It’s the Personal Victory that Really Matters

I’m a bit of a fan of Formula 1 racing. It’s quite funny actually because most of the people I know don’t follow it at all and are quite puzzled by the whole thing. I try to explain the incredible technology race, the amazingly level of skill and attention required of each member of the team, and the zen-like focus of the driver, not to mention the glamour and history of the race. Actually winning requires so many things to go just right on the day. The driver has to be on the ball, the car has to work, and the support crew has to get the stops right. A second out at any stage, a weakness at any point and the race can be over. These are all reasons why I follow it, but there is something else which I can’t put my finger on.

Formula One 2010 Rd.3 Malaysian GP: Mark Webbe...I also have my favourite drivers including Massa, Alonso, and of course the reigning king of F1, Michael Schumacher. Really though, I’m a Mark Webber fan. Of course, it helps that he’s also from Australia. It was great seeing him on nearly every podium last year, and leading the championship for a big part of the year. But it’s his cool fighting spirit that I really admire. He’s a very talented driver who worked his way up through the ranks into F1 in his late twenties, and his first drives were with teams like Minardi, Jaguar and Williams, that gave him cars which were plagued with reliability issues. In spite of these problems, he has earned the respect of the other drivers and has been rewarded with the great cars being developed by Red Bull Racing.

OK, what inspired this. I’m not getting paid by Bernie Ecclestone. Well, a couple of days ago I was watching the Malaysian Grand Prix. Watching is a bit of an exaggeration actually. The channel which used to show it is no longer available, so I was switching between watching the sector times and watching live footage (which kept on dropping out) on my iPhone.  Somehow, I still managed to enjoy it. After leading in each practice session Mark Webber qualified third on starting grid only to lose a dozen places on the start of the race with mechanical problems. This is where it started to get interesting. Vettel had the smoother race – good start from the front which he held till the end. But from the way I saw it, the best race was run by Webber. In spite of mechanical difficulty, having to pit 4 times, and overtake at least a dozen times, he managed to finish in 4th place, and only narrowly missed the podium. Throughout the race it was Webber who was clocking the fastest laps, not the drivers up the front.

Formula One 2011 Rd.2 Malaysian GP: Felipe Mas...Sure I wanted Webber to win. In a way though, we got something even better. This was an inspiring drive and it was typical of Webber’s ‘never say die’ attitude. I’m reminded of Batman Begins and the lesson Bruce Wayne’s father teaches his son. After falling down the well, he asks Bruce: “Why do we fall Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.”

With Webber, what we saw was the way he responded to every setback with even greater resolve. Rather than becoming dispirited, he seemed to find more energy and focus, which meant than he could get even more out of the car and cut even finer lines on the track.

So what do we take away from this? Well for me obviously it’s about perseverance. But there is much more. It was about simply doing the best with the cards that we’re dealt on the day. This is what winning is really about. It’s about personal victory, regardless of whether we actually win or not in any formal sense. It’s also about the importance of mental toughness and maintaining an unstoppable mindset, a way of framing our experiences so that setbacks just create more energy, drive and focus to succeed in achieving our dreams, and a mindset that sees failure as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons for the future.

This, then, is why I watch F1.

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6 thoughts on “It’s the Personal Victory that Really Matters

  1. I love the way you tie this all together. Personal victories do seem to be what should matter. Even if you “win” a race, it may not necessarily feel as much of a win for you personally. Somedays, just getting out of bed can be a “win!” Thank you for posting!

    • Thanks very much Bridget. When we’re down, that first step is such a great victory (it’s that moment in movies when the hero is down for the count, and on the brink of the abyss they show a sign of life). This is when momentum starts anew! Having experienced my share of depression, I know how huge it can be just to do simple things. I’m relating to this now as I’m in the middle of restarting many parts of my life after the end of about 14 years of study, and then an operation a few weeks ago. While I’m full of enthusiasm about our new family, new projects etc., more immediately, I a couple of things to do to complete my PhD which has brought up some intense internal resistance, but I made a start on these yesterday and I began to feel great about that once I acknowledged it’s significance.

  2. Nice one James. I agree that sport like car racing can teach a lot about our personal stance to challenge. That’s why, even though i have a lot of other problems with the professional and economical developments with elite sport, i also like the way it inspires athletes/drivers etc to find their best – inevitably, as you say, by staying calm under pressure and continually pressing harder for a better performace. A handy spiritual analogy (although the podium of the soul accepts no ego worship!).
    Thanks for the post, Geoff.

    • Thanks for your comments Geoff. I especially like ‘the podium of the soul’. This is something I wrote about quite a bit when I started this blog, minus the podium though. Cheers, James

  3. One of my favourite ‘victories’ in sport was seeing Jelena Dokic come back to top level tennis, despite her private struggles with her super controlling father and her own depression.

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