A Perspective on Winning and Losing

In a recent recap of the 2012 Wimbledon Andre Agassi acknowledged how winning his first and only title there (1991) felt more like relief than anything else. “For me,” he said, “winning Wimbledon didn’t seem to last nearly as long as losing did.

Having won two Senior World Championships myself I have to say I feel the same way. Neither win lasted very long. Why is this?

It is very difficult to hold onto an outcome alone. In Andre’s case, even the experience of winning Wimbledon didn’t fully match the turmoil he experienced along the way. The result, alone, felt somewhat empty in comparison. If winning the most coveted tennis event on the planet can’t last, or deliver some form of ecstacy, there must be other factors that matter equally or perhaps even more?

Another tennis star, Mats Wilander, had a similar experience. In 1988 when Wilander won his third Grandslam title in the same year and became No. 1 in the world he said, ” All my career I dreamed of being number one. But when I finally achieved it and the initial excitement wore off, I felt nothing. I had no sense of elation or pride. I was the World Champion, but so what? It got to the stage where I got more satisfaction out of cutting the grass than playing tennis.”

As I describe in my CD program, Fearless Tennis, In Wilander’s situation he felt disappointed once he arrived at the goal he had set early on. I believe he lost sight of the process along the way, the thrill of the battle in this quest and was grossly disappointed with the value he had placed on the outcome. Once he got there, I believe he began to feel the pressure of defending something he no longer believed in or could hold onto. He realized that the power he had placed in a ranking was actually empty. Also, clearly, Mats developed a very extrinsic form of motivation—based more on the outcome—rather than an intrinsic one—based on personal challenge, process and performance goals that go beyond outcome.

Regardless of your pursuit, it could be refreshing for you to learn how to savor and recognize the importance of the moments within the pursuit–the people you meet, the self-mastery and determination required every day to achieve that result. The joy can be expanded and last longer if you recognize that the path you have chosen has long-term value because you get to experience more of these moments. It is likely that you are successful because you actually like what you are doing (even if you have to search deeply for the reason you do like Agassi had to). While other people will likely focus on your achievements and be impressed by your ability to win or reach a particular level, this does not mean that you need to forget the more lasting and personally valuable internal traits that helped you get there and will propel you forward again.

To savor the experience, you must stop and look around while you are in it. Take extra time to appreciate those people you meet and the moments you have as you focus your attention on your goal. It may appear that winning is the only goal that matters but don’t be deceived. While it is true that we won’t be taking our trophies, titles or money with us in the future, it doesn’t make them irrelevant. It simply means that it would be wise to expand our view and find some gratitude in the endeavor that has caught our attention. And on this path, while pursuing and reaching our goals, perhaps we can experience more than just relief. From my perspective, this would be a real win-win.