Investment in loss

Almost nobody wants to be a loser.

Losing gets a bad rap. To be a loser is to be hopeless. It is disrespectful. But almost nobody wants to be a loser. Who are the exceptions?

Josh Waitzkin is a legend. A childhood chess prodigy, he retired from the game at the age of 23. From there, he became the world-champion in Tai Chi push hands with less than 6 years of training. A fraction of what his opponents received.

Josh achieved this by investing in loss. During his training, he pit himself against the bigger and more accomplished students in his class. All day long, he would get thrown against the wall and end up battered and bruised.

But with each passing day, he learnt from his losses. Eventually, his body dodged attacks from his stronger and more reckless opponents. He studied their techniques, learnt their methods and exploited their weakness. He translated his losses into learning. By investing in loss, he had put himself on a rapid learning curve.

Our culture cherishes winners. I bring up Josh Waitzkin’s example only because he was world champion. But every world-class performer has invested in loss.

It is tempting to hold a winning streak. It signals quality, consistency and proficiency. However, when we are not at the top level, a winning streak could help us hide. It encourages us to pick on weaker opponents. It protects our pride and comes at the cost of learning.

The battles we win are the ones we brag about. These are our degrees, our credentials and every line on our resume. They determine the intercept on our learning curve – the destination.

It is the losses that determine the slope.

wins and losses

Inspiration: The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

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