I was thirteen years old the first time I stepped on the mat for a varsity match. My opponent was eighteen and had placed second in the nation the year before. The whistle blew and he shot. I found myself up in the air, carried around the circle in a show of bravado, then dumped on the ground, placed in a guillotine, and pinned. All of this transpired in a total of 57 seconds. It was absolutely humiliating.
I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself. At least only half the school was watching the match since it was against our biggest rival. But the next day, instead of turning in my headgear, I was back at practice, getting my ass kicked by the juniors and seniors and trying to be better.
It worked, slowly, but surely. In a few weeks, my opponents couldn't pin me anymore, and by the end of the season, I had picked up a handful of wins against other similarly sad, boney-looking dudes. I even got a rematch against Mr. Number 2. He emasculated me once again, but this time he couldn't pin me, so he had to settle for a tech. It was an odd little victory for me. I still sucked, but I had advanced.
That summer, I lifted weights, attended Jim Peckham's wrestling camp, and lifted more weights. I was a different man the next year, only dropping seven matches all season, and placing in the regional tournament (I was an alternate for states, but would have to wait until the next year to compete in it). The next two years, I kept getting better, winning tournaments, rarely losing, and all that jazz, but going from good to great is easy.
Dropping the occasional match when you're crushing people every other day is easy. Winning is the easiest thing in the world. Losing is the hard part. And losing is the worst in wrestling. You can't blame anyone else. You can't make excuses. You either won or you lost. And when you lose and you lose badly, it's very hard to handle.
But handling failure is the biggest life lesson there is. I didn't become a good wrestler when I was a junior and senior when winning was a foregone conclusion. I became a good wrestler after getting smoked in 57 seconds in the most embarrassing way possible and deciding I would keep coming back. I became a good wrestler lifting shitty cement weights I got at a yard sale in my parents basement. I became a good wrestler hitting every double in practice like it was in the state finals. I learned to lose. I hated losing. I learned that the only way to beat the guys that crushed me was to outwork them. And then I won.
And that's the same in all walks of life. Most people never learn it. We learned it on the mats.
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