I just finished watching the New England Patriots defeat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. I lived in New England for six years and began cheering for the Patriots then. And the Super Bowl was played in Phoenix just down the street from where I live now, so that was kinda fun.
I guess you could say my team won. Or, at least, the team I cheer for won.
An interesting thing happens to me when a team that I cheer for wins a major sporting championship—this year is no different. I am instantly taken back to a conversation with a friend that occured almost 20 years ago.
Specifically, it was the mid-1990’s and the Nebraska Cornhuskers had just won the NCAA College Football Championship. After celebrating with our friends a short while after the final whistle, we got ready to leave while the party ended.
I recall vividly sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s Honda Accord remarking how fun it was to win, but not sure knowing what to do next. I suggested that maybe we each head home to bed because we needed to get up early the next day for school. He agreed. And made this passing remark:
The emptiness of sports is most felt in victory.
I knew immediately what he meant. We were huge Nebraska Cornhusker fans—even though neither of us played on the team or even attended the school. But that didn’t matter. We invested a lot of resources into the season. The team’s schedule dictated ours. We spent money on t-shirts and hats and even some tickets during the year. We tied our emotions to the outcome of the games. And we argued relentlessly with anyone who disagreed with the superiority of our team.
We were highly invested in them and their success. Then, they won the big game and were crowned champion. We were excited for them and for us. But then, we returned home to go to bed. Life doesn’t stop for a national championship.
Up until this particular year, I had never personally experienced a championship. For one reason or another, we had always fallen short. In defeat, the emptiness is rarely felt because there is always next year, the thrill of the pursuit still remains. You can look back and debate what went wrong or what referee cost you a chance at the title. You can talk about the next season and what changes need to be made and how things will turn out better. You are left hoping and striving to defeat those that defeated you.
But when you win, the pursuit of the goal is removed. There is no one left to defeat. There is no obstacle left to overcome. Your team has reached the pinnacle of its sport. But it doesn’t change your life in any way. In fact, work begins again in the morning.
The emptiness of sports, you see, is most felt in victory.
But this is not a negative post to disparage athletics. I have competed in both individual and team sports my entire life. Through athletics, I have learned (and continue to learn) important life lessons about teamwork, discipline, strategy, perseverance, and the role that competition plays in our lives.
Also, this is not a post to disparage those who play sports or those who coach them—professional, collegiate, varsity, or younger. The goal of sports is to become the best all-around athlete or team that you can possibly become—and that progress is displayed on the field of play.
Congratulations to the New England Patriots. They have given their life and skill to the pursuit of a championship. And their hard work has paid off. No doubt, their accomplishment results in great satisfaction for them and everyone involved in the organization.
Instead, this is a post about the things we decide to pursue with our lives.
Because sometimes, it is difficult to notice the emptiness of these pursuits until we actually obtain them.
While we are striving, before we reach the top, the reward appears to be worth the effort and the investment. But this is not always the case.
For example, consider the pursuit of riches. When we don’t have them, but choose to pursue them, we do so because we think the solutions to many of our problems lie there. In money, we believe, we will find contentment, security, respect, confidence, or importance.
But the emptiness of riches is most felt in victory. Only when we obtain them, do we discover money does not bring nearly as much security and happiness as we expected.
Zig Ziglar said it this way, “Money won’t bring happiness, but everyone wants to find out for themselves.”
The same argument, I believe, could be made of material possessions, public accolades, fame, or early retirement. When we do not possess these, we desire them and faithfully invest our time and talent into them.
I often wonder if these pursuits also fall short of our greatest potential and greatest fulfillment. But maybe it is not until we finally achieve them that we recognize the emptiness of them.
What is the solution to this dilemma? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure.
But whenever I discover a pursuit that brings fulfillment upon its accomplishment, I feel called to invest more and more resources into it.
When I give my full attention to parenting well and feel the satisfaction that comes from it, I desire more of it. When I reach the end of a hard day at work knowing my focus was on other people, I feel fulfilled, and I desire more of it. When I generously invest money into causes I believe in and feel a sense of accomplishment, I desire to invest more money in that direction.
Ultimately, this is not a post about sports. This is a post about identifying which pursuits bring the greatest fulfillment in life. And finding the strength to invest our resources in them.
Image: Photo Credit: Cheryl Evans/azcentral sports