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The Agony Of Victory

March 30, 2017

I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.
– Vince Lombardi

Ever watched the end of a marathon race? The runners have completed 26.2 miles. They are exhausted, but finally, after hours and hours, the goal is in sight. They stagger, sometimes crawl the last few yards and then feet and then inches, and when they finally cross the finish line, the goal that they have trained for months to achieve. . .they collapse. There’s no cheering. There’s no celebration. They simply stagger across the finish line and are happy it is over.

I’ve written a couple of books in my career. Each time, I started with great excitement. (For computer books, you get paid before you start writing it.) The process takes months. By the end, I’m slogging my way through. I’m writing new content, reviewing previous chapters and dreading that call from my editor asking where the next chapter is at. When I finally send in the last pages, there is no sense of elation. There is only a relief. I can finally stop running.

I’ve spent some time over the past week considering what it means to “win.” I’m a huge believer in win/win. If I can get what I want and you can get what you want, that’s the best solution for both of us. Just because I win doesn’t always mean you have to lose. However, sometimes it does. Sometimes it’s a direct competition, or it’s a test of wills.

I like playing the game Star Trek Attack Wing. Once a month I get together with some other players and we hold a competition. At the end of the night, after three rounds of games, someone is going to walk away as the overall winner. Last month, I was fortunate enough to be that guy. While it’s a game of chance, my win wasn’t entirely luck. I spent a lot of time practicing the scenario we were going to play that night.

The winner of the evening gets a free ship. Actually, I didn’t get a ship, I get a set of cards and tokens that represent a ship and I have to supply my own model. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t about the prize, it was about the competition. And at the end of the evening, as the clock ticked down on the last game, I realized that my weeks of planning and practice were going to pay off and I was going to win. I wasn’t exhausted. I didn’t stagger across the final “finish line” and collapse. I was excited! I acknowledged the hard fought game that my opponent had played, but I was thrilled that I had won the evening.

So, what’s the difference? When are we excited for a win and when do we simply want it to be over?

I’ve never played the lottery. (Mostly because I took statistics in college and don’t want to give away my money.) But, I have won things in a company raffle. And I can imagine what a lottery winner feels like. I’ve watched them. They are excited. They are estatic. They jump up and down. They scream out their excitement. It’s fun to watch.

The difference between the exhausted winner that Coach Lombardi refers to and the lotto winner jumping up and down on her couch is the amount of effort that went into the victory. I don’t know if I could run a marathon. I have bad knees. But, I’ve run a 10K and by the end, I nearly wanted to die. Finishing was the victory and it took all of my energy to get to the finish line. I had none left for a celebration.

Statistically, five years after winning the lottery, most people are broke. They didn’t have to earn the money, so they don’t really know how to manage it. And in a funny way, they don’t value it. Thomas Paine said, “What is too cheaply optained is too lightly esteemed.”

My books have been out of print for decades. But, I still keep a copy on my bookshelf at home. I know that the software products I was writing about haven’t been used since the 20th Century ended. But, still, I look at it and think, “I once did a really hard thing.”

This week, some changes happened at work. They are changes that I’ve looked forward to, and worked toward for many months. In fact, the stress over the past year was leading up to this week and was making me physically ill. Then we made a change and all that stress went away. I crossed a metaphorical finish line and finally could sit down. I thought about Vince Lombardi’s quote. I thought about winning the lottery. I realized that I didn’t have a feeling of elation. I wasn’t pumping my fist in the air in triumph. I simply slept the first peaceful night’s sleep in ages. I stopped hoarding every email to ensure I had documentation for my actions. I relaxed. I took a deep breath.

And then I went back to work.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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