I don’t know if it’s one of those Bostonian expressions, like wicked, but it was always an insult to be called a real winner. It meant you were actually a real loser. Now many people just hold up their fingers in an “L” formation over the forehead; that says it all. Kind of an ugly way of describing anyone, don’t you think?
There’s something, particularly in the male psyche, that chafes at the thought of losing. Many boys are told from an early age to be competitive and to win, win, win. They are trained to keep a mental list of attributes that would place them in that “winner” column, and to avoid anything that would shift them into the “loser” crowd. For most boys this means that being competitive and instinctively knowing how team sports are played are definite “winner” attributes.
By that definition I was a real winner. I have never had an instinct for team sports, nor had an interest in always winning. I often lived in my head. This meant that I first had to figure out how things were done and why they had to be done a certain way before I could buy into it.
No one, including gym instructors in school, ever explained the positions in basketball or football; they assumed all boys knew these things. Then there were the gymnastics, the yearly testing for athletic standards established under President Kennedy (including that damned soft-ball throw), and a whole half year of wrestling! God bless Mr. Odams, my gym instructor that year; he never picked me to wrestle and kept me from having to humiliate myself on the mat.
Baseball was easier for me to understand since the players were clearly associated with fixed positions. But asking me to catch those fly balls while in “outer” outfield (because no one trusted me to play closer infield), and then throwing them back a quarter of mile was equivalent to asking me to sprout wings and fly! Add to this my need to wear glasses since the age of 9 (made of real glass in those days) and I was definitely viewed as a loser.
Naturally I compensated by honing other skills and talents. I enjoyed playing the clarinet, academic subjects, drawing, and gardening. I focused on activities that would keep me away from teams and from being exposed as a “loser” to other boys. Yet I never quite shed the feeling of not measuring up. I found that boys turning into men had more subtle ways of labeling and playing one-upmanship, even in the seminary and priesthood, where you’d think otherwise.
Which brings me to Lance Armstrong. Clearly he had an overriding need to be thought a winner. In doing so he fostered a system of cheating to win, until it backfired. I hope he forever remains the poster boy of winning at any cost.
Now I’ve wiped the words winner and loser from my lexicon. I’ve replaced them with effective, integrated, whole, complete, valued, loved and powerful to describe who I am. Let others play their games. I’d rather live out my life purpose to change the world one person at a time, beginning with myself. There are only winners in that game!
Contact the Man’s Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org