I believe in the triumph of the loser. This may sound oxymoronic, but I have found that losers do triumph – providing an inspiring human exception to our Darwinian world.
This became clear to me one day as I watched a high school cross country team jogging through the streets. We’ve all seen this sweaty sight. First there are the true jocks, striding fluidly at the head of the pack. Then comes the string of mid-range runners, training hard to catch the leaders. Bringing up the rear are the ones who could barely be said to be running, huffing along with no hope of finishing first or, perhaps, of even finishing. Yet, on they run. They do it not to win, but simply to do.
Like those stragglers, most of us have only two choices – to play with no chance of becoming number one or to forever watch from the sidelines. And it is to the sidelines that so many of us self-protectively retreat. But not those determined plodders I saw on the sidewalk. Day after day, they give it their all, though it is never enough.
And they have become my role models.
We live in a culture that celebrates winners, but winners are freaks. For every player spraying champagne at the end of the World Series, there is another staring morosely at his cleats in the losers’ locker room, and hundreds more who didn’t make the playoffs, and thousands more stuck in the minors, and millions more whose skills peaked in T-ball.
But even for the few who win, victory is only momentary. Before long, the championship trophies become dusty reminders of abilities they no longer possess. Like everyone else, the most accomplished athletes – as well as the most powerful moguls and the most dazzling movie stars – must ultimately succumb to the gravity of time.
Which is why I am so smitten by those who bravely accept that they will only know the agony of defeat. I have spent chunks of my own life watching safely from the sidelines. Those struggling cross country runners move me to stop spectating and simply do. They demonstrate the value of putting one foot in front of the other on the way to our own personal finish lines.
More than the celebrities we celebrate, these losers lead the way in showing us how to compete in the game of life and, when the clock runs out, be triumphant.
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