Many times, when you see great sports performances, or hear about people accomplishing amazing things, the commentary will center around their “will to win”.
What is being communicated there, to me, is:
Against all odds, this person just “decided” that they were going to win/achieve/succeed, and because of that decision, and their unbeatable will, they reached their goal.
I think this makes a great story. People are inspired by “the will to win”.
I also think, mostly, that it isn’t true.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots recently mounted what seemed to be an impossible comeback over the Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl. They came back from 25 points down in the second half to defeat the Falcons. To explain all of that away as, the will to win, does the Patriots players and coaches a disservice.
In those moments, it seems to me that we cannot simply turn to our will and decide, simply by making a decision, to be successful. We can’t want it enough to make it so. There is a quote by an author by the name of Paulo Coelho, who is much more accomplished and well known than me, that goes like this:
“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”
With all due respect to Paulo Coelho (seriously, I really enjoy his writing), and to everyone who posts this on instagram with some guy climbing a mountain in the background, or a picture of a Maserati with this quote underneath, I think this is bogus.
Wanting something doesn’t make it so. And while I do believe in the favor of God, I don’t believe that our desires alone pull in the forces of the universe to assure that we get what we want.
There are certainly some exceptions to my disagreement with the will to win. There are certainly times, in extreme circumstances, where we see ordinary people do extraordinary things, that may be completely inexplicable. Where there truly does seem to be a situation in which people have summoned something inside of them that even they didn’t know was there, to pull themselves out of a challenging, and even “impossible” situation.
Mostly, we miss the point when discussing the will to win. Sports announcers, coaches, and fans often like to talk about the will to win, or the “want to” as something that occurs on the moment. The idea is that when the game is on the line, it will go to whoever wants it the most.
Some of that is true, but most of it, to me, misses the mark. The will to win is not defined in pivotal moments. The will to win is defined by what we do when nobody is watching. The will to win is defined by how we treat people who can’t do anything for us in return. The will to win is born out of the decisions we make in our daily lives, that run counter to what we want.
The will to win is about the work that is done in the dark, away from the bright lights and accolades. Nobody wakes up one day as a neurosurgeon. No one rolls out of bed onto a Nobel Prize. Save for a lucky few, millionaires don’t get that way just because they wanted to.
The will to win, then is not about one moment in time, but it is the summation of moments, over the course of time, that allows us to be successful when the stakes are the highest.
These things happen over the course of time, and they are achieved, usually, because people have been willing to say yes to things that others weren’t willing to say yes to.
The extra rep, the late night reading, the early morning study session, one more phone call, or the willingness to look foolish in pursuit of a goal.
These things also happen because people have been willing to say no to things that others eagerly said yes to.
The extra piece of pie, the snooze button, listening to detractors, the shortcut mentality, or the offer for the easy way out.
We have to Dig the well before we are thirsty.
So yes, perhaps these people “wanted it more”. But they didn’t want it more in their moment. They wanted it more 6, 12, 24, 48 months ago. While the people around them were willing to go home early, or take the shortcut, or complain instead of compete, they stayed focused on their goal.
The will to win isn’t about having a desire, which, in turn, causes the entire universe to conspire in our favor.
No. Actually, the will to win is most often about being willing to continue on the journey when it feels like the entire universe is conspired against you!
Brady didn’t mount a Super Bowl comeback against all odds just because he wanted to. Tom Brady is one of the most well prepared, disciplined, hardest working players to ever play. His “will to win” Super Bowl 51 started long ago, by laying a foundation of toughness, mental conditioning, and leadership. It manifested itself on that Sunday, but make no mistake, he dug that well long ago.
At some point, whether we are moving towards Super Bowls, being a super dad, or just a comfortable retirement, we will all need to answer the bell, so to speak. I hope you won’t buy into the hype of the will to win, thinking that you can simply draw on your desires when the time comes, and you will magically get what you want.
You (and I) better get to work. Think about what you are saying yes to, and what you are saying no to. Maybe we need to make some adjustments. Whether we realize it or not, our will to win is being defined right now, in each and every day, in all of the “small” decisions that we are making. It’s being strengthened based on our character, our integrity, and how we behave when nobody else is watching.
The universe is not going to give you your Super Bowl ring, your million dollars, or your Maserati.