While I was growing up, I was a fan of the late Vince Lombardi.  Not only was he one of the greatest coaches ever, but he also finished his career with my Washington Redskins.  He was also the man who is forever linked to the following words:

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

There is an irony to this: Lombardi did not come up with that quote, and he didn’t mean it when he said it.  For the record, the quote was actually attributed to Henry “Red” Sanders, the football coach for the UCLA Bruins in 1950.  In 1959, Lombardi used the line to open the Packers training camp.  According to the late James Michener’s Sports in America, Lombardi claimed to have been misquoted. What he intended to say was this:

“Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.”

That certainly changes the intent of that quote, doesn’t it?  It also gives you a little more insight into the nature of Lombardi. Look at that quote again. Lombardi, one of the most competitive and successful coaches in professional sports history, was really telling us something else:  He was saying “effort is what ultimately defines success.”  This is an important distinction because I think we often define out success by counting our victories.

To those who know me well, I am considered an intense person both inside and out.  You may be surprised to know, however, that throughout my professional career, my reaction to either winning or losing has never been that different.  As a young salesman, when I made a nice sale, I would celebrate with a bag of barbecue potato chips.  That bag of chips symbolized victory.

But that wasn’t the only time I would reward myself with that bag of chips.  When I worked hard on a sale by taking no shortcuts, by sticking to the book and giving it my all, yet I didn’t get the sale, I’d eat those chips.  It was a struggle at first because I never wanted to get into a habit of rewarding failure.  But I wasn’t rewarding failure; I was rewarding effort.  To this day, I can forgive a professional loss, but what I can’t forgive is a loss knowing I didn’t do all I could to be successful.

We learned as children and were allowed to define success by our effort and our will to win.  Much like Lombardi’s quote that took on a life of it’s own, so has the flawed concept that success should be defined solely by winning.  Is it any wonder that so many people struggle in life with depression and the fear of failure?  Personally, I believe this is a direct result of people elevating the act of winning to a life and death equation.

North Carolina’s Dean Smith, one of the most successful college basketball coaches in the history of the sport, (and coming from a Maryland Terrapin alumni, that’s not easy to admit,) said it best when he provided us with this quote:

“If you make every game a life and death proposition, you’re going to have problems.  For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”

Let’s pay tribute to Vince Lombardi, and remember him for his real message.  If we do, we can set goals and achieve results that are 100% controlled by our effort… just like when we were children.  I think we would all be a lot happier with ourselves if we did – don’t you?


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