HEALTHY SUCCESS:  WHEN LOOSING MAKES US ALL WINNERS

Is that even possible? I mean everyone wants to win and the more you win the more addictive it becomes.  No one bats an eyelid to the addictive nature of winning, of striving to be at the top of your game all the time because, everyone either wants to be a winner or to be permanently associated with winners or people who come highly recommended by champions. In fact we’re all encouraged, urged, to win at life. So what am I even talking about here?

THE PITCH

Consider the story surrounding the death and funeral of late Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates captain Senzo Meyiwa.  At the time of his untimely death Meyiwa had earned six national caps playing for the country, a promising international career which started a year ago.

In the field of soccer he was considered a winner, someone who was flying the flag high for South Africa.  But  the story which made headlines, which captured the imagination of the nation, which literally had the country divided in two camps on Facebook and Twitter and even national newspapers, radio talk shows and news bulletins was neither his career as a footballer nor how he died: he was followed and shot and killed as if by hired hit-men.  The story which dominated national discussions was his marriage and extra-marital affairs. On one side the country supported Senzo’s long suffering wife, on the other  side the country supported Senzo’s publicly shattered mistress Kelly Khumalo. Tongues wagged until it emerged that Senzo and his wife were actually either separated or separating.   They were already living separate lives. The minister of sports and recreation came on national radio to honour Senzo and apologize on his behalf  saying “We all make decisions that those close to us may disagree with, but who is to judge, Senzo did what made him happy”.  President Jacob Zuma shared his sentiments in news bulletins with a special message meant to comfort the nation at a time of mourning.

Meyiwa was given a provincial state funeral which was broadcast live on national Television. Moses Mabida stadium was packed as if a soccer-match was underway.

LOOSING SIGHT OF THE GOAL

But his private life is what took centre stage. Simply because his private life was scandalous, better than the drama in two of South Africa’s most controversial and most watched soapies, Generations and Skeem Saam combined.  His mistress and sister were arrested and appeared in court for assaulting his estranged wife and were due to appear in court a day before Meyiwa  was buried.  Senzo for his part apologized a month ago, admitting that he and his wife of seven years had been living separate lives. He also  admitted that not telling his new girlfriend about being married was a mistake and he apologized to his fans.

But Meyiwa is not the only successful person whose personal life surpassed all the achievements they had made on the professional arena. We really don’t have to go too far for examples of this: – our very own Olympic medalist Oscar Prestorius is a leading international example of when winning defeats the purpose. When winning amounts to being a loser.  Cyclist Neil Armstrong is another example what winning at all costs and by any means necessary can do to a person and to those that love them. When that discipline and the single-minded, religious focus of achieving one single goal can lead to psychopathic behaviour or become unhealthy.  At each stage these winners – had to chip little parts of themselves away, to compromise  everything in service of their goal, in order to stand at the podium with their shiny trophies.  What they had lost in the process was their integrity. They have learned to be in control of everything in their lives so much so that they believed they could in some ways also  control others, or manipulate situations in order to win and while they succeeded for a time it was never sustainable. Perhaps Oscar thought if I can run and win a medal without legs then I can make people love me. It is  this  inability to lose or to see loss as a possible outcome, which destroys a winner.  It’s the inability to have limits, and see your own limitations that ruins even the best of intentions. Passion and Obsession from a distance can a look alike but they are two very, very different things. One comes from a place of love, of worthiness and security , nurturing of sharing and giving– Passion. While the other comes from a place of fear, insecurity and a need to control everyone and everything – Obsession. They are very close but the two  never actually touch.

THERE’S NO RUSH

Many years ago when I was young, I gained a very bad reputation in the office after I became completely obsessed with winning against a colleague on the opposing team during a night out bowling  – an office team building exercise.   I hadn’t dealt with the reasons why this particular person made me so uncomfortable or “got on my nerves” but subconsciously I was hungry for a chance to put her in her “place” so to speak by winning at all costs at the bowling game. The result of that is I ended up screaming and shouting  at my team mates urging them, pushing them to go faster and harder  against the other team, to such  an  extent that I ended up snatching a  bowling ball from one of them when it was not even my turn to play because they were not  “doing” it right  or winning in my opinion. I ruined the game for everyone.  Needless to say, no one wanted to go bowling with me afterwards, my team lost, and I turned out to look pretty ugly after the game. I later asked my boss why he put us on opposing sides when being in the same team with my office rival would have been a more strategic “team” building exercise, his response was “there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition”.  But I didn’t like what I saw in me. My competitive side had brought out the very worst in me. I was ashamed of myself and my behaviour and that team building exercise revealed a side of me I found repulsive. It revealed to me a person I never ever wanted to become or thought I could be. I learnt how a bit of healthy competition can become a bit toxic. That experience helped me to grow.

THE PURPOSE. WHAT DRIVES YOU?

As fate would have it, life brought the three of us together again to work under one roof a few years later.  My former boss and my former office rival and I, all working under the same team. By then I had dealt with the reasons why I behaved in that way. And they had nothing to do with her.  I was unhappy with where I was and she represented the kind of drive and passion for her own career development that I wished I had. She had the kind of influence over people (especially men) which I admired. Those things came naturally to her and I was angry with her because I didn’t have them.  I mean it’s not easy to admit that to yourself and let alone to  tell the world that I had allowed jealously, bitterness and anger, fear, a low self-esteem and a lack of love to take over me, cloud my judgment and make what could have been  a healthy, fun game into a nasty cat fight. It’s not easy to acknowledge my flaws, failures, but acknowledging them is what makes me human. My willingness to be vulnerable, to be weak, showed me that I was not perfect nor will I ever be. And that is fine because no else is perfect.  Being perfect is the grand illusion and trying to be a perfect person – who is never sad, disappointed, confused, lost, hurt, angry, jealous, insecure, unsure, or doesn’t know– to pretend that I don’t have these  feelings is what makes me hard, callous, angry, bitter and jealous. Facing these feelings and moving on from them is what makes me beautifully human. I had to learn to love myself for who I was, not who I hoped to be, wanted to be, or aspired to be.  I had to love me for me because no matter how hard I tried I could never ever be anyone else.  And more than that I  learnt that I could never complete another  person nor could another person complete me or make me happy.   I learnt that life is not a just black and white.   I can always try something else, find another way, I can start again. I can find what I am good at, I can use my skills in another way. I don’t have to be right. It’s ok to be wrong. I can learn from others, I can teach what I know. I can love again.

So that by the time she was giving me instructions to do this and that in office I was fine. By the time she was watching my work and sending me constructive feedback I could take it, I could listen to her, because she knew something I didn’t.  She could do something I couldn’t do and I  was grateful for that.  I was actually happy to have her on my side. I respected her, because I had learnt to respect myself. I accepted her for who she is but more importantly I had accepted myself for who I am and that has made all the difference. I also had to forgive myself for being so hard on myself and with others. While I admire who she is, her talent, value her work and strategic thinking, I didn’t want to be her. I was happy being me. She in turn recognized my strengths as a storyteller and gave me an opportunity to do a story close to my heart through her influence in the newsroom.  We worked together as a team and this brought-out a side of me that I was proud of. and happily surprised to see that we actually worked well together and our differences – the reason I didn’t like her became the reason I appreciated her and admired  her more.  I had so much fun I wanted to do it again and again Her strengths complimented my strengths, it was amazing to see how fear blinds us to our own gifts.   I had changed and I was happy with the person I had become.

THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES

The reason(s) I live my life, and why I continue do the work that I do have become much more important to me (than winning any prize). So that even when something looks good on paper or in words, or feels good,  but  goes against my principles, if it is not good for me or the collective or the bigger picture it is not something I am willing to do. Perhaps there’s another way of achieving the same goal  which causes less harm, to myself and others? There must be another way. It is true that I can not eat principles for supper and I am certainly not without my flaws,  I don’t know what I am doing on most days.  But for as long as I can sleep at night, for as long as I can look at myself in the mirror and smile,  I know I have already succeeded. And for as long as I am alive, there’s always an opportunity, always a chance to try again, to learn,to create, and finally to love over and over and over again.

NB:  With that said I am very happy to announce that I will be taking a holiday from blogging to attend to matters of the heart, love and family.

‘The art of living is neither careless drifting nor fearful clinging. It consists in being open and wholly receptive to each moment’ Alan Watts