O’s Success Tips: You Don’t Have To Be #1 to Succeed

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I had waited years for this, a chance to compete in the district level speech competition. All that stood between my dream and I were the judges. But yet I was confident. I had just delivered a hilarious, albeit heart-wrenching, speech that was so well received that even the other contestants were congratulating me. I could already envision myself advancing to the next stage of the contest. “What will I wear?” “How will I stand?” “And what will I talk about?” I pondered. My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the loud sound of a gavel crashing onto a wooden table. It was time for the big announcement. The tension in the air was palpable and I could feel the sweat rolling down the unseen crests of my body…

The contest chair began reading the results “Coming in third and representing the South Houston Club, Mark Spitz.” The whole crowd applauded, it was exactly as I had predicted. “And in second place, representing the Project Management Club of Houston, Matt Simmons.” I was elated; surely I was going to win the competition. “In first place, representing Division C at the district level…” I had already begun pulling myself off my seat when I heard an unfamiliar set of words “Steve Kinney.” The audience responded immediately, exploding into a frenzy of loud applause. I remained motionless in my chair, consumed by my disappointment and abject shock. The same thoughts swirled incessantly in my head “Why didn’t I win?” The more I reflected, the angrier I became. Suddenly I leapt off my chair and charged out of the room, squeezing past the swarm of people already gathered around the contest winners. Muttering the words “I was robbed” over and over.

For the next few days, I teetered between bouts of anger and depression over the contest results. This was probably the same type of anger that plagued NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, as he catapulted off the face of the earth at over 24,000 miles per hour. A speed that was necessary to break the earth’s gravitational force field and one that also puts an astronaut’s body under immense loading. With forces so extreme that they cause the human body to compress and move blood away from the brain resulting in potential Hypoxia. The initial symptoms of Hypoxia are limited vision, followed by tunnel-vision and then a complete loss of sight, which often leads to loss in consciousness. The only thing that prevented Aldrin from experiencing Hypoxia was the 183-pound space suit that constricted his veins via a complex labyrinth of wires. The intense compressive forces were soon replaced with a feeling of weightlessness as Aldrin was hauled into the empty vacuum of outer space. His destination was a large mass of reflective rock, commonly referred to as the moon. Located more than 384,000 kilometers away, the moons trajectory was one that required intense precision. Failure to arrive at the right speed could potentially lead to disaster. Too fast and the space vehicle would crash into the moon’s surface. Too slow and the space vehicle would bounce off the moons orbit into the endless solar orbit. Despite these obstacles, Aldrin successfully landed the Apollo 11 lunar module on the rugged surface of the moon. A feat that gave birth to a muffled  sound that reverberated across the world:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those famous words were spoken by Neil Armstrong the first man to set foot on the moon. Under normal NASA protocol Aldrin should have been the first man on the moon, as it was customary for the second commander to perform this role. However, against the well established protocol, NASA officials opted to go with the more experienced first commander Armstrong. A decision that angered Aldrin so much that he vehemently lobbied NASA officials to reverse it. But despite his pleas, NASA remained adamant, citing the complex configuration of the Lunar Module as a reason. According to them, the Lunar Module was designed such that it was easier for the first commander Armstrong to disembark from the module first. Despite their sound reasoning, sources close to NASA officials believe that Aldrin was deselected due to his selfish and proud attitude. Whatever the case, Aldrin became gloomy and introspected over the decision. An attitude that he would carry to the outer limits of space and back, where his feelings of being robbed slowly metamorphosed into an alcohol-influenced depression. One that subsequently led to two failed marriages, time in jail and a stint in rehab.

How could a former MIT scholar, top honor Military graduate, US war veteran and the second man to set foot on the moon, be engulfed with so much rage and resentment that he fails to fully appreciate his spectacular achievement? Not just for a few hours or days but for years! Unfortunately, we grow up in a society that is obsessed with winning. You only have to pick up the daily newspaper to read multiple stories of people so addicted to winning that they lose sense of all reality. People, such as former Enron COO Jeffrey Skilling, who was so eager to succeed, that he sacrificed his company’s fiscal health in exchange for a winning stock position. This selfish act led to Enron’s bankruptcy and job losses for over a thousand employees. Or Marion Jones, a respected track and field star, who caved in to the pressure of success by engaging in the use of illegal drugs to boost her performance. And let’s not forget NBA star Lebron James, who after his team was eliminated from the 2009 NBA Playoffs, walked off the court without  acknowledging any of his opponents. Rather than speaking up against this act, the news-media glorified his behavior as one reflective of a true winner abhorred to losing. This attitude was clearly evident in a June 2003 minor league baseball game, where Roger Bratcher became upset after umpire Eddie Smith called out one of the competing kids at the plate. He charged onto the field and confronted Smith. In the scuffle that ensued, a 5 year old girl was struck in the face. In every instance above, there was one focus, one addiction, one obsession – WINNING.

In 1987, the Athletic Footwear Association of America surveyed over 10,000 students aged 10 to 18 regarding their reasons for participating in sports. Surprisingly, a majority of the survey responses did not cite winning as a top reason for participation. In fact, winning did not get ranked higher than seventh. Instead the survey reported that “having fun” consistently ranked highest in most sections of the survey. Unfortunately, it seems that as we grow older, winning takes a precedence over having fun in our daily lives. Thus, we become obsessed with graduating top-of-the-class in College, being the best employee at work or having the best car in the neighborhood. While all these are commendable acts to strive for, it is inexcusable to allow them displace the special moments in our lives. Moments where we can make friends, and fully appreciate the beauty of life.

As I reflect back on my loss at the speech contest, there is one thing that still bothers me. It’s not the fact that I never got a chance to congratulate the winners or potentially build a lasting relationship with them. It is the fact that I was so engrossed with winning that I never fully enjoyed the thrill of competing. We all have a chance to embrace life by moving our focus away from the final result and instead to the overall journey. That way, when we travel to the moon and back, we won’t allow our wonderful experiences to be dampened by our thoughts.

Motivational Speaker and Life Coach
Copyright © 2009 Ofili Speaks, Inc. All rights reserved



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of ofilispeaks.com
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