Riding in the car with my twin girls recently, they were playing the same game on their tablets and this conversation happens:
Avery: “I’m winning Makenna!"
Makenna: “It’s not about winning Avery."
Me: “What is it about then Makenna?"
Makenna: “It’s just about playing the game and if you win, that is great"
Avery: “But it’s a hard game, you play to win!"
I was blown away by the debate two five year old’s were having…and a little at a loss as to a response.
They are both right. But what do I want them to know? How do I want to settle the debate? For now, I listened. I didn't want to discourage either opinion. In part because this perfectly sums up their very different personalities and I encourage those differences...but also I'm skeptical I have the right answer.
Winning and losing can both teach valuable lessons. I have always been competitive and ambitious, tending to agree with Avery, winning is the whole point, why else would you do anything? But as I've gotten older I have come around to Makenna's point of view on many things, I try to enjoy the effort involved and try to be pleased with whatever outcome I get. It isn't an easy perspective for me.
When I think of the most rewarding competitions in recent years for my life, they haven’t been important to me or successful because of beating someone else. They mean so much because of continuing to outdo my previous best, to battle the person within. I think about these lessons I learned later in life and question how I share these with my daughters? How do I teach them to appreciate their own improvement and their own journey while maintaining ambition?
Life is competitive and I’m firmly against participation trophies, so balancing these seemingly opposite attitudes is a work in progress. Failure is a tremendous teacher, and focusing on self-improvement and overcoming challenges insures there will be plenty. Arguably more important to our kids reaching their full potential than intelligence or grades, their resilience determines where they end up.
With the goal of raising well adjusted and happy adults, I believe in teaching them the value of effort and competition. The ability to challenge yourself, without regard to where other people stand. Understanding there is a big difference between trying to do well and trying to beat others.
So I let the conversation with my daughters go, each of them still owning their own perspective on winning. There is an ongoing balance for all of us on when are we competing with others and when are we competing with ourselves. My hope is to provide guidance so they can define for themselves a healthy balance of both.