In the mid-2000’s my family needed a win.
We lost three matriarchs to cancer over a three-year span: My mom, my aunt, and my great aunt. It deconstructed the family structure, and replaced it with something unusual.
Each member of my immediate and extended family pushed forward to make sense of the new paradigm in his or her own way: faith, community, education, extracurriculars… all efforts to reclaim normalcy, identity, and purpose. There was progress and healing, but aftershocks of grief still rumbled through Family 2.0.
Fast forward to December 12, 2007 - The final night of competition in Gladiator Arena. Only a handful of obstacles stand between my shimmering red spandex and victory. Every part of the competition dedicated to my late mother. In the stands, my dad, brother, and sister are ready to cheer me on.
I stand on the starter’s platform, knowing the championship is mine for the taking. Referee Al Kaplon gives the countdown…
“Three… two… one…”
The whistle blows and my internal monologue fires off ‘steady and strong’—lungs burning, arms and legs fatigued—until I burst through the foam-block finish line in 01:19 and take home the Championship.
It was the win my family needed. A pivotal, celebratory moment to balance the scales.
Fast-forward again to 2010 - I’m caught up in an unhealthy, on-again-off-again relationship; desk-jockeying a project management gig in the Chicago burbs; lacking clear direction and purpose.
A co-worker convinces me to audition for American Ninja Warrior Season 2. I start training, eating better, and focusing on a tangible goal.
That season I placed Top Ten and traveled to Japan to compete at Mt. Midoriyama. While my performance wasn’t stellar, the experience itself was a catalyst for change. It reinstated discipline, resuscitated my dream of making a career in entertainment, and instigated a move to the West Coast. In short, in reinvigorated my life.
Fast forward one more time: 2015 hasn’t been an easy one.
I came face-to-face with some ugly aspects of my character that I need to clean up, lost a good friend to cancer, a job, and a two-year relationship.
It feels like someone hit the reset button, and it’s been hard. I’ve been applying lessons from previous chapters of life to train my character for better decision making and valuable action. And I’ve been striving toward that next huge, life-shifting win by auditioning for projects, pitching shows, and writing two feature-length scripts.
But after a few false starts, disappointments, and frustrations… I started thinking about other wins in my life. The smaller ones.
The semester after my mom died, I spent quite a bit of time between classes at a local skatepark in Champagne, IL. I had always loved inline skating (yes, I know it’s not as cool as skateboarding…) and wanted to develop that skill.
I wrecked myself learning to drop into a half-pipe, cruise around a bowl, and throw some tricks. I was unlocking new skills, leveling up, getting small wins. Call it cathartic, a distraction, whatever you want… for me, it was a series of tiny wins that I desperately needed.
The following semester I took off from school and lived at home. My brother had an exercise ball and we challenged each other to balance competitions. That’s when I learned to do air squats on an exercise ball. Another tiny win.
There were several wins that preceded the life-altering American Gladiator experience. Wins that I had control over and took action toward daily. And that’s the point: A win isn’t always going to be an American Gladiator championship or trip to Mt. Midoriyama in Japan.
In fact, it’s rarely going to be that.
You need a series of tiny wins. Wins that you can—to a significant degree—take action toward daily. Wins that shape your identity, instill confidence, and invigorate your spirit. You need to become a habitual winner.
Ask yourself: What are examples of huge wins in my life? What about tiny wins along the way? Identify those areas of life in which you can take action daily to acquire tiny wins and build toward a bigger, life-altering win.
You’ll notice the majority of tiny wins in my life are physical. That’s because athleticism was an integral part of my upbringing. I thrive on the tangible, observable correlation between action and result. Beyond metaphor, athletic achievement is a template for training, discipline, and application in other areas of life.
That doesn’t need to be true for you. Learning rail precisions might be more hazardous than helpful… and that’s perfectly fine.
Maybe it’s writing the first chapter of that novel, finally taking drum lessons, or even beating the original Super Mario Bros (full disclosure… I never have).
Whatever that thing is for you, identify it, take action… and get addicted to winning.