“I don’t believe you have to be better than everybody else. I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.”
~ Ken Venturi
Ken Venturi (1931-2013) was a US pro golfer as well as a golf broadcaster. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall Of Fame the year he died. He was runner-up at the Masters Tournament three times – the first as an amateur!
I selected this quote originally because it is very upbeat, and I love to focus on positive messages. There was a time, especially during my teen years, when I found it very easy to adopt a negative point of view. As I matured, married, started a new career in teaching and started my family, my negative outlook tendencies gradually gave way to a healthier, more positive attitude. As my children grew up to start their own families and I began a new career, I feel a sense of rebirth in a way. That’s an exhilarating feeling and it predisposes me to the positive message of Ken Venturi.
We live in a competitive society, whether it be sports, business, politics or the acquisition of personal wealth. We raise our children to be successful in life, and that means they must learn to be competitive. They are taught that they must strive to be the best. Two weeks ago, my granddaughter came home from school and seemed sad. After asking about her day, she admitted that she got a very good mark on a math test that day, but she didn’t have the best mark. Hence the disappointment. I understood. We raise our kids to believe that they must be the best in order to feel successful.
I’ve not heard too many parents tell their children that directly, but the message is clearly implied. We play card games to win. We play computer games to win. When kids are introduced to organized sports, they are taught new skills, so they can win the game. I used to love watching my kids play T-Ball. The umpires did more coaching out there than the team coaches! No one kept score. Both teams were told at the end of the game that it ended in a tie – no winner and no loser. Imagine – playing for a couple of hours just to have fun!
Am I suggesting that competition is wrong or harmful? I think it can be. When it spurs us on to be the best we can be, to strive for excellence, then it is a good thing. When it turns ugly… the opposing team is the enemy whose collective butts we want to kick… then I think we’ve crossed the line. How often have we seen parents on the sidelines verbally attacking game officials for the calls that they make. I’m especially disgusted when I see a parent yelling at a teenaged baseball umpire who missed a call. It happened to my son and I was there to stick my face into the face of the belligerent parent. Like all bullies, he backed off in a hurry. Thankfully, most parents aren’t like that.
Ken Venturi understood competition as a pro golfer and as a golf broadcaster. He didn’t play a team sport – he competed against a golf course! It doesn’t matter who’s watching, it all comes down to the skill with which I can play a given golf course. If I lose the match, it will be because someone else was more skillful in beating the course that day. They didn’t beat me! Have you ever watched pro golf? Notice the respectful and courteous way the players treat each other throughout the match. Now watch a pro football, basketball or hockey game. In those sports, the opposition is the enemy, and often the strategy is to beat the enemy physically. And they do – to the total glee of the crowd!
What I like so much about this quote is that Venturi is saying that we should be competing against ourselves. We need to become better at something than we thought we could be. It is another way of looking at personal growth. We achieve growth when we exceed our own expectations. I’m guessing he developed this belief during his golf career as he did battle against the terrain of a golf course and the conditions presented by Mother Nature. In each and every match, his score had absolutely nothing to do with anyone else playing with him. Imagine his exhilaration at finishing second at the Masters Tournament when he was an amateur! No amateur has ever won that tournament.
What about the rest of us who are not pro athletes? Growth is a very personal thing, and I would say it’s an essential component of our lives. I would like to be a better man, parent, grandparent, friend and writer – to name just a few roles I have in life. The first on my wish list is to be a better man because if I’m not growing in that respect, then that will negatively impact all other roles I play in life. I need to become a better man than I ever thought I could be. What does that look like?