What if greatness is more about how you lose than how you win?
"It's frustrating not to execute, but at the same time I like having that weakness exposed because it gives me direction in what I need to work on." – Jordan Spieth
If you are going to set and pursue lofty goals, you are going to be faced with plenty of losses along the way. And where better to look for guidance on how to deal with failure than those who have achieved greatness? You can learn everything you need to know about winning from listening to the great ones talk about losing. Spieth’s quote captures the Mastery mindset beautifully - to be driven by a love for challenge and learning means that you will become intimately-acquainted with failure. The key separator will be how you frame that failure.
Let’s take a quick look at Jack Nicklaus, winner of the most major championships in the history of golf. But I’m not as interested in his wins as I am his losses. Try to wrap your head around Nicklaus' finishes in majors:
2nd-place: 19 times
3rd-place: 9 times
Top-5: 56 times (!)
So how does the most successful golfer ever view failure? I’m glad you asked:
"Your character comes through in golf. If you're pissed at the world the whole time, you really can't enjoy your wins, and in many ways you can't really understand the meaning of your defeats. To get beat is very healthy. Particularly when you've given your best effort. If you win every time, you don't learn anything. You don't learn anything about yourself. You don't learn anything about the other person. You don't learn anything about the game. You don't learn anything about life."
Shifting to basketball, let’s look at some of the greats. It wasn’t too long ago that Kobe Bryant became the NBA’s all-time leader in missed field goals. His take on the record provides further insight into the mindset of a 5-time NBA champion:
"You've got to step up and play, man. You can't worry about criticism. You can't worry about failure. You really can't worry about that stuff. You've got to go out and figure that out and play and do the best you can, and whatever happens, happens. You can't be held captive by the fear of failure or the fear of what people may say."
In fact, the list of players with the most missed shots of all time is also a list of the game’s greatest players. Names like Jordan, Havlicek, Malone, Abdul-Jabbar. Of course, these players missed a ton of shots because they played at an elite level for many years, but let's look deeper than that. You can only become great if you view the misses and losses as being filled with feedback and lessons. You can’t fear the feedback – you need to embrace it as an inevitable part of the path to mastery.
Could it be that for the most successful among us, what separates them from the rest, has more to do with losing than winning?
What would happen in your life if you were willing to risk big, meaningful things in your efforts to pursue greatness?
I can’t answer these questions definitively, but I can tell you that the way you view failure will determine your ceiling.
Don’t take it from me – take it from Jordan, Jack, and Kobe.