Why We Root for the Underdog

From @Bexmeister Flash on Flicker.

This past week, I ran a test in which I was testing a woman who was even smaller than me for yellow belt. At one point, I switched up her partner to give her an attacker who was close to twice her size to see how she’d fare. And when faced with the additional pressure, she rose to the challenge. I couldn’t help by smile inside my mind as I checked off the technique from the sheet.

The day before the test, I went to parkour class in which we were told to do a vault of some sort and land into a full sprint. I did a kong vault, but took off a little too close, clipping my knee on the hard wood apparatus as I did so. It made a big bang, which I reacted to with a grunt of pain, but somehow still made it over and landed in the requisite sprint. While there were other people who cleared the obstacle much more elegantly than I did, somehow I inspired cheers from the whole class that weren’t there for anyone else.

We all do this. Unless we have a vested interest in a particular party, if given a choice of who to root for, we usually pick the underdog. We love underdogs because they represent triumph over a struggle. Truth be told, we all feel like underdogs at various things in our lives, so when we see someone give it their all, struggle through the effort, yet emerge triumphant, it encourages us in our own endeavours. We can believe that if we make the effort that we too may triumph over our own struggles.

The people who seem to achieve things easily, even if they had gone through their own struggles in the past, don’t usually give us this reminder. But we should strive to remind ourselves; the people we exalt most in life were probably underdogs who kept at it. Few people in the world possess what we call “natural talent.” What appears as natural talent that came out of nowhere is usually someone who just quietly put their nose down and set about working on a particular skill, failing a thousand times in the process, but failing forward, eventually achieving the skill that receives recognition they are now afforded. But at some point, they were that underdog. At some point they had a low level of skill and experience and and to push past boundaries, falling flat on their face once in a while, to get where they are today.

Find inspiration in every person’s efforts on their own journeys seeking excellence. Admire the underdog who keeps at it without the string of previous successes to keep them encouraged. Admire the people at the top of their game who keep up their training because they are the example of that hard work paying off and continuing to pay off. Apply the lessons we learn from these people on your own path toward success. We’re all underdogs at something, but it’s the way we frame ourselves and our journeys that keep us reaching for excellence on our own journeys.

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