“Are we winning? His tone sounded warm and pleasant – I looked up from where I had crouched, clutching one half of terracotta-toned shoe. He was wearing those navy-blue sweaters that are typically worn by security personnel manning shops and banks; he was smiling widely. How so refreshing, I thought!
“Are we winning?”, he asked again, this time dropping to my level and seeming to want to help. “Winning at what exactly?”, I chuckled back at him. “Finding the other half of your shoe?”
“Oh, that’s what you meant?” I burst out into a full-blown laughter. I had never heard that expression used in my kind of context and was very tickled, forgetting my ‘troubles’ temporarily.
I was in Cape Town, South Africa for a short and very much needed break and had stepped out and about after lying in for 72 straight hours! I would only get up to put together a meal (salad, sandwich or dry gari and shitor only; I’m on a break, no?) and right back into the couch. I couldn’t walk all.the.way to the bedroom; lazy-hazy break mode activated!
“I will win”, I answer defiantly, still chuckling. “Ah, good then!”, he responded, still smiling. And with that, he left me to my own devices. I searched and searched and searched…nowhere could I find the other half of the shoe I had set my eyes and heart on. I started getting frustrated, where could this other half pair be? Who had it and where were they, I wondered, casting quick side glances all around the shop floor? And if I did find them what was I going to say, anyway? They wanted the shoe as much as I did and were probably, frantically looking for it also. But what if I found my half first?! I deserve to have the other half, I thought boldly. I must win, as they say in Cape Town.
In that exact moment, I recalled one of the numerous sessions I had with finalists of The Spelling Bee some years back. I tend to give them a pep talk about winning and how winning cannot be ‘everything’. There was this group of them who were bent on winning; I asked them, “what if you don’t win?”. One of them responded, “But I will win!”. “I get that…and love your optimism. But what if you don’t? Because there’s 211 of you vying for the same spelling championship; and there can be only one champion. And I am sure like you, each of the other 210 finalists has prepared and stands as good a chance of winning as you do. So again, I ask, what if you don’t win – what are you going to do?” They all were quiet as I played out the facts. One of the Finalists said – “well, I didn’t think about what I will do if I don’t win”.
We then had a conversation about how we all must always, always prepare our minds for the ‘what ifs’? It is great to be and stay optimistic in pursuit of anything we are stiving for. Whilst you may think you badly want it and have put in your sweat and blood (so to speak) and deserve to win, so long as there is as much as one person who is also vying for the same one thing, the fact remains; you could win or lose. And in order that you don’t come across as a mean-spirited person who thinks the world of just themselves and has no respect for others’ efforts too, you have to psych yourself up for when things don’t go your way.
It’s all well and good to want to be the best at what you do and want it badly, but to not prepare for the worst-case scenario is tantamount to living in denial. And once you are in that (denial) place, you are not going to ever be able to handle the consequences of when things don’t go as planned. We see and hear it in campaign speeches during an election year in our country – presidential and parliamentary hopefuls declare themselves ‘winners’ (of the election) even before people go and cast their votes for them. And when they don’t win, we see how badly they behave.
“I see you have the half pair of my shoe I have been looking for”, she said, smiling knowingly as she walked towards me. “And you are also holding the other half I have been looking for”, I jokingly retorted. “So what are we ever going to do about it?”, she asked mock-seriously. “Your guess is as good as mine”, I replied whilst returning her tone.