Whenever someone suggests we play a game, my first instinct is to groan internally. I like games, but I place unbearable pressure on myself to win everything from checkers to flag football to video games. Every time I compete, I risk the humiliation of losing.
So I can’t imagine the pain of athletes who lose their events in the Olympic Games after training so intensely for four years. They sacrifice time and energy to perfect their game, only to miss their shot at glory. The media walks away with an image of them wringing their hands (if NBC decides to show them at all). The message is clear: winning matters a lot. And the winners make winning seem easy. I like to imagine myself on top of the Olympic podium, but fail to include in my fantasy the endless practice hours and gruesome injuries that accompany every elite athlete.
Okay, so I may not win an Olympic gold medal, with my short legs and my love for being a couch potato. I’m not motivated enough to make sports a major priority in life, as it is for most top athletes. But I can achieve glory in other ways. My fondest memories from high school and college sports involve mingling with competitors and cheering on teammates. Finding glory through meeting new people and making great memories is less stressful than gunning to win first place.
It’s also fun to watch different worlds collide through sports. I loved hearing the flag of other countries play at the Rio Olympics. I loved seeing Simone Biles with her “Brazilian boyfriend,” Usain Bolt hugging South African 400m star Wayde van Niekerk, American decathlete Ashton Eaton celebrating with his Canadian heptathlete wife Brianne, and other cross-border friendships. I especially love watching athletes in one sport cheer on athletes of another. Races are over in seconds, but emotional stories last forever.
Despite the hubbub surrounding the outcomes of games and sports, they only serve to temporarily entertain us while we live on this chaotic planet. Competition is also a great excuse to travel and interact with people beyond our comfort zones. Not much else can make strangers bond more drastically than the universal emotions that accompany wins and losses.
Perhaps it’s cliché to reaffirm that games are about sportsmanship and the thrill of competition rather than victory, but it’s something I have to remind myself of all the time whenever I lose a game of Clue or watch Cal football suffer an embarrassing loss. It teaches me that I (and my college football team) can’t win everything, no matter how much I hate losing. It’s okay to lose games that I don’t spend time practicing for, like tennis or chess.
What matters is that I play, and that I enjoy the company of my competitors. Even if I lose spectacularly, I know I’m playing a great game when I get to laugh and high five people. Because genuine laughter, my friends, is glorious.
This post is part of the Alphabet Project, where I write a post for each letter of the alphabet. It was inspired by Ash Huang’s Alphabet Meditations.