TERPSTRA: If you’re not first, you’re doing just fine

I don’t know if Reese Bobby spoke for a young generation of would-be stock-car drivers or not, but I have to disagree with him when those words spilled out of his mouth over a decade ago.

You remember, Reese, don’t you?

He was Ricky Bobby’s scene-stealin’ and pot-dealin’ dad in the movie “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

The one that hates onions on his bourbon steak.

Kelly Terpstra
Kelly Terpstra

He rattled off those words to his son at some point in that movie that even still today kind of gets under my craw – “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”

Never mind the improper English, listen to the words.

Reese later went on to say something to the effect of, “No, you can be second, third, fourth, heck, even fifth.”

Ricky then yelled back, “I lived my whole life by that!”

Doesn’t matter if it’s sports, work or just life in general.

We’re taught as kids from an early age to try and rack up as many pull-ups as we can, run fastest to the finish line and hit the ball as hard as we can.

Test scores matter and so do good grades. Competition for scholarships can be intense.

The goal to win and be the best that you can be has been passed down from generation to generation.

Winning solves everything. “I don’t play for the money, I play to win,” you’ll hear professional players in sports say over and over again.

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades?

Am I wrong?

Well, not entirely. But I’m not right, either.

I’ve heard all too often how important it is to win in whatever you do.

Of course we’re not going to teach our future doctors, teachers and scientists to lose.

That doesn’t make sense.

But there’s something missing. Something we as a society lost a little of along the way.

I’ve seen more and more of it the older I get.

We’ve lost the ability to accept defeat. To admit when we’re wrong. To say we made a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, we all haven’t lost this. But it’s become a trend that scares me.  

The pressure to be No. 1 has consumed people.

The tunnel vision created by a lust to be considered the “top dog” has turned some people rabid for success.

I’m all for anyone out there “going for the gold” or “reaching for the stars.” Or any of the other thousand different cliches people can come up with.

So win. But do it with grace and humbleness.

Don’t become adversarial. There’s too much of that in this world today.

You win. I lose.

All that does is divide. Then you’re on one side or the other.

Now I’m not advocating the mentality that everybody should get a ribbon. There need to be winners and losers.

I’ll segue.

I always like watching old boxing clips.

One of my favorites is “The Rumble in the Jungle,” a 1974 mega fight that saw one of boxing’s all-time greats — Muhammad Ali — score a major, upset victory over the heavily-favored George Foreman.

Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, was thought to be no match for Foreman, who was in his prime and possessed tremendous punching power.

But in the end, Ali’s “rope-a-dope” proved successful as Foreman punched himself out. Shortly thereafter the aging Ali knocked out Foreman in dramatic fashion. The loss devastated Foreman. He slid into a deep depression that lasted for at least a couple of years.

Yeah, I know, Foreman didn’t lose a pie-eating contest at a county fair — he lost in an epic fight among the sport’s elites.

But it’s still a metaphor for life. Foreman rushed out of the ring after that night in Zaire against Ali in what still will be considered his most gut-wrenching loss. He was mad, but was still gracious in defeat.

Foreman would recover and re-invent himself decades later. The solemn, sometimes brooding stone face became one of the most engaging personalities around. He also didn’t put away his boxing gloves, either. He became the oldest heavyweight champion the sport has ever seen. Oh, and he made millions selling a lot of grills.

Is Foreman perfect?


But his story holds a key truth.

You can win with a loss, people.

It’s possible.

We all aren’t going to be blessed with the talent that George Foreman possessed in boxing.

But we all have something to give and we all have talents.

Now is it blue-ribbon talent? It might not be.

It might be a white ribbon, or a green or brown one.

Heck, there may be no ribbon or trophies at all. Maybe you just like to compete in whatever endeavor that is.

But if you played the game right and gave it your best, it shouldn’t matter.

Because you’re winning anyway.