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Category: Investment in Loss

Winning in New Ways


It has been about 6 months since I have completed reading The Art of Learning. Josh’s story really got me thinking because his story is very similar to mine. My journey started off as an elementary school student with some big shoes to fill. I come from a family of athletes, swimmers to be exact. My grandfather competed in backstroke events at VMI, my parents met on the swim team at the University of Georgia, and my mother competed for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. To make a long story short, I was born with the swimming gene.

However, the idea of competitiveness was something that I had to learn. When I first started swimming, I participated because I loved being in the water and goofing around with my friends. My parents have always believed in nurturing my love for the water, so we spent every summer up in Canada visiting relatives. My coaches always thought my parents were crazy because they never made me train while we were away. Those summers were the best gifts that my parents could have ever given me.

As I grew older, my parents understood that it was time to shorten our visits and become more focused on swimming, only at my request. Throughout high school, I became extremely dedicated to the sport and found success in my hard work. I became the Georgia State Champion in the 500 yard Freestyle and achieved All-American status. Later that year, I signed to compete at NC State in the distance freestyle events. I graduated from high school at the top of my swimming game and excited to compete at a NCAA division I level.

When I first got to school the training and schoolwork became much more difficult. I started training twice a day and started lifting weights, something that I had not done in high school. I also had to adapt to being coached by new people and getting to know my new teammates. With all of the added stress, my body had a difficult time keeping up. A few months into school, I caught pneumonia and had to take a few weeks off. I eased back into swimming around December and I knew that I was behind with the training. In order to get back into peak shape, I began training harder than ever, but my body still couldn’t keep up. One month later, I was in the emergency room with a severe respiratory infection. With the rest of my freshman season in the bucket, I was not off to a good start and my confidence knew it.

Going into my sophomore year, things did not get better. My body continued to succumb to respiratory problems and my coaches started to become frustrated. I, however, became my harshest critic. I couldn’t understand how I had gone from State Champion to not even being able to make the travel team. My confidence was at all all-time low and I began to hate swimming. It wasn’t fun anymore. It’s a crazy feeling, losing something that has always been your passion.

At the end of my sophomore season, I knew that it was time for me to retire from the sport. I was no longer excited about competing and I didn’t enjoy practice anymore. With my new-found freedom, I was excited to enjoy my last two years of college. I changed my major from Animal Science to Education and I was excited to explore my new life. At the beginning of my junior year I started to have different problems. I would show up to the gym to workout and would never enjoy myself. I hated being there because it reminded me of my swimming life. I didn’t feel good about myself because I was no longer in “good shape” and I was afraid of reaching hard levels because I didn’t want to get sick again. Exercise always reminded me of pain and I began to stay away from it all together.

At the end of my junior year, my professor handed my class The Art of Learning to read over the summer. She told us to read the book and just shoot her a quick email when we finished. As I was reading, I began to really relate to Josh’s story. He had managed to put all of my feelings into writing. He had chosen to leave something that had great meaning to him. Not only that but he had learned how to ignite passion into something new, how to make things exciting. After finishing the book in three days, I began a summer-long experiment: I was going to figure out how to like exercising again.

What I learned from Josh and my earlier days of swimming was that I needed to start slowly. I didn’t want to just throw myself into something because the overwhelming feeling would not be helpful. So I decided to take hour-long walks in the afternoons. No running, no intervals, no time standards; just walking. I would sometimes go by myself or with a few friends and I would just enjoy being outside. I did this for a few weeks and began to feel great because I was being healthier and it wasn’t too difficult. This was when I decided that I would make things more challenging, but not by too much. So I set a goal of being able to run one mile without stopping. I found that the challenge was difficult at the time but it began to get easier and easier. I was beginning to have fun with exercise again!

With the summer coming to an end, I was pleased with my results. I was able to run four miles without stopping and I began to practice yoga for stress-relief. However, when school began again things started to get harder. I wasn’t able to keep up with my strict summer regiment, but I never let things fall into shambles. The fall was a learning experience. I was doing well in the classroom and I still found time for exercise. I can honestly say that I did not train at NCAA division I level, but I did enough to satisfy myself and that is what I am excited to build upon. This past Thanksgiving I ran my first-ever four mile Turkey Trot and I finished with my chin held high. It was, and still is, a difficult journey that I am handling to this day.

The next question is, how does this enhance my teaching abilities? Although “teaching” is the name of my profession, “learning” and “understanding” are what the profession is all about. My experience with The Art of Learning has taught me that the concept of “learning” and “education” is an on-going journey. There will be good days and there will be bad days. What will you make of them? Learning to find comfort in exercise was something that has plagued me for a long time because of how overwhelmed I felt. When I was able to break it apart and take my time, I realized that I was able to really enjoy the activity and the whole experience. This approach is central to my educational philosophy now. Currently, I am a middle grades student teacher in an American Social Studies classroom. Instead of throwing big concepts at my students, I plan on starting small. When I am teaching I want them to find an aspect of history that they relate to so that they start to become more immersed on their own. When we start to hit on the larger topics and ideas, they will have a point of reference if they become confused or overwhelmed

All in all, I can say that this has been the most difficult piece that I have had to write in my four years of college because this story has made me who I am today. The Art of Learning is a book that will always be in the back of my mind when I am trying to understand and grow with my middle school students. By starting small and building upon new interests, my goal is to make my students into life-long learners.

The Art of Bowling


I’m a candlepin bowler, on an unusual career path: I was very active as a youth bowler, then drifted away from the sport after high school and bowled only sporadically for most of my adult life, until I decided, at the age of 43, to return to bowling as an intensive competitor and see how much I could accomplish at this stage of life.  At 50, I’m bowling better than ever before – and much of the credit has to go to the principles detailed in Josh’s book.

The first two chapters, Innocent Moves and Losing to Win, speak to my experiences with instructors, my   approach to learning, and the way I handle adversity in competitive situations.


My bowling coach has a saying that identifies him as an incremental learning theorist: “You’ll get almost as good as you want to!”  I love that, because it means there’s no limit to how much you can improve, if you just keep raising the bar.  That’s what he does for me, when I see him for a lesson. He has a higher opinion of me than I have of myself, and he totally embraces the incremental theory of learning. This helps me to understand that I can get better and better, even at 50, if I want it badly enough to put in the work.

One of the questions in the Study Guide to TAOL asks, “Do you think you are emotionally prepared for both wins and losses?”

I often get my best results when I come into a tournament feeling a little bit tired or sick, possibly because my low expectations on those occasions make it easier to just be present and throw the ball.  But I’m not sure that I’m emotionally prepared for wins and losses. When I lose, I always try to come away with some knowledge that will help me next time – but this does not always happen.  Sometimes I’m not prepared for a win, either.  Several years ago, when I won a pro candlepin doubles tournament, I was so stunned afterwards that everything was a blur – I got in my car and drove about 20 miles in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake!  I have trouble believing that I’m good enough to compete with the best bowlers – I’m not sure why.  Even after winning a professional tournament, I still lacked (and lack) self-confidence and sometimes feel that I don’t belong, against the best bowlers.  This is part of what I’m trying to explore with Josh’s book.


In this chapter, one of the most important concepts is what Josh calls “commitment beyond fun – responding to heartbreak with hard work.”

When I’m discouraged after a bad tournament, what I try to do is to be patient.  I remind myself that as long as there’s a “takeaway” from every event, I haven’t wasted my time.

It’s not that winning isn’t important, but generally, my best takeaways are from losses.  Every spring, I compete in the Easter Classic, a 20-game candlepin tournament that takes all day and uses up pretty much all of my energy, both physical and emotional.  Last year, after around 13 or 14 games, I was extremely tired and sore – and was also not bowling very well, so I knew I wasn’t going to take home any money.  I was so fatigued and sore that I considered withdrawing from the tournament. But I thought, “What would Josh want me to do right now?”  The answer was simple – stay in the game, be present, keep grinding, and find a way to make the rest of the tournament a learning experience for the future.  So I got away from the lanes for a few minutes, washed my face, walked around a bit, and refocused on staying patient and trying to find a way to bowl well despite the fatigue and pain.

My right arm and shoulder were so stiff that I couldn’t swing the ball as high as I normally do in my backswing – but I figured out how to make it work and turned the last five games into my best five-game block of the tournament.  What’s more, I have retained the slightly lower backswing and find that it gives me more accuracy and consistency – as a result, this season has been my most successful ever, at the age of 50.  This is how Losing to Win works for me.

In the Easter Classic – or any pro tournament – there’s always a group of bowlers who throw in the towel when they reach the point where they’re out of the money. The quitters are protecting themselves from the pain that comes from giving your best and having it not be good enough. They’ll say, “I can’t get a break,” or worse, “I stink.”  They won’t be patient, because they don’t want to risk giving 100 percent all day and still having no reward.  Or they say “This isn’t important, who cares.” They’re not willing to invest in loss – and they’re denying that losing hurts.

My approach is to put my emotional self on the line and admit that losing hurts.  Josh describes chess parents who tell their kids that a loss doesn’t matter.  Well, it does matter.  Owning the emotional pain is an important part of learning from it.  And if I’d said, “Who cares?” at the Easter Classic, I wouldn’t have found the swing change that led directly to improved results this season.

A Journey Toward Losing to Win


Competition perpetually flows through my veins. All sporting and academic challenges I am presented with inevitably turn into battles, letting my competitive personality seep through. Going head to head with an opponent, regardless of the significance, lures me into the thrill of potential victory. While this seemingly unstoppable drive for winning can be useful, it can also consume me. Herein, as I discovered through The Art of Learning, lies my fatal flaw.

Even as a child, I was immensely competitive. I can still, to this day, recall lost foosball matches against my Dad that resulted in hysterical fits of tears and hours of self pity. I was so intent upon winning that losing, in my mind, meant complete and utter failure. Such an attitude is neither healthy nor beneficial for a competitive spirit.


After 10 years had passed, I would no longer break down into fits of tears upon losing to my Dad in foosball (yes, 10 years later my Dad could still beat me in foosball). However, I still found it difficult to accept my defeats—there seemed to be no gain in losing.

Then, I was introduced to The Art of Learning. I was fascinated to discover how a defeat could be used as a positive learning experience. Prior to delving into The Art of Learning, my ego had a tendency to block the potential usefulness of losing. While I had understood that losing isn’t always a negative occurrence and tends to be a part of life, I wouldn’t let myself truly recognize and, even more important, utilize the full constructive power of loss.

Today, I still aim to win but the vital information that I now carry, stemming from The Art of Learning, helps me understand that it is more than acceptable to lose and that loss can even be a crucially helpful tool. While I am not perfect at it, I now strive to constantly invest in my losses.

My ego no longer forbids me to look back at and analyze my defeats. Confronting my defeats has morphed into an exercise that allows me to uncover my weaknesses and consequently develop them into strengths. The Art of Learning has illustrated a way in which I am able to embrace my losses and turn them around so that they become personal victories. I now pride myself on losing to win.

The Art of Teaching

Guest Blogger: Nick Rubinfier

Something that every teacher must face at some point is the inevitable interpretation that his or her job is one that is not really a highly qualified profession. We have all heard the saying “those who can’t do, teach” and realize that there is a belief out there that teachers become educators because they couldn’t find success in some more “real” field. And even when the person outside the field looks in and accepts that the job is one “I could never do,” it is often quickly followed with, “I just don’t have the patience for kids.” Again, the implication being that the hard part of being a teacher is having patience, not skill.

When I read The Art of Learning I found myself understanding how wrong it is to look at teaching as anything other than a highly skilled profession. I suppose those who ‘can’t do’ can become teachers, but they won’t be anything but really bad teachers. When reading in The Art of Learning Josh’s description of professional athletes and champion chess players (and in my mind I added doctors and commercial jet pilots whose skills can mean the difference between life and death), I could see how the skills I have run absolutely parallel.

In the educator-as-artist role I need to constantly fine-tune the lessons I teach and must adjust for the unique needs of all the students looking to me to lead them to the knowledge they are seeking. To truly teach well I must be absolutely present. Like Josh “seeing” moves ahead or like Capt. Sullenberger landing a plane safely in the Hudson, I am constantly slowing down time to bring to each and every student that which they need at that moment to make the discoveries which will empower them. I see that when I am at the top of my form I am that extremely skilled professional, and though no one will live to die in my classroom, the life of learning of my students can weigh precariously in my hands. It would seem impossible that I reach 30 students at a time, differentiating the lesson to suit their complex and individual needs while engaging them, making it fun, and allowing them to take ownership of the learning. And yet, that is exactly what I do.


What I have found in Josh’s analysis of his story and the process of reaching a higher level of performance is a way to look at my life as an educator not as a job of manual labor but as an art form that requires going deep—a professional job that in Josh’s words requires being present, slowing down time, making use of adversity, finding a zone, and putting it all together.

My copy of The Art of Learning is well worn. I go back to it time and again, not just to remind me that my job is an art form and a serious profession, but to help me continue to grow as a learner and a facilitator of learning. Books like this are a gift for they  tell you a story that gives you a new perspective about how we live and show you ways to understand your own story and to tell it to the world by living it better.

Debate and The Art of Learning: A Reflection

Tian Yan 2

Guest Blogger: Tian Yan

This article is about how I apply the practice of debate and the ideas discussed in Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” to my own personal development. Like Josh, I’m writing as honestly as I can, and in doing so, am sharing with you the most personal aspects of my life—things I’ve not even told my closest friends.

My name is Tian Yan. I’m a final-year software engineering undergraduate from Malaysia.

Three years ago, I dropped out of a top-20-world-ranking university because I was failing my academic course. I returned to Malaysia and continued my education in the Asia Pacific University College of Technology and Innovation (UCTI).

For more than a year, I battled personal demons because I got kicked out from the university I worked so hard to enter. I was more disappointed in myself than other people were and I wasn’t sure if I could ever accomplish anything difficult again. Having to restart my education with much younger peers did not help matters.

But then I discovered debating.


A friend asked me to participate in an upcoming debate tournament. I was scared as hell because I had scars from debating back in high school. Fortunately, I quickly agreed to participate before my mind gave me excuses not to go. I needed to regain a sense of accomplishment.

I learned to love the game. We got killed in that first tournament, but I made many close friends who took me under their wings and taught me the foundational skills of debate.

In my second tournament, we broke through the quarter-finals as underdogs. A debate adjudicator thought we had potential and trained us for free in a one-day crash course.

In my third tournament, we gave it everything we had. Even though we had had only four months of debating, we managed to emerge in the octo-finals of the Asian British Parliamentary debating championship. I hadn’t felt so alive in a very long time.

More important, I always meet someone new in every tournament. When we compete against each other, it feels almost like a reunion. In his book, Josh says that “Experience is what you get when you don’t win.” I would add: “Friendships are what you get just for trying.”

I discovered Josh’s “The Art Of Learning” through an interview he did with Dave Lakahni and Dr. Ben Mack. When Josh shared his insights in winning world chess championships and Tai Chi Push Hands tournaments, they resonated with my own debating experience: How Josh found his love for chess and described the experience as “reconnecting with a lost memory”….How he turned down the offer to share the world championship title with a draw because it was not a meaningful win….And how he transfered his excellence from chess to Tai Chi, a sport outside his domain.

All that felt just like my experience with debating.

Like white chess pieces, the Government team has the strategic advantage over the Opposition team in deciding the first move.

As in Tai Chi, we tempt our opponents to overextend their case beyond the limits of their arguments and use their admissions to prove our own case in no definite order.

Like Josh, debaters create chaos in debates and trap our opponents with an unexpected attack.

After studying Josh’s ideas, debating took on a whole different meaning for me. I now see it as a vehicle for developing mental discipline and keeping my mind even and focused during critical moments. The practice influenced my debating philosophy and taught me to love my rival opponents, even the ones who played dirty. In Josh’s words:“Your opponent is your enemy, yet there is no one who knows you more intimately, no one who challenges you so profoundly and pushes you so relentlessly.”

Since we’re stuck without a coach, it can be intimidating to debate against world champions and other seasoned debaters. And so, part of our practice is to learn everything we can from every opportunity we get. The pressure I feel to win lies in the fact that my career started late. I’ve only six months left to debate and if I can accomplish something worthwhile, I will have no reason to believe I cannot master anything difficult again – even though I was a university drop-out once.

Yet, too many peop3d human with a red question markle enter debate tournaments not to win, but to “not to lose.” And that’s a shame because they never strive to win and therefore miss out on the cumulative benefits that can make them better. Unfortunately, some people see winning as the only option and can never accept their loss. And that’s a shame too because they don’t understand that losses are an important investment in self-discovery. That’s why we always remember our most humbling losses.

Finally, I learned to ask myself this question: “Does my debating make me a better person?” Being a debater does not mean I have the license to be rude and right all the time. Instead, the practice of debate has only gone to show me how the many months I spent in debate training failed to make me a better person. That’s why my passion for learning to debate better now includes teaching it to others – this makes me feel like a better person and fulfills my sense of accomplishment.

I challenge you to strive for a similar sense of achievement through your own pursuits.