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The Ugly Win

When Success Doesn’t “Feel” SuccessfulThe Ugly Win

In an earlier article, I wrote about the similarities between auto racing and leadership. This article will deal with an event that happens to both race teams, and leaders…or anyone who is working to achieve goals.

It’s called…the ugly win.

If you follow any form of auto racing, you may have seen it at one time or another. The race is coming down to the final lap. The leader is doing well; the car is running good, and is still in good condition. All the sudden something happens – the leader gets out of control and crashes, or a part fails, causing damage to the car’s body or engine. Despite all that, the leader still manages to finish and win the race! They limp the car into the winner’s circle on its last leg, and start the celebration. Usually the first words out of the driver or car owner’s mouth is, “It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it!” Many times, any money that is earned from the race win goes to repair the car, and the team has a lot of work ahead in order to get ready for the next race.

Sometimes, it seems like we occasionally run into this type of situation when we are working to achieve goals in leadership, or in our personal lives. We may develop this “grand vision” of how things are going to turn out. This thinking may come from seeing other people’s success stories in the media. Through the magic of editing, it can seem like success comes perfect and easy for the person featured in the story. In actuality, we don’t see or hear about the imperfect journey to that successful point, or hear about the trials and thought processes that individual went through during that journey. Usually all we see is the finished product.

Take, for instance the picture below as an example…

The Ugly Win - Picture 1

This picture is of my wife and I right after reaching the summit of Humphrey’s Peak, which, at 12,633 feet, is the tallest point in Arizona. We achieved this goal a couple of months ago, and by all means, it was a success! At the time, it certainly didn’t “feel” like a success, though, despite the smiles in the picture.

This was a perfect example of an ugly win

What you don’t see in this picture are my legs, which were bleeding and wound up bruised from falling…not once, but twice…on the extremely rocky terrain in the tundra area (Yes, Arizona has a tundra!) that we encountered on the last mile of the hike. Somehow, I managed to lose my footing on the slick and shifting rocks, and fall. I absolutely hate it when I fall on a hike – thankfully, this happens only on rare occasions. Even though I was lucky to avoid serious injury, my legs took the brunt of the damage. Despite the smile on my face, I was in pain, out of breath (from the elevation), and ready to get off that mountain!

My wife was not fairing any better. She had gotten her feet tangled in some tree roots on the way up, and pulled her leg muscles. Our trip back down the mountain went very slowly, because we were both in so much pain.

Neither of us figured that working to achieve this goal would be so difficult and painful. We did everything we could to prepare – got ourselves prepared physically, gathered needed supplies, and read everything we could find about the trail. We knew in advance about the elevation change, that we would have less oxygen, the last mile would be rough and rocky, and that we would encounter a couple of “false summits” on the way to the top.

Hey, we’ve done this hiking thing a few times before, so we had an idea of what to expect, right?

Nothing prepared us for what we experienced

At the end of the hike when we finally reached the clearing at the bottom of the mountain, I stopped to take a picture of the mountain we had just climbed…

The Ugly Win - Picture 2


Despite the fact that the journey was a success, we sure didn’t feel like celebrating. In fact, it felt a little more like an ordeal than a success. The journey was much tougher than either one of us expected, and left us absolutely drained of energy.

Have you ever had the same type of experience? One that left you so drained of energy (physical or mental) that you were unable to really experience and celebrate your success?

Maybe you led a project that wound up with unexpected challenges, and with a lot of changes and hard work, became a success at the very last minute. Perhaps you finally finished negotiations on a deal with that “dream client” you have been aiming for, and it wound up being a longer and more challenging process than you imagined. Maybe like my wife and I, you finally achieved a physical goal after encountering setback after setback along the way.

It’s possible that because of the setbacks and the length of time, you lost the excitement that you initially had.

This is why it’s important to remember that wins may not come packaged the way we expect them to be. Our win may come with a wrecked car and a lot of work to be ready for the next race; aching, bloody legs and total exhaustion; or goals that are finally met after a long and challenging year.

No matter how the win comes, or the form it takes, remember that it is very important to celebrate those wins. Celebrate even the small victories on the way to the big goal. It will keep your energy up and help improve your momentum toward achieving that big goal. When you finally achieve that goal, celebrate the fact that the experience, knowledge, and insight that was gained through that difficult journey will help you evolve into a better leader, and a better person!

By the way, my wife and I wound up celebrating our goal by having a nice breakfast in Flagstaff, and enjoying a nice, quiet day of rest and relaxation. And when we go by Humphrey’s Peak on our way to the Grand Canyon, we’ll celebrate the fact that we can say, “Yeah, we conquered that mountain. It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it!”


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