Triumph and Disaster: Treat Those Two Imposters the Same

posted on: December 19, 2019
author: Anthony Pellegrino

Treat Triump and disaster the same

Photo by Yosh Ginsu on Unsplash

In 1895, the Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling composed the poem “If-,” which later went on to become one of the most popular poems in Great Britain.

In it, he etched the famous words

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same.

These same words appear above the doors to Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The final thing that the competitors see before they battle for the most prestigious tennis trophy of all.

As an example of Victorian-era Stoicism, Kipling goes on to say that:

If you can keep your head when all about you   

   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

   But make allowance for their doubting too;  

Amongst many other ifs, he finally says,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

There’s a reason that Kipling’s verse greets the competitors at Wimbledon before they step out onto the centre court.

After the tournament one player will face triumph and the other disaster. One shall leave the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club a champion before the world. The other will not.

In this way, Kipling realized and immortalized the truth that triumph and disaster are two sides of the same coin. We must treat these two imposters the same because, ultimately, they are the same. The same potentiality. Every competition can go either way.

The difference between success and failure rests on the edge of a sharp knife, and we will inevitably suffer both victory and defeat throughout our competitive careers. As a result, we need to understand the best way to approach both triumph and disaster when they arrive on the scene.

Otherwise, the emotional roller coaster, the ups, and downs, the thrill of coming out on top and the pain of coming up short will wreak havoc on our competitive career and future performances.

Ancient stoics were well aware of disaster in their lives

Photo by Leo Nordén on Unsplash

The ancient Stoics knew a thing or two about this idea.

Thinkers like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca have suggested that we should become well acquainted with feelings of defeat and failure through a process called “negative visualization.”

This is a process in which you imagine all the things that could go wrong. When you really visualize what defeat would look and feel like.

But why would we do that? We’ve always been told:

Hey, you have to stay positive!

And while that is true, an overly idealistic and rosy outlook on an uncertain set of events can make our dealing with those events much harder if they do not go the way we are hoping.

In this way, negative visualization can take the surprise out of a painful failure or defeat. It gets you prepared for a very plausible outcome.

Human beings are naturally very optimistic beings. We overestimate the likelihood of good things happening to us while underestimating the bad in a cognitive fallacy dubbed the ‘optimism bias.’

Every person is susceptible to this bias. We’re all guilty of it from time to time. In the most extreme cases, it can really lead to disaster. Can you think back to a time when you’re own ambitious naivety had caused you to act in hubris?

Negative visualization is a way for us to keep our optimism bias in check. By thinking deeply about a negative outcome that is surely uncomfortable will disarm that negative outcome if it comes to pass.

Disaster will then not feel so devastating if it shall occur.

Similarly, we have to keep our emotions in check in victory. While it always feels great to come out on top, we can’t let ourselves become overly celebratory.

Paradoxically, if we aren’t careful, regular victory and successes can actually make us worse competitors in the long term.

As Bane tells Batman in The Dark Knight Rises:

Victory has defeated you.

If we can’t keep our victorious emotions in check, they can easily go to our heads and hurt our competitive drive in the future. Think about it: you won’t try as hard in your next match if you’ve become so accustomed to victory that it’s to be expected, would you?

In the end, we can’t let either triumph or disaster become rigid expectations for our performances. It’s equally dangerous to expect every match to end in failure than victory.

We just have to remember Kipling’s verses. We have to remember that triumph and disaster, success and failure, victory and defeat; they are the same. The yin and yang of performance and they should be treated as such for the maximum result.

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About the Author

Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in Philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He works as contributor to Pulse Magazine and as a freelance content creator for several marketing agencies and brands. His writing is focused on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, everyday life, and content marketing.

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