Lose To Win

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I love to tell stories.  In a two-day “mentorship” training workshop which I attended only recently, the trainer touched a soft spot in my heart by emphasizing that one of the main attributes of a good mentor was the ability to tell “stories” – stories that resonate with the mentee and inspire him or her to reach for their full potential.

My story today is about a running legend by the name of Greta Waitz.  She won the New York City Marathon a record of nine times, setting a world record in her very first attempt at this 42.195 kilometre race way back in 1978.  She won the London Marathon twice, the gold medal at the 1983 World Championships, and the silver at the 1984 Olympics.

Beyond Grete’s athletic achievements and her sports-superstar status, she was to those who knew her more intimately – a super human being.  She was known by many to be approachable, giving, and above all, humble.

One significant lesson we can learn from Grete pertains to her decision to run in the 1992 New York City Marathon for the last time.  It was made on the basis that she wanted to accompany her old friend Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon and the man who first invited her to leave her home in Oslo to run in New York City.  Lebow was 60 years old and suffering from brain cancer.

Waitz and Lebow ran the entire race together, finishing in 5:32:35—twice Waitz’s usual finishing time.  The New York Times described their unforgettable appearance at the finish line: “They finished with their hands clasped and raised over their heads.  She would always call it her 10th victory in New York.”  Fred Lebow died two years later.

This story got me thinking – what if I choose to relate this to my mentee in the future, what would the learning be, in the context of career and professional development?  Here’s my take – the workplace, which can be akin to the world of a long distance runner, is often a lonely place in many parts.  I guess that is why the endless pursuit of work in today’s competitive corporate world is referred to as the “Rat Race”!  Singaporeans tend to be an ambitious lot, obsessed by our KPIs, and totally focused on climbing up the corporate ladder.  To an extent, it can be cold and unforgiving out there!

But like Greta Waitz, we need to sometimes slow down our pace to help someone around us.  I know that in the highly-strung environment we live in today, especially with technology contributing significantly to upping our efficiencies, we get impatient when our staff takes a little longer to get the work done.  I plead guilty that many a time when this happens, I have taken the job back to do it myself.

Grete’s story has taught me that there are occasions when we should let expediency take a backseat, and instead take the hand of our subordinate or colleague and complete the task together.  Forgoing glory so that you can help someone else shine is a gesture that many of us can afford to do more of.  Life is about sharing – sharing your expertise, knowledge, experiences.  It’s a positive legacy you can choose to leave behind.

Greta Waitz was a special kind of heroine – one who was so confident in herself that she was willing to deflect the spotlight onto somebody else.  “Losing”, in a situation such as this, is in fact equivalent to “winning” – winning the hearts of the people around you!


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