Older readers will remember when learning how to lose graciously was an essential art. Bowled out? Well done, sir! And the batsman was the first to applaud as he walked back to the pavilion. Now our Olympic fervour seems to be encouraging us to ‘be a winner’ and ‘go for gold’ in all kinds of context, both appropriate and inappropriate, but it struggles with the idea of losing or even coming second. ‘What a loser!’ is dismissive, used of someone hopelessly inadequate (at least in the speaker’s eyes). Tears, tantrums, appeals, we have become familiar with them all. When the Team GB male athletes refused to say they were disappointed at not winning a gold medal, their interviewer seemed a bit nonplussed, as though their achievement in winning a bronze were somehow insufficient.
Success takes many forms, and a ‘personal best’ is surely not to be despised. The problem with an obsession with winning, of always being first, is that it carries over into other areas of life where unreal expectations can do great harm. Today would be a good day on which to to a little personal reassessment: what do I expect of myself; even more tellingly, what do I expect of others? The answers could prove unexpected.