Winning. Duh.

The house where I grew up--looking North

Pretty cool view looking North from my boyhood home, eh?  When that field was less manicured it used to be home to several pairs of Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks and Savannah Sparrows.  Meadowlarks are still there, but Bobolinks are less common now.  And that little pond has been a temporary hangout for some fascinating birds including Snow Goose, White-fronted Goose, and even Ross’s Goose.  One time a Bonaparte’s Gull dropped in and circled the pond a few times on it’s way North.  But I digress.  See?  I am already distracted.  I’ll start over again then.

Nooo.  This is not a blog about Charlie Sheen.  Haha!  But it *IS* about winning.  But what is winning?  Really.  Winning is pretty easy when we talk about sports.  Or is it?  In sports many folks measure winning by a score.  For football or baseball, for instance, the higher score “wins” and the lower score “loses”.  In golf, the lowest score wins and all the other other higher scores lose.  But really, that only represents a single game.  So if you win a tennis match, does that make you a “winner”?  What if you already lost 58 matches?  Are you still a winner?  Well yes, you did win–a match.  A single match.  But a winner?

And if you don’t win, does that make you a loser?  If you’re not a loser, then what? If you were on a team that had a 24-win streak, would you be a winner?  What happens with the first loss to break the win streak?  Does that mean you are now a loser?  And for that matter, how many games do you have to win to make you a winner?

And have you ever heard professional athletes talk about an “ugly” win?  What is an “ugly” win?  It’s still a win, right?  So what is the big deal?  Ahh.  I am glad you asked.  It means that maybe it was not the best performance, but you ended up with a win anyways.    But how about if you gave it your all in a game, whatever it may be?  What if you used all your talent and ability and gave 100% effort–and you still lost the game?  Are you a loser?

By now you are probably thinking, what does this have to do with birding or birdwatching?  See?  You are still reading this blog to find out how this is all going to tie together.  That’s because you are curious like I am.

What is it that makes the difference between a winning performance and a champion’s performance?  Have you ever seen “talent gone to waste”?  Talent that is evident to everyone but that gets underused or never evolves.  It is potential that goes without fulfillment.  It is a sad thing to see, no matter what the reason that that talent or skill was not developed.  But a champion we identify as someone who has something more inside of them–some inner motivation that causes them to reach amazing levels of achievement.  These are the kinds of things that spectators love to see in an extraordinary athlete or in some unrivaled performance.

If a person just worked hard enough and practiced a lot, would that make him a champion at whatever activity he chose?  Well, the answer to that last question is a resounding “No”.  I could practice until “the cows come home” and I would never make a good athlete in most sports.  Have you ever seen an NBA basketball player who’s short–and NOT fast?  Haha!  Or a football player who runs the 40-yard-dash in oh, say, 8 minutes?  Ok.  Maybe longer.  How about something like golf?  You don’t have to be tall to be a pro.  You should be strong.  I could work out–a lot.  But then there is that whole hand-eye coordination thing.  Uh-oh.  I guess I’m not set to be a pro golfer either.

But just because I cannot do all these things–all these athletic endeavors–does that make me a loser?  So let’s shift away from athletics.  How about doing things that make money?  The successful stock investor certainly makes more money than many other professions.  But does that make him a winner?  Or how about a simple man with an ordinary job?  Say he puts in a great amount of effort?  Say he is humble, generous, and kind to others–but he doesn’t make much money.  Is he a winner?  Why?  Or why not?

Now back to the athletics one more time.  What is the difference between average athlete and a champion?  It’s a combination of factors, isn’t it?  It is part natural talent.  It is part practice and persistence.  It is part strategy.  The final ingredient comes and goes.  It’s just luck.  It’s how things happen–or not–in your favor–or not.  These are things which you cannot control.  But you can control your attitude for these times.  It’s just that.  Good luck or bad luck is temporary.  If you’re strong internally, you’ll outlast it–good or bad.

And now, back to birding.  One of the elements of birding that I so much enjoy is listing–competitive listing in fact.  Why?  Um.  I don’t know for sure.  I do like competition.  I like a good challenge.  I love the whole planning and strategy element of competitive listing.  And I like to think it keeps me relatively sharp at identification.  The longer I list, and search for birds, the more I find how intertwined birds are with their environment.  What kind of food does your target species like?  Where does it find shelter?  Water?  What are it’s predators?  What are it’s habits?  What sounds does it make?  What seasons is it present?  Where does it nest?  Where does it winter?  The questions just keep coming.  And the more you know, the better equipped you are to find your targets.

Ok.  How about Big Year numbers?  Does a humongous number in one calendar year make you the best birder?  Hmm.  Part of me would love to say “Yes”.  But it is not true.  A big number is more a function of money and time than skill.  But did that prevent me from even doing a Big Year?  No, of course not.  I’m a little crazy.  And extremely curious.  It is something I had always wanted to do–see a lot of birds.  How cool would that be?  I had to know.  So I did it.  And I did not just do it part way.  I threw myself wholeheartedly into it.  Looking back on that year, I could not have tried any harder without serious repercussions.   I can honestly look back on the year and be satisfied that I gave it my all.  And that is “winning” for me.  It was the best I could do with the skills, money, and time that I had.  There was nothing more in me.  It was the best that I could achieve.  Was it the most species for a Big Year?  No.  But it was *my* best.  And for that, I have no regrets at all.

So my summation on winning is this–simply that whatever you do, you do the best that you can–even if it means you don’t make the most money, have the best score, or the top achievement.  And when you are done, you can be satisfied knowing you gave it your all.

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