Simone Biles Isn’t Playing Battleship

I remember hearing business professor Adam Grant talking about success back in 2015. He said that “Success is less like Battleship (sinking other ships), and is more like the rising tide that lifts all boats.” That’s such a beautiful image, and one I’d argue is even more needed today.

I grew up playing the game battleship and found it an early opportunity to harness my emerging type-8 enneagram personality. There’s such satisfaction in taking down an opponent and feeling successful as a result. What’s not to love about the game description?

“Feel the authentic thrill of the battle when you wage war on the high seas in the game of Battleship… It’s a full-out assault. Position your ships strategically to survive the relentless strikes. Then target your opponent’s ships and wipe them out.”

As I got older, I realized this is a cheap view of success. If someone else has to lose or be torn down for me to thrive, something is wrong with me (and likely the system around us). Yet that is often how we view others. It’s also why we may not feel super excited by the success of those closest to us. It feels like a loss to us vicariously. We assume boats have to sink for the game to be played.

When it comes to watching the Olympics, I’ve found that I enjoy watching someone set a world record more than I enjoy watching my own country win. Don’t get me wrong… it’s fun to root for a team and have them succeed. That’s battleship. But it’s even better to realize you’re witnessing a unique moment of something that’s literally never been done before. That’s the tide rising.

I love the swimming events when they superimpose the world record as a moving yellow line in front of the swimmers. These are the best in the world pushing one another to their personal bests. The entire sport takes a step (or should that be a stroke?) forward. It’s a much better image of success than one boat shooting down another.

This also shows in the dichotomy of reactions to Simone Biles. Feeling frustration (or judgment) that she stepped out and the Americans got the silver is playing battleship. And we’ve seen plenty of adults are still playing that game. But her ship didn’t sink and she didn’t need to sink anyone else. Conversely, realizing she just modeled to the world how to prioritize self-care and mental health above results is to see the tide rise. If your view of Simone recently decreased it may be a good indication of which game you’re playing. As she’s done outside of competitions in dealing with abuses in the sport, she once again made a decision to raise the tide for everyone. That’s a real success.

I pray we see a day when those who dwell on sinking others around them are met with pity and obscurity rather than media attention. May we lead the way in helping other ships float constantly higher on an ever-increasing tide. If boats have to sink for the game to be played, let’s be the ones to play a different game.

May we lead the way in helping other ships float constantly higher on an ever-increasing tide. Click To Tweet

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Jeremy Jernigan

Speaker | Author | Founder of Communion Wine Co.