Monday, February 15, 2010

Winners and Losers

While I was watching the breathtaking Olympic men’s moguls competition last night my television screen almost cracked. Not from all the fist-pumping and arm-flailing I was engaging in as Alex Bilodeau finally took Canada to solid gold status on our home turf with his mesmerizing performance, but from the stinking, miserable, sourpuss expression on Dale Begg-Smith’s mug as he stood on the second-highest podium, sulking about the hunk of silver he had to choke on. I could have sharpened a set of chef’s knives on that face, it was so stony. Nothing says “Olympic Spirit” like showing millions of viewers, spectators, judges and other athletes just how badly you want to shove a bouquet of flowers down the throat of the Best Men’s Mogul Skier in the World, just before you stab him through the heart with your ski pole.

In sharp contrast, Bryan Wilson, a complete unknown from the US, exuded a visible joy over his bronze medal win that was endearing and infectious. He didn’t care that he was on the symbolic lowest of the three podiums. To him, it was a purely golden moment.

Begg-Smith, the undisputed champion going into the race, was the favourite for gold again at this event. Bilodeau snatching it from him was what they call an “upset”. I get that. I can’t fathom how crushed, both in spirit and in ego, the Canadian-Aussie must have felt at the moment of realization that the grandeur that goes with being Number One would no longer be his. Bilodeau and Wilson experienced the thrill of glory. Begg-Smith, the agony of defeat. Part of those experiences is just choice.

There are endless nuances to the emotions tied up in an Olympic experience that I will never be privy to; infinite physical, physiological and psychological factors that come into play for these competitors that I will never know a single thing about. But I, who has not and will never have one bit of the DNA that it takes to be anything even close to an Olympic athlete, do know one thing: Whether you’re a millionaire standing in front of the world at the almost-top of an Olympic podium in the very country that raised you and that you then ditched or you’re Joe Anyone winning a second-place ribbon in the local track and field meet in Nowheresville USA, a little sportsmanship goes a long way.

In the privacy of your own home, knock yourself out. Cry, scream, rave on about how unfair it all is, string together any chain of expletives you want in reference to the person or people who outperformed you; they probably cheated or got favoured by the judges anyway, right? Do, say, think what you want. Nobody’s looking.

But for the six minutes that the cameras are rolling, your character is on full display for millions of people around the world to size up and you just delivered a near-perfect performance and a silver medal to your country (your other country, that is), for crap’s sake at least try to crack a half of a freaking smile. Just fake it. You won a silver medal, dude. The only thing worse than a sore loser is a sore winner.

You think Heil was happy with her silver-medal finish? She thought, we all thought, she had the gold in the bag. Canadians were counting on her for it and she knew it. But she took second place and was still full of grace and toothy grin for us all the way through - at least when everyone was looking.

How well you perform is only one part of what defines you as an athlete, a sportsman and a winner. The other part is how you carry yourself through it all.

Your silver medal performance didn’t shame your countrymen, Dale. Your crappy attitude did.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Proof Positive.

I could compose a curmudgeonly update about the ridiculous (to the point that it’s no longer dreaded by me) Valentine’s Day hoopla that’s going to go on today, but I’ve decided to leave the curmudgeoning to the self-proclaimed master - my friend DJ. You can check out his grumpfest here. I hope he writes about Valentine’s Day because the festival of Hallmark cards and chocolate-filled cardboard hearts will be berated by him with a mastery that I can only hope to one day approach. If he doesn’t, his bellyaching about the Olympics is a great read, so check that out.

Instead I’ve decided to share with you something a little more uplifting - some thoughts regarding a recent stumble-upon, my rather newish friend M.

M is in her mid-forties and very recently separated (by choice) from her husband of 24 years, with whom she has two children. She moved out of their home in the ‘burbs to take over a microscopic but uber-stylish apartment in the heart of Old Montreal, where she always wanted to live. She quit her full-time job and went freelance as an interior decorator and designer of high-end home entertainment solutions - but not before taking off on a dream vacation to Italy, alone. She has completely changed her life.

It goes without saying that M’s got guts. We understand each other pretty well, too. What impresses me the most about her, though, is the unfailingly positive attitude she carries around. All the time. About everything. Whether for a stranger or for a friend she’s never without a smile, a wink and a cheery comment. She’s spontaneous, confident and hilarious and men seem to flock around her.So what’s her secret?

As complicated as her life must be at moments (see “24 years of marriage and two kids”, above), from what I can deduce her everyday philosophy essentially boils down to three simple rules: Stay positive. Smile. Wear lip gloss.

Can it really be that simple?

I was getting ready to head out on my thousandth blind date a few nights ago (surprisingly there is no prize awarded for reaching this milestone number) and – shockingly! – feeling a bit jaded and cynical about it all. M texted me before I left home to make sure I was wearing sexy boots and not frumpy winter ones, and then again as I was en route: “Stay positive! Smile! Are you wearing lip gloss?” Check. Check. Check. It wasn’t a great date (how long can we possibly discuss motorcycles without having a wine refill?), but I left feeling pretty good about myself anyway.

A couple of days later I was rushing to a job interview (!), feeling a mixture of emotions over what I was about to do. Just before I walked through the door, a text from M: “You better be wearing good boots again. Don’t forget to stay positive! Smile! Are you wearing lip gloss?” While I quite naturally would have thought of most of these things in this situation anyway, it was a simple and nicely timed reminder. I followed her “instructions” to a tee. It was a great interview, but even if it hadn’t been, I suspect I would have still walked out feeling good about myself.

I decided to start testing out her undeclared philosophy in everyday situations - after all, it clearly worked for her. While elements of it are not necessarily practical while I’m holed up in my home office (see good boots and lip gloss), it’s all pretty elementary to put into practice when I’m out and about. Smile when I perhaps normally wouldn’t. Pay a little attention to what I look like. And most importantly, think positively (as part of the LuluLemon manifesto states, “The conscious brain can only hold one thought at a time. Choose a positive thought”).

Things started to happen: People smiled back. Men held doors open. The world seemed a little friendlier. And I felt a little happier. How easy was that?

We’ve all got lots of crap going on in our lives. I’m no exception and neither is M. And while we’re all well aware that there are myriad situations that can’t be resolved with a happy thought, a facial expression and some beauty products, in essence M is onto something. Life is complicated enough on its own, so why not control the controllables? Do a little something to make yourself feel good and don’t get mired in the muck when you don’t have to. It’ll happen enough on its own.

So stay positive. Smile. Wear lip gloss.

“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.” Elbert Hubbard