You can be a winner and still feel like a loser. Just ask Fast Eddie. The problem is staying a loser. Here’s how he worked his way out of the mindset via two great quotes from The Hustler.
The first comes from Bert, the man who briefly becomes his mentor. Bert tells Eddie he didn’t just see him lose a match, he saw a man who was a born loser. Eddie defends his loss as, “I was drunk.” Bert answers,
Sure, you got drunk. That’s the best excuse in the world for losing. No trouble losing when you got a good excuse. And winning! That can be heavy on your back too. Like a monkey. You drop that load too when you got an excuse. All you gotte do is learn to feel sorry for yourself. It’s one of the best indoor sports: feeling sorry for yourself — a sport enjoyed by all, especially the born losers.
The second comes from Eddie himself, but it’s prompted by Sarah, the girl who loves him despite finding him at his worst. He asks her if she thinks he’s a loser. She asks who gave him that idea and he explains what Bert said. The conversation continues,
Sarah: would he know?
Eddie: He knows. A lot.
Sarah: Why did he tell you?
Eddie: I don’t know. I’m not sure. He said there are people want to lose, who are always looking for an excuse to lose.
Sarah: What does he do, this Bert Gordon?
Eddie: He’s a gambler.
Sarah: Is he a winner?
Eddie: Well, he owns things.
Sarah: Is that what makes a winner?
Eddie: Well, what else does?
Sarah: Does it bother you? What he said?
Eddie: Yeah. Yeah it bothers me a lot. ‘Cause, you see, twice, Sarah — once at Ames with Minnesota Fats and then again at Arthur’s in that cheap, crummy poolroom… Now, why’d I do it, Sarah? Why’d I do it? I coulda beat that guy, I coulda beat him cold. He never woulda known. But I just had to show ‘em, I just had to show those creeps and those punks what the game is like it’s great, when it’s really great. You know, like anything can be great — anything can be great… I don’t care, bricklaying can be great. If a guy knows. If he knows what he’s doing and why, and if he can make it come off. I mean, when I’m goin’ — when I’m really goin’ — I feel like… like a jockey must feel. He’s sittin’ on his hose, he’s got all that speed and that power underneath him, he’s comin’ into the stretch, the pressure’s on him — and he knows — just feels — when to let it go, and how much. ‘Cause he’s got everything workin’ for him — timing, touch. It’s a great feeling, boy, it’s a real great feeling when you’re right, and you know you’re right. It’s like all of a sudden I got oil in my arm. Pool cue’s part of me. You know, it’s a — pool cue’s got nerves in it. It’s a piece of wood — it’s got nerves in it. You feel the roll of those balls. You don’t have to look. You just know. Ya make shots that nobody’s ever made before. And you play that game the way nobody’s ever played it before.
Sarah: You’re not a loser, Eddie. You’re a winner. Some men never get to feel that way about anything. I love you Eddie.
It’s easy to get in a rut. It’s easy to find an excuse. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself.
It’s not easy to get good. But, the things we do get good at are usually things we love to do. And if we can really love doing something, if we can be great at it, then we’re never going to be a loser so long as we are doing that thing. Winning becomes secondary to the doing, because winning is usually based on some other semi-arbitrary measurement.
The results are the results. But learning to love the process is the path to learning to feel like we’re winning. Anything less is to be hustled.
You can read the full script of the movie here.
And, here are the two clips mentioned above: