x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Gold is great but there is more than one way to win

Unlike her father and brothers, Manar Al Hinai is not a big sports fan. However, it is impossible to not admire the discipline, focus and poise under pressure exhibited by Olympic champions. But there is something about their focus on winning, and society's definition of it, that leaves her feeling disconcerted.

The UAE football team fought hard but could not qualify from their group at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Ian Kington / AFP
The UAE football team fought hard but could not qualify from their group at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Ian Kington / AFP

Unlike my father and brothers I am not a big sports fan. However, it is impossible for me to sit down with them in the living room and not admire the discipline, focus and poise under pressure exhibited by Olympic champions.

But there is something about their focus on winning, and our society's definition of it, that leaves me feeling disconcerted.

I cannot feel anything but heartbreak when an athlete falls short of winning at the very last, such as Allison Schmitt, the American swimmer, losing a gold medal by fractions of a second in the 400m freestyle race. Likewise, when our UAE men's football team failed to move out of the group stage.

But does falling behind make these athletes less worthy of our admiration? And is winning defined in an unfair way?

The pursuit of any goal in business and in life is often long, challenging and difficult. But the pain of losing lasts much longer than the pleasure of winning. I say this based on experience.

I was fortunate to have been nominated and to have won two prestigious awards for my fashion business and writing. Without doubt, those events were the highlight of my year and a confirmation for my hard work and determination. However, they were just moments in my life's timeline and soon enough they were yesterday's news.

On the other hand, a good friend of mine, a top student, applied to an American Ivy League university, pressured by her family members who convinced her that getting into such an institution would mean she had won her education race.

After receiving a rejection letter, she enrolled in one of England's top universities. Fast forward a year and she still feels like a loser, unable to feel content with what she has - even though she achieved so much.

In another scenario, Michael Phelps, the American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, decided to move on from swimming after his extraordinary success in Beijing four years ago. Not long after, it was reported he fell into depression and it seems did not fully recover until he got back in the water. Perhaps he was trying to relive the moments of satisfaction he seemed to have lost so quickly - and he certainly succeeded in London.

The thing is society has defined winning in a way that promises more than it delivers.

High-school students are told the key to education success is to get into a top university, even though there are hundreds of universities where they can receive a good-quality education.

When these students graduate, society then tells them employment achievement and happiness equates to a huge pay package. They will often spend a large chunk of their lives trying to achieve that, believing it will equate to happiness.

Because of society's focus on winning and success, many young Emirati graduates turn down private-sector jobs in the hopes of receiving an offer from a government organisation that will translate into prestige, better pay and success in society's eyes. It does not seem to matter how long they need to wait to achieve such goals, even though that time could have been spent on great opportunities to develop themselves professionally.

The way winning is defined makes it attainable only for a tiny percentage of people, labelling the rest of the population as unhappy underachievers, when some of them could well be the happiest folks on Earth.

The term "winning" should be redefined to ensure continuous satisfaction and include a wider pool - winners are people who continuously invest effort and determination and keep getting better at what they do regardless of whether they will be rewarded for it at the end of the day.

Winners are people who are not afraid to make mistakes, or to lose. In fact they learn from their mistakes and build on them to improve themselves.

Last but not least, winners use their skills not just to add value and improve their own lives but to also improve the world.

The American billionaire Bill Gates has pledged to donate more than half of his wealth after he dies to charitable organisations. To me, that is a winner.

Manar Al Hinai is an award winning Emirati fashion designer and writer. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai

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