At the deepest level, I hate losing.
But recently, I had a surprising revelation.
Over the past few months, I’ve been in the midst of some serious ping pong (yes, ping pong) tournaments at my work. Picture what you would expect from an office ping pong tournament. Now triple the intensity – that’s what I’ve been part of.
I’ve played against engineers from around the world – China, India, Germany, Italy, Spain, you name it. And in the first two tournaments, it was apparent that my game wasn’t where it needed to be if I wanted to compete. I was able to beat one or two lower-level opponents each tournament, but I was quickly eliminated as soon as I started playing the better players.
Honestly, I’ve never given ping pong much thought. I’ve played here and there with my friends, but I’ve never taken the time to really learn how to play well.
But my performance at work was really bothering me. I couldn’t stand that I was losing.
So I decided that I had had enough. I found a sparring partner who was significantly better than me, and started working on my game. I fixed my previously atrocious backhand, developed a deadly forehand smash, and started to understand how to more effectively use different spins and ball placement to throw off my opponents.
In just a couple of weeks, I could tell that I was significantly improving.
So when the latest tournament kicked off last week, I was ready. My first round draw was someone who had been much more successful than me in the first two tournaments – someone who definitely expected to win when he saw me on his schedule.
But thanks to the work I had been putting in, I took it to him 4-1 in the best of seven series.
I was thrilled. My work was obviously paying off.
But the celebration ended quickly when I saw my second round draw. I had to play the two-time champ – a guy who hadn’t dropped a match all year, and whose backhand was a spitting image of Roger Federer.
I knew this was going to be the real test to see just how far I had come.
And it was a reality check. I lost. 4-1.
On paper, it looked bad. But there’s more to it than the score.
First, I was glad that I wasn’t shut-out. If I had played this guy a month ago, I would have lost 4-0. No question.
But even more encouraging was the fact that I lost three of the games by the smallest possible margin, and I was leading late in two of them. I had a real chance to win.
Sure it was apparent that he was better than me, but I was right there. I had the opportunity to pull out the shocker.
And that’s when I noticed something strange. Part of me is actually glad that I lost that game.
I know this sounds ridiculous. But bear with me.
Through this process of improving my ping pong game, I’ve realized something about myself.
I enjoy the journey more than the destination.
When I look back on my life to this point, I’ve realized that it’s always been about the journey for me.
Reflecting on my years playing competitive sports, it’s the improvement process that I miss the most. I miss the countless hours I spent on my driveway fine-tuning my basketball game. I miss the long practices with my buddies on the football field.
My favorite part about my football team during my senior year wasn’t the district championship we won, it was the journey to that championship. We started as an underwhelming group of guys who were barely scrapping by inferior opponents. Then we lost to one of our rivals. We hit a low just a few weeks into a season.
But we recovered, and developed as a team in a way that I could’ve never imagined. It was magical.
It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of.
And this mindset extends off the field too.
I enjoy learning a new song on piano much more than playing one that I already know. I love the process of trying to pick up a new skill like cooking, juggling, speaking German, etc.
When I was studying for an exam, I was never discouraged if I did poorly on the first practice exam, because I knew that the struggle wasn’t permanent. I knew I’d work day in and day out until I was ready to kill it when the real thing came around. And that I’d love every minute of it.
This ability to enjoy the journey might actually be one of my most useful traits.
Just about everything useful that I’ve done has started with a struggle. Whether it was learning new material for a class, training for a sport, picking up a new language, or starting a new job; failure often comes first.
If I only cared about the results, this could be crippling. But by embracing the journey, I’ve found the learning process to be exhilarating.
I’ve even seen this with Get the Most Out of High School. It’s taking much longer to gain traction that I had expected.
And to be completely honest, it’s frustrating.
But I know this is just part of the process. I know that I’m getting better every day. I’m learning how to provide more value and spread the word, and I’m having fun doing it.
And I’m confident that success is going to come, I just haven’t earned it yet.
So as I mentioned before, I’m actually grateful that I lost my ping pong game yesterday.
Sure, I want to win this tournament. I’m determined to be able to call myself the best player in the office someday.
But for now, I’m enjoying the climb.