I’ve travelled the world just as the corporate achievers have, I’ve had enough to satisfy needs rather than wants and my children had a super education and are successful today. The best goal then as far as I’m concerned is the achievement of your personal best in whatever you do. Its actually fulfilling to train yourself out of a job and move on and as I’ve had the opportunity to teach in graduate schools to see your students grow intellectually and professionally. This was a good blog.

    • Ohoah, gave me chills. I would never have thought you would’ve been as you describe to have been in your 20s. That is amazing that you changed course like that. You had changed your heart foremost. What EXACTLY prompted you to rein in your “selfish goals”? You share the repercussions that loomed on the horizon but did you see or experience something compelling or painful to shift gears like that? Few in their 20s would do what you did. And look at the fruit, Ian, the sweetest being the holistic health and happiness of the next generation – students and your own children. I just love how you point out:

      “I decided my personal goals could add to someone’s hurt along the way”

      This is the tricky part of competitive sports, esp one-on-ones. In a field like MMA, you’re literally hurting someone before they hurt you. It’s crazy. But as I explored in the original MMA post I referenced (no need to chk out, and I actually think you already did), there is actually a beauty to it. I’m not speaking of the brutality. I’m speaking of the poetry in motion I see in the form and technique our coaches teach my son, the structure, flexibility, strategy, discipline, focus….it really is a complex art and world and even more so for the complexity of people.

      • I understand where you’re coming from on martial arts. Actually two of my grandchildren have been introduced to martial arts at a very young age, and at their age hold black belts. Of course that does not mean they could handle themselves against adults but they have the rudiments. True martial arts is about protecting yourself in a crisis and it is stressed by respected teachers that it should never be used to initiate a fight but rather to defend. I don’t know how many times in Korea I’ve taken inter city busses and the TV presentation is always martial arts. Often I’ve reached the other city before the movie finishes. lol. Martial arts is important in all the countries of North Asia. Why did my personal selfish goals change in my early twenties. I became a Christian. A Christian doesn’t become a weakling, it just means you have a change of perspective and how you impact the lives of others becomes very important. Its better to look back on a fulfilling life where you’ve been a contributor rather than know you’ve been a taker and created hurt in doing so.

  25. It is interesting how athletes (and lay folk) can reach such heights yet it can feel like not enough because it wasn’t quite the peak despite everything. I feel of so much success gets missed because it didn’t quite work out exactly as one hoped. I think to reach for success is admirable but i know for me I have to rewire how I relate to success and failure or it would drive me to distraction. A writing teacher of mine told me I should embrace failure as much as success because all that really meant is that I was stretching beyond what I already knew, trying something new, and fumbling into greater expansion.

    • Hey, I love this: “how I relate to success and failure.” You’re the first here to draw attention to this, a whole potential post in itself. You show me this relationship is what has intrigued me about high achievers. And those who’re not grounded in an identity that does not depend on the crown jewel they are chasing can and will often find themselves in a twisted dance with success and failure. And what a great teacher you had. Am branding that definition of failure into my brain.

      • 🙂
        The teacher, Jack Grapes, would qutoe Becket actually: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

        He said if you keep getting an A grade- chances you are are replicating a standard that already exists or something you already know or done before. When you fail you actually might not be failing you just might be growing and trying something knew.

      • Yes. When I get stuck in a place writing or a piece doesn’t come out quite the way I hoped- I get frustrated but then often find that the next piece is some sort of a breakthrough. I think it was the same teacher who talked about how for every masterpiece Beethoven created there would be three or four so so pieces in between. He pointed out that those pieces were necessary for B. to evolve his work so that the next masterpiece would come through. If he’d stopped cuz his music was so-so in the moment the masterpieces would have never happened.

  26. Here’s one of those areas where I’m practically the polar opposite of your subjects, darling D. The very thought of anything remotely competitive makes my innards seize up as though I had just, well, been kneed in the liver by an Olympian. I abhor confrontation and despise conflict. Needless to say, I was useless from Day One as a team member in any sport or game or even—*quelle horreur!*—in a perfectly civilized debate.

    What I do value is self-challenge and inner honesty about whether one is working toward or meeting that challenge. I’m not consistently good at that, either, but think I’m improving slightly with age. Yet I *am* stubborn and opinionated, and I know from experience that if I sense a genuine physical or psychological threat to anyone around me or see a grave injustice in progress, I will dash outside of my safe little zone of invisible comfort in defense. And the instant I think the situation is sufficiently defused, I will run like crazy to hide and nurse my own wounds, real or imagined.

    This post’s story is anthropologically and intellectually intriguing to me in a way that I imagine it would be to someone from another galaxy, and I can only understand it in those alien terms. But it sure did get my antennae twitching.

    Cheers, my sweet,


      You’ve got me in stitches, my dear little alien.
      “innards seize up as though I had just, well, been kneed in the liver by an Olympian” LOL!

      There’s a reason you’ve not lived in NYC. And don’t think about ever visiting Seoul. Koreans from the city are absolutely insane along the line of this discussion.

      From what I’ve gathered in interviewing fighters, the competition provides a way for them to compete with themselves. I’ve watched them dig more deeply than they’d thought possible to last another round, to focus, drown out the shouts of the crowd and their own voice crying to give up.

      Such craziness sure fascinates!

  27. interesting post. I recall a time when schools etc advanced non-competitive games. They never worked for me. I curl, and I curl to win. But when I lose, I remind myself that no children will suffer hunger because of my failure. It isn’t a deal breaker at any level. I mostly think competition snags us because it is simply an expression of that bit of us that had to kill or be killed in the Savannah etc. But it might also be the case that gaining that gold medal etc comes from a deep seated desire for immortality, which I suppose, isn’t so far removed from wanting to best the tiger in the forest. So maybe, we don’t fight to win, but we fight to live.

    • Simply LOVE this. From the immortality on.
      Because He set eternity in our hearts, yes? And I’ve always said that is why we hate goodbyes. We don’t like things ENDing. Excellent insights, A. Precious!


    • Right, the stakes are so high. It’s all or nothing. I like how you point out that you have no one to blame but yourself. Not that you necessarily have to BLAME yourself if you don’t win. THIS was the great question on the post. How athletes punish themselves.

My Two Gold Cents in the Holistic Treasury

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