All of us want to ‘win.’ To be seen as ‘winners.’
While some of us are more competitive than others, I believe that we each desire to ‘win’ in whatever pursuits we undertake.
But how do you actually define winning?
Is there a measurable result that you have to attain?
Or is it a state of being?
Lately, I have had some experiences that have made me reassess my view on winning.
For the past five years of my life, I have been pursuing a particular type of winning.
I’ve been competing each year to win the title of World Champion of Public Speaking for Toastmasters.
Ever since I joined Toastmasters to improve my speaking skills, I have been winning in small ways. After my first speech, I won ‘best speaker’ of the day. Next, I won a humorous speech contest.
Once I heard there was such a thing as a ‘World Champion of Public Speaking’ I decided I would win that title.
The desire to win has caused me a lot of heartaches. A lot of losses. A lot of wanting to quit. Still, despite this, I have persisted for five years in my attempt to win.
But this year, as I entered the contest for the 5th time, I had a different reason for being there.
Last year in August, my dear friend and mentor Cindy Carpenter passed away after a long battle with cancer. She was the person who kept encouraging to speak and to go for my goals. Cindy and I were co-competitors and shared the dream to make it to the finals of the World Championships.
When Cindy passed, I spoke at her memorial. It was an incredibly emotional experience, and that day, I made a promise to myself and Cindy that when I reached the finals of the World Championships, I would share a speech that would honor her.
Of course, to make it to the finals, I had to win six levels of the speech contest. I had to compete against other speakers and place first each time. The desire to win each of those levels was incredibly strong, and I was more determined than ever.
And I’m glad to report that I was able to do it. From February this year until August, I practiced almost every day and worked obsessively to create my speeches.
Last month on August 22nd, I competed at the Semi-Final level and was awarded one of the three winning places. This win gave me a chance to speak in the finals of the World Championships and to share my speech for Cindy.
Two days later, on August 24th, I competed in the World Championships. For five years, I had kept the goal of becoming a World Champion, and now I was incredibly close to achieving it.
But in those last few moments, before I walked on stage, something happened.
The reality of what I was about to do and the memories of my dear friend caused me to become incredibly emotional. I almost started crying behind the stage before I went on to speak.
I somehow held it together long enough to deliver my speech, and even though I faltered slightly, I felt that I gave a great tribute to my friend. I was able to help her achieve her dream.
But in doing so, I effectively forfeited my chance of winning the contest. My mentors had warned me for months that delivering a speech like this in the World Championships was a risk. The tone of the speech was not a winner.
That day, I didn’t win the World Championship of Public Speaking.
But for maybe the first time in my life, ‘winning’ didn’t actually matter.
I walked away from the World Championships this year knowing I had won in my own way.
I had done something special for a dear friend, and something that I will be proud of for the rest of my life.
Since then, my perspective about what it means to win has started to shift. My desire to be the best at everything, and to effectively beat everyone else has started to fade.
I can now see that each of us must win in our own way in life. We must choose what matters most to us, and pursue it for our own reasons. Staying true to what we want is the ultimate form of winning.
Life is full of achievements. Some are big; some are small. Some mean nothing to anybody else.
No matter what anybody else tells you, you must continue to win in your own way.
That is what makes you feel alive.