A Lesson in Purpose

These days I give a fair amount of key-note speeches. I love telling my stories to an audience, and having them be able to see themselves in those stories. My favorite part of my talks are directly afterwards, when certain members of the audience are inspired to come up to me and share a quick anecdote about an experience they had that evoked similar emotions as the story I told. It’s amazing what personal stories people choose to share with me in that moment. Veterans of war, Mothers of loss, and conquerors of cancer have all found their way to me. Personal stories of happiness and sadness, hope and despair, all because they felt a connection to me during the 60 minutes of my shared story. I find this to be the most rewarding part of my job.

However, there is another group of individuals that come up to me from time to time, eager to share what they believe to be a similar identifier to both our personalities. These people are the more aggressive, type-A personalities that want to talk only of victory. In an effort to identify with me these individuals will say things like, “Like you, I never lose.” Or more often even, “I could totally identify with you up there, I hate losing too. It’s literally the worst thing”. For those that choose to share with me their utter hatred and unfamiliarity with losing, I politely nod, but am skeptical about their comments. When someone says they never lose, I believe that either they’re not telling me the truth, or they choose to disengage from life in a way that keeps them safe from failure. Either way, I can’t identify.

I have nothing in common with men or women who say they hate losing, or that they’ve never lost. I lose all the time. Not only do I lose all the time, but I am constantly putting myself in positions where losing isn’t just a possibility but a probability, and sometimes even an inevitability. To me, losing isn’t the worst thing. It’s not just part of life, but it’s a very healthy part of life, that is vital to individuals and teams that strive to be the greatest version of themselves. Losing gives you a benchmark, a place to reconsider from. You learn more in losing than you do in winning, because your injured pride is desperate to find the remedy and that opens yourself up to a true education. We don’t want to lose, but for anyone trying to win, losing is always part of the process.

So forget about losing for a second, and instead focus on the true enemy of your success. The absence of an endeavor or challenge that’s worthy of your efforts and passion is truly the worst thing. Failure to find that something greater than yourself is the true culprit behind your success as a human. Said simply, the worst thing is not losing but lacking purpose.

Matt Brown was a teammate of mine during our World Record Atlantic crossing, and an integral part of that success. Matt and I had a history, as we rowed together in Philadelphia after college, but before he joined Latitude 35, him and I hadn’t talked for years. I had always respected Matt as a tough and tenacious athlete. But that wasn’t the reason I called him one spring day in order to assess his interest in being the fourth and final teammate of our ocean rowing team. Social media had informed me that recently Matt had attempted to qualify for the Olympics in the men’s single, arguably the toughest event in rowing. He had trained for years in hopes of making it to the Olympics, but this year he fell short and lost in the finals. Matt wasn’t going to the Olympics. I called Matt because I knew him well enough to know he was in a dark place, not because he lost, but because he probably was unsure of what to do next. For a man of Matt’s caliber, that was truly the enemy of his success. I called Matt in order to offer him a purpose. It may have been the best decision I made that year.