You Win Some. You Learn Some.

Most people have heard the expression, you win some, you lose some.

Of course, it is only trotted out after a loss or failure, usually to make the loser feel better about their lack of success. 

Growing up in South Africa, we were strongly encouraged (a polite way of saying it was forced on us) to play sports. You had to select one summer and one winter sport to play at your school. Everyone within that sport was then evaluated for their skill level and assigned to a team. 

Over the course of many winters, I was on the Second Team Girl’s Field Hockey. Don’t let the rank fool you; we weren’t that good. I loved the running-around-and-yelling part, not so much the ball-flying-into-bony-shin part. Why was it hitting my shin? As I said, I wasn’t that good at the sport.

As the rest of the girls on the team all felt the same as me (and I was the captain, so you know how lacking-in-talent-and-enthusiasm the rest were!), we heard the, you win some, you lose some, saying more than a few times—usually by our doting mothers. 

Although the catchphrase never really bothered me, I always thought it sounded too absolute. Wasn’t there some mid-way point between dancing around joyously with a shiny trophy and dropping to the ground with tear-streaked faces?

Surely it wasn’t an either-or situation? Life couldn’t be a series of soaring triumphs or bitter losses; there had to be some middle ground.

Then, after Nelson Mandela was released, I heard one of his speeches during which he said: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” 

It was a lightbulb moment! This was the version I had needed to hear. I realized that for my field hockey team, every time we lost, we went to learn to play a bit better. We developed a better plan and better plays. We improved and even went on to win some games. And, I learned I preferred horse riding!

Years after President Mandela’s speech, I heard the adage, you win some, you learn some—and this is the one I repeated to my children. 

To me, this improved version imparts a certain resilience, a bounce-back quality; you may not have succeeded, but all is not lost. You learned something valuable. I’d remind them, failure was not a measure of their self-worth, just an opportunity to figure out a better way to do something.

Too often, societies laud the winners, the handful of people who make it to the top in their chosen field: the best singer, best baker, the wealthiest CEO. But, this implies if you are not up there with them, you have somehow failed and are destined to walk away empty-handed.

This is not true. Those who do lose—and often, lose over and over—usually develop their resilience muscle. 

They learn to become teachable. They do the work to find the lesson that will let them learn something from the experience. 

They work on their attitude. They learn to lose gracefully. They develop humility. They grow. 

They know firsthand that we grow more from our failures than our wins, and this empowers them.

As most of us move through adulthood, we realize that failure is more common than success. Even those who seem to sail along on an ocean of success have had years of less than successful experiences. 

No doubt, they heard the, you win some, you lose some adage. But, I like to think they went with, you win some, you learn some approach, which eventually led to their success.

I think the, you win some, you lose some saying, should be replaced with, you win some, you learn some. How much more empowering is it to see these losses as golden opportunities to learn? 

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