There are two kinds of people in this world. The first kind of people are the ones who don’t notice they lost. The second kind of people are the ones who are normal.
Scott likes to say that I am a wolf in sheep’s clothing when it comes to my competitive nature. It’s a well known fact that there is no such thing as a minor competition for Scott. If it’s a contest, he means to win. I’ve been very outspoken over the years about Scott’s overzealous competitive streak. I’ve even given him a few lively and convincing lectures on the subject.
It took Scott a while to figure out that I had a competitive streak of my own. He’s figured it out now. He’s really figured it out. He figured out that all my lively lectures were always given after he just beat me at ping pong, or tennis. I really HATE being beat. Especially by Scott.
Scott and I have raised competitive children. I’m not sure there was another possible outcome.
This weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about our family’s competitive nature. Our boys and some of their teammates competed in a national wrestling tournament against top wrestlers from states all over the country this past Saturday. There was some winning. There was some losing.
The boys have spent a lot of time improving their wrestling skills over the years. I’ve improved my skills too. I’ve improved my fan skills. Good fan skills take practice. Good fan skills require denying your primal instincts. When my boys wrestle, I have learned to resist the urge to draw attention to myself with high pitch screams (mostly). I don’t offer my boys nonsensical pointers like, “Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”, “Squeeze!”, or (my personal favorite I heard from a mom sitting in her heavyweight high school son’s corner, while watching her son attempt to pin his opponent), “Come to Mamma!!!” That one should get you kicked out of the gym.
I’ve learned to avoid these missteps. These missteps are not easy to avoid when adrenaline is causing your blood to crash through your veins, into your limbs, tricking your primal brain into believing you need to help your baby cub in a fight for his life.
Wrestling has taught me to master my frantic impulses; I’m becoming quite an impressive fake.
When my boys lost this weekend, I smiled. I said nice things. I talked about what we could learn, and how we can’t win them all. Then, I sat quietly, listening to my pulse beat furiously in my ears, and running through a string of cuss words in my head, while telling myself I couldn’t possibly HATE anything as much as I hated wrestling.
THAT is the beast you don’t let out.
I think the reason I thought I wasn’t competitive all those years, is because even though my brain gets hijacked by the beast, I recover quickly. I experience mental anguish after a loss, but the anguish is temporary.
At this weekend’s tournament, I was talking to another wrestler’s mom. This was her son’s first big tournament. He was excited to be a part of something so large. He wanted to do his best. He wasn’t expecting to win the tournament. This boy’s mom was telling me what she and her husband were observing about her son’s experience with this tournament.
This boy’s mom said she loved watching her son decide on his own to compete at this tournament. This tournament was not on any school calendar, and participation was voluntary. She told me that she and her husband took delight in hearing their son pull out of the driveway in the morning while it was still dark. He wanted to get some training in, and meet with more experienced wrestlers in the wrestling room, so those wrestlers could teach him things he didn’t know.
This mom said she felt so grateful that her son was choosing goals for himself, developing a plan for how to reach his goals, and following through with his plan to get there. This mom also told me she would never get tired of watching her son sit in his teammates’ corners, offering his help, and cheering for them. This mom’s son went 0 – 2 at the tournament, and then he was done. But, this mom asked me what more could she want for her son than all the maturity and personal development he was gaining through this experience.
As this mom was talking about her son’s experiences, she was starting to tear up; she was so moved. I got choked up just listening to her.
After the fiery burn of our sons’ losses died to a small flame, and then was extinguished completely, I started to think about our own lessons.
Like a lot of other young athletes, our boys have spent hours, days, weeks and years of their lives working towards their goals. A part of almost every day of their lives is devoted to making them better wrestlers. Their imaginations and private thoughts are consumed by dreams of what they plan to achieve. They don’t have what they want yet, but trying to get there fills their lives with meaning.
Losing is part of getting there.
Our boys were disappointed after their losses. By the following morning, the boys had more plans. They had fresh insight into what adjustments they could make, and an idea about how to make those adjustments. They have places they want to go.
I’m so grateful that the boys have places they want to go. I hope when they get there, they’ll think of NEW places they want to go. Because, I think trying to figure out how to get where you want to go is providing my family with more engagement with a meaningful life than they realize.
But they’re not entirely satisfied. And, I think a little dissatisfaction is good. I mean, not the kind of dissatisfaction that deflates our spirit. The kind of dissatisfaction that gets you up in the morning, making plans for how to be better than you were when you went to bed.
I can’t flip the off switch on our family’s competitive nature, any more than I can change the color of our eyes. We have to identify our competitiveness, embrace it, tame it, and use it to become our best selves. And, really, it’s so much fun. Like my wrestling mom friend, I don’t know what else I could ask for.