Winning Isn’t Everything

[Note: This is the text of a speech I am currently delivering in competition for Toastmasters International. I hope you will enjoy reading it.]
3:17:12Creative Commons License Ludovic Bertron via Compfight
During the Zheng-Kai marathon in China, Kenyan runner Jacqueline Kiplimo saw a Chinese elite disabled athlete struggling to drink water. He had no forearms or hands with which to hold a water bottle. Jacqueline ran with him and helped him at all the water stations. This slowed her time, but she was still hoping she could make it up by the end of the stations. Jacqueline pushed hard for the final kilometers and she finished – second. Choosing to aid a fellow athlete cost her the win and the $10,000 cash prize. Since that race in 2010, it isn’t the winner everyone is talking about – it is Jacqueline and her unselfishness. Winning isn’t everything.

Winning isn’t everything? What an ironic concept in this competitive context. There is no thrill quite like being the winner, but that exhilaration is short lived, and the trophy soon gathers dust on the shelf. Yet, I have observed – and so have you – that a true winner is not necessarily one who comes in first or has the highest score at the end of the game. Could it be that our best and most important lessons are learned in situations where we don’t appear to win?

I was privileged to represent South Carolina in regional International Speech competition in Jacksonville, Florida. Just before the evening’s events, a sweet friend from our district handed me a card of encouragement signed by many friends and well-wishers. That thoughtful gesture bolstered my confidence and made me feel as though I was already a winner. I was third in the speaking order and left the platform feeling I had delivered the speech of a lifetime. After hearing the first two very good speakers, my son was thinking, “Mom is toast!” But welcoming me back to my seat with a big hug, he exclaimed, “Mom, you were awesome!” Wow! Winning the admiration of my son was better than anything!

After all 8 speeches were finished, so many from the audience rushed over to say how much they enjoyed the speech. One lady gave me a hug and said she would never forget the message. It was then I knew that whether or not I had won the contest, I had won the audience. This fact was further borne out when I was announced as the second place finisher. Disappointed, I whimpered to the trophy presenter, “but I wanted to win!” Upon turning to face the audience for the Kodak moment, I noticed the audience was standing and applauding. This did not register with me as unusual until later when a Past International Director commented that in all his years in Toastmasters, he had never seen a standing ovation for a second-place contestant. For a speaker, winning the audience is the bigger and “bestest” win of all.

Winning isn’t everything, but disappointment at not winning can be blinding and cause us to miss important life lessons. After a recent non-winning situation, I read a blog post by Michael Hyatt. He suggested handling losses in a positive manner not by asking “Why me?” but asking instead “What does this experience make possible?” Putting a positive spin on a difficult and even devastating situation helps us to heal more quickly and without any lingering bitterness. By making just that small paradigm shift, you could be someone’s Jacqueline Kiplimo.

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