Spending more than half of my life in and out of a locker room, one gets very used to sound of competition.
Sayings like, “failure is not an option” and “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” were common echoes in my upbringing. From one coach to the next, it was always about winning, getting better, playing your best, minimizing mistakes, practice makes perfect, etc., etc. It’s no wonder that I wanted to quit after losing my first soccer game in 4th grade or quitting during the 4th quarter of my first contact football game in 8th grade. I was convinced by others, that if we weren’t winning or if I wasn’t playing well, we were losers (or I was) and should concede. As I look back, all I remember about my playing days is that every coach I ever played for was obsessed with one thing – winning.
That is, except for one. My dad.
Frank Escobar Sr. never officially served as one of my coaches but I’m certainly convinced today, he taught me more about sports than any formal coach I ever had. You see, my dad had what we call growth mindset. A former junior college athlete himself, it wasn’t that he lacked competitive drive or a will to win, he simply had perspective. And, that perspective helped me find my balance and competitive spirit for years to come, even today.
I do consider myself competitive, even hyper-competitive at times. The difference is my competitiveness is not tied to winning, rather just competing. I went 0-10 my senior year in college and while most of my teammates (and coaches) were rather embarrassed of our performance, I didn’t seem to mind telling friends and family how my last hurrah in college football ended up. You see, I was just happy to have been playing college football. A 5-foot, 100-nothing pound little Mexican kid from Nowhere, California was just lucky to attend a college, let alone convince a college to pay for me to attend. This is how I kept perspective and as a result, didn’t allow an 0-10 final season discourage or distort my beliefs about who I was, what I was capable of, or what I should or shouldn’t pursue in my future. Call me uncaring, of low expectations, accepting of failure, and I’ll call me keeping perspective and exercising an attitude of learn from your mistakes and move forward.
Today, our American culture makes it difficult to accept a loss.
After all, we have to be the best at everything don’t we? Whether in finance, business, sports or education, America was built on competition, and not just competition but winning that competition. Now we strive to place our children in the best institutions, raise them in the best neighborhoods, give them the best advantages in life so that we can help them live the American dream – to be a winner. It is quite scary how we have become a society consumed with wining at all costs and accepting nothing less. This is all too evident in our material wealth, showroom lifestyles, and obsession with Facebook stalking the reality-show lives of the rich and famous.
I believe if we are to willing to win, we must accept failure as a part of that process. We must also accept that winning is up to one’s own interpretation and right to define. Where one may define winning as earning a 4-year college degree and entering their dream career, another not so far away might define winning as a stay-at-home parent committed to their child’s upbringing. I wish America, in all it’s diversity, would better accept that winning is as diverse in definition as the very social-fabric that clothes it. And where one may define a loss another defines it a win.
I choose to believe that losing is an important, necessary experience in life. And not just for the sake of winning but for the simple sake of living. I also believe that the more we teach our young one’s to lose, the more they’ll win at whatever it is they define as winning in life. In our after school sports league, RIZE, we constantly tell our coaches they should be hoping for a loss. Obviously, we get lots of blank stares and every now and then a good laugh. But the honesty in it all, is that when our students lose in the after school program, whether in a sports game or a dance competition or on a quiz, our staff “win” the opportunity to develop their grit, resiliency and growth mindset. The social-emotional skills and perspective that will help them deal with the real losses in life that will inevitably challenge them in their years to come.
Today, I couldn’t be more proud of my colleagues and our field for the wide embrace that we have given the act of failure. As odd as it may seem and indifferent to how I was raised (in the locker room), I do believe that my losses in life and work, have not only defined me, but have also helped me developed into the person of resiliency and persistence that I am today. For me, I truly believe that losing is the new winning.
For breakfast I had oatmeal, 2 pieces of wheat toast and glass of water.
Author Profile: @frankescobar