Matt Perryman

What if winning really is everything?

By Matt Perryman

The quote, which you’ve likely seen before, goes like this:

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

The saying is often attributed to Vince Lombardi, the highly successful coach of the Packers back in the 1960s, though word on the fact-checking street has it that Lombardi got it from UCLA coach Red Sanders.

Whoever said it, this pithy line is ripe for MISS interpretation.

It sounds like something that a sore loser might say. One of those win-or-die tough guys who builds his whole identity around stomping the competition. The kind of guy whose life implodes when he doesn’t score four touchdowns in one game.

Did you know that the ancient Greeks thought Ares, their god of war and blind aggression, was a bit of an ogre? Athena, who represents wisdom and cunning in the arts of war, brought intelligence to battle — and often ended up the winner over the bloodthirst of the men in Ares’s grip.

Coach Sanders’s quote might sound like a prayer to bloody Ares. That’s one reading. I don’t agree with it.

Vince Lombardi reportedly told James Michener in an interview that the quote really went like this:

“Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.”

Now that’s better.

We’ve gone from a mindless desire to stomp out the other guy at any cost, to a personal, inner-directed goal. Striving to win. Aspiring to win. Expecting to win.

Whether you actually do stomp out the other guy is not so important.

What matters is that your inner character, conviction, and commitment aims at the target of victory.

I like that. Much more Athena than Ares.

Fear of losing comes from staking your ego on victory in a contest.

To be someone you must have that win. It becomes an existential crisis, based in possessiveness and plain greed.

When winning is the will to win, nobody can take that from you. You don’t take it from someone else. You don’t fear losing because winning is what you do, not what you acquire.

Matt Perryman

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