Don’t Play to Win

Thought I’d get your attention with that title. Don’t play to win. That’s almost blasphemy!

This past weekend, I was involved in two amazing events: The Cap City Half Marathon and the Tremont Elementary Girl Scout Talent Show.

14,000 people participated in the half marathon. About 14 Girl Scouts participated in the talent show.

Notice I didn’t say “competed.” That’s because, honestly, there were only about 3 people in both events that really competed. The rest just participated.

Neither of these events is really about winning. Sure, there’s always some superhuman that can run a 2-minute mile and likes to rub it in all of our faces. And there’s always that one girl who would win American Idol if they let 9-year olds on the show.

But the rest of us, we do it for the fun. We do it for the thrill of putting ourselves out there. For the simple feeling of accomplishment when we push ourselves 13.1 miles or pick up that microphone and sing in front a crowd.

But what about work? What do you do that for? Do you play to win? Or do you do it for the fun, the thrill, the accomplishment?

Work is not about winning. 

Blasphemy again!

No, really. Work is not about winning. Well, for most of us it isn’t. There are those few that believe in their core that winning is everything. In grade school talent shows, they were the ones who cried when they won second place (and so did their parents). 

Let me float this out there and see what you think. Work is about doing something great. Being the best you can be at what you do. Pushing yourself to improve every day. Gaining satisfaction for putting yourself out there and giving it all you’ve got.

When you do that, work is not about winning. Work IS winning. Every Girl Scout who participated in the talent show BEAMED with satisfaction. Everyone who finished the half marathon BEAMED with pride. Ok, after they were done wheezing and grimacing and complaining about the pain in their knees they BEAMED with pride.

99% of the runners in the race, and I’d say 100% of the girls in the talent show COULD NOT HAVE CARED LESS about who won. Nor did they care that they obviously did not win.

I didn’t win the half marathon. In fact, I was in a fair amount of pain when I crossed the finish line. Heck, I didn’t even beat my previous half marathon time. But, dang it, I DID IT. I joined those 13,999 other nutjobs and ran the thing. I was technically competing against all of them, yet somehow I felt like we were all in it together, not separately trying to beat each other.

Those adorable Girl Scouts were the same way. Yelling, cheering, laughing, and supporting each other. Even the ones who clearly had no chance of being chosen “best in show.” Even though they didn’t all win, each one rocked the house with their effort and commitment.

This is not meant to be a “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” pep talks. Of COURSE it matters if you win or lose. Winning is more fun than losing. It’s true. I looked it up.

I’d just like to challenge you to think about what winning means to you. Does it mean making more money than the next guy? Does it mean having a bigger title? Corner office? Putting your competition out of business?

Or does it mean you went to work today and completely threw yourself into your work, collaborated with people you enjoy working with, overcame obstacles, and created the best (insert your product here) that you could create?

I believe if that’s what winning looks like to you, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else is behind you or in front of you in the race. You’re not out to beat them. You’re out to win YOUR race. To do the best you can do. To express YOUR talent fully in the talent show.

What’s great about business is that, while sometimes there is a clear market leader, there’s always room for multiple winners. Sometimes hundreds or thousands of winners. There’s always room for more greatness.

Don’t play to win. Play to be the best you can be. When you do, you won’t always come in first place, but you will win every time.  


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