What winning means to me: It doesn’t just mean coming first

Focusing only on winning at all costs is over-rated. Jane McCarroll is not interested in competing with anyone, she just hopes we all make it.

To me winning starts with our attitude. It is more of a philosophy rather than a result. Focusing on winning at all costs, and coming first in everything we do, presents limitations. You cannot win if you are always fighting with someone else. We win from being the best we can be, focusing on our own improvement and acknowledging the achievements we make along the way. 

In a world where we are competing for nearly everything, we need to adjust our attitude from winning at all costs to think about what how we see ourselves if we don’t win. A healthy attitude to winning will also include losing.  

Let me share a couple of examples from my experience of being a parent when I felt most proud of my children. 

When my daughter was seven, she ran in the school cross country race where every child was obliged to take part. After she crossed the finish line she joined the students and teachers who were cheering the tail-enders. 

The little boy who was coming last had a learning disability and was struggling to follow the race path. Teachers were running alongside him to try and keep him on track but he wasn’t focused on getting to the finish line and was getting distracted along the way.

My daughter saw this happening, and without any prompting, ran back onto the course, called out his name and took his hand. She then held his hand and guided him to the finish and they crossed together. I have never been more proud. I couldn’t tell you if she came 8th or 80th – it doesn’t matter. Her making sure that this little boy finished the race was all the winning I could wish for. 

On another occasion, my son was representing his school in an inner city sports tournament and came second in the high jump. That in itself was a great achievement, but again it wasn’t what made my heart explode. It was when he turned to the boy who won and shook his hand to congratulate him. That’s a winning attitude.

Winning has such an emotional impact on us and I think we value winning too obsessively, and by doing this, the need to win dominates us. The need to win to feed our ego, or feel self-worth is very damaging. Do you ever consider you can only win if someone else loses? 

Consider the implications of having a definition of winning that says: “If I don’t come first then I am a loser.” It spoils the joy you can experience, that’s for sure. It is a fact of life that in every endeavour you undertake you will lose more than you will ever win. 

Think about this. If you have to come in ‘first’  in everything you do, what will you feel when you don’t? What are the odds of you enjoying yourself or even performing well?

A winning attitude is the lens we apply and I think it’s better to build a winning attitude instead of obsessing about winning. And it starts from knowing your self-worth. 

Winning to me is all about our attitude, our ability to learn from failure and our relationships with those around us. It is imperative that we have a strong sense of self-worth, and self-awareness. It is the soft skills that we learn and develop which help us have a more empowering relationship with winning and achievement. 

Failure can be our teacher and our guide to how we can improve ourselves. If we always operate within a cycle of improvement we will never stop learning. It is not a win at all costs attitude, it is about doing the best we can with what we have, and continuously applying ourselves.

Surely this is what we want for our children, who will be in the workforce with the robots, to learn for themselves. We cannot predict or even imagine what their workplace will be like but, whatever happens, they will need to positively apply themselves to new situations as they develop and achieve. 

I think winning can also be measured incrementally by setting goals and celebrating the small wins along the way. I am all for having goals, I strive to achieve them and be the best I can be. I would far rather nurture a winning attitude than focus purely on coming first. 

Winning comes from bringing out the best in ourselves – which encourages those around us to follow suit. Please let us reward a winning attitude. It will encourage a winning culture in our organisations and our people. Of that, I am sure.

Focusing only on winning at all costs is over-rated. Being better never stops. I am not interested in competing with anyone. I just hope we all make it. 


Jane McCarroll is the marketing and membership manager at IMNZ. The Institute of Management NZ helping leaders step up and lead since 1946.

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