Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Winning isn't everything...

The famous quote "winning isn't everything, it is the only thing", is generally attributed to the iconic football coach Vince Lombardi.   But I recently watched a movie called "The Big Year" which led me to think about the necessity of winning, the sacrifices often required to win, and most importantly, the definition of winning.

For those of you unfamiliar with movie The Big Year, it features Steve Martin (as Stu), Jack Black (as Brad) and Owen Wilson (as Bostick)  in a story about birding.  Yes, birding.  Unlike most sports involving birds in America, this hobby is not about hunting/killing birds but about seeing the birds, as many different bird species as possible, either as an accumulative life list, or in the case of our three characters, in one year. 

Without revealing the plot too extensively, the movie follows Brad as he crams multiple trips throughout the United States around a full time job in an attempt to see the most bird species in one year as well as break the one year record held by Bostick. Along the way, we are introduced to the other main characters, as well as the ways and means of knowing where to go and when to be there in order to see as many birds as possible.

Two particular scenes are revealing.  In one, there is a huge storm off the Texas coast which produces huge "bird fallout"; in other words large numbers of birds are forced inland by the storm.  All the serious birders flock (sorry) to the area.  As the mostly American birders rush around in hopes of spotting the various species that have landed, one birder is bumped aside by those sprinting among the group.  He turns to his partner and says with dripping British disdain "only Americans can turn birding into a competitive sport".

The second scene occurs towards the end of the movie when the results of the Big Year are published.  During the movie, Brad was finally able to communicate his love for birding to his dad, and they share a wonderful moment in the forest spotting a rare owl.  Also, he finds a girl who shares his passion, and they are together as the movie ends.  Stu is finally able to retire after trying for a few years, holds his first grandchild, and reconnects with his wife.  (Played by Jobeth Williams, by the way, which is a major smack in my face, as I had a serious infatuation with her and now here she is, playing a grandmother!)  In the meantime, Bostick maintains his title as the greatest birder in the world, but has lost his wife who has tired of being the second most important thing to him.

Anyway, the dialogue that struck me is that Brad, after being told that neither he nor Stu finished first, says in essence, we won.  Not, of course, the big year competition, but in the more important event called life.

Perhaps that is why Americans in particular love sports so much.  We live vicariously through the wins and losses of our favorite teams because we have lost sight of winning in our personal lives.  Or perhaps, because we have lost sight of what winning in our personal lives really means.

Stu finally realizes that he is more than just the CEO of a huge company.  It is not who he is, just what he does.  His family, wife, son, new grandson, gain new meaning for him.  Or more exactly, are revealed as just how important those people, his family are to him.  And, of course, at the end of the flick he is sharing his hobby with his new grandson.

So, perhaps winning is everything.  But not winning a game or a contest but winning at life.  Finding a career or hobby that provides pleasure, like birding for Stu and Brad, or writing for myself.  Sharing your life with someone special, then adding to that family by having children and watching them grow to become happy adults with children of their own.  Connecting with friends to create extended families, related or unrelated.  And then, and here is the big THEN, realizing that you have won at life, not because you have multiple homes or new cars, a huge bank account and all the material trappings of our Americanized version of a successful life, but because you have love in your life.

The really ironic thing is that winning at a game is not all that hard; it happens all the time.  But its rewards are fleeting, and often need repeating for the winners to keep that feeling.  Winning at life takes, well, a lifetime.  But the rewards are endless and last beyond the moment. 

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