My daughter, who is in fifth grade, came home from school last week and collapsed into a tearful mess – all the self confidence sucked right out of her like air out of a balloon. She had run for Student Council President and had lost.
I listened, my motherly heart breaking, as she sniffed and gulped, the words pouring out of her mouth:
“But, I worked so hard! How could this happen?”
“I must have done a really bad job because someone else won.”
“I got up in front of all those people and now I feel stupid.”
I tried to pick up the pieces reminding her of one of life’s greatest lessons: that failure, rejection and defeat are a reality for every one of us. I let her know that I ran for class president in 8th grade and didn’t win and that I’ve had countless other setbacks. I told her it is our duty to grow from these experiences, to use them to our advantage to make us stronger. We cannot let losing or failing paralyze us and make us afraid to try again. This is what builds character and eventually helps us find success.
While listening to her, two things jumped out at me:
1. Just because we work hard at something doesn’t mean it will turn out the way we planned or hoped. Just because we work hard at something does not mean we are guaranteed anything. Yet, that should never stop us from working as hard as we can and giving it 100%. As is often the case with the most meaningful things in life, the journey is the classroom. The journey is the real experience.
How many of us have trained for races only to be struck down by injury only weeks before the big day? We feel cheated. After all, we trained our asses off and made countless sacrifices only to find ourselves as a DNS-er (Did not Start),a DNF-er (Did Not Finish), or God forbid a DFL-er (Dead F&cking last) - something no athlete ever wants to be. We think “What was the point of all that training? What a waste.”
Well, I’m here to tell you it wasn’t wasted effort. The training was a platform for growth. For learning what to do better next time. It served a purpose. And the injury did too. It hopefully ignited a fire in you to recover, to keep moving forward, to never give up.
2. We should never let how we feel about ourselves or our performance be dictated by our ego’s need to compare ourselves with others. Our race is OURS and no one else's. Comparing ourselves does one of two things: makes us feel inappropriately inadequate or makes us feel inappropriately superior. It is natural to compare ourselves to others, but it usually makes us terribly unhappy. So, why do it? There will always be someone faster, smarter, thinner, richer just like there will always be someone slower, dumber, fatter and poorer. Get over it.
I always tell myself that the ONLY thing that matters after I cross the finish line is that I have no regrets about what I did on the course (except for that turd I left at mile four, but whatever). Only I know if I gave it my all and if I didn’t well, I have to live with that and it won’t be pretty.
Sometimes late at night (probably why I can’t sleep), I go through my day and know there were moments as a parent, spouse, friend, athlete, employee that I could have stepped it up and didn’t. It’s a piss poor feeling. I don’t have to be perfect or please everyone or run a 3:30 marathon, but I HAVE to know I lived up to my potential for that day. I want to be better, to do better, to show up as my best self in all ways. We all should.
As the Buddha says, “The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”
I know for a fact that Emma was incredibly proud of her posters and the speech that she gave. I know for a fact that she delivered an amazing speech in front of 300 students and teachers in a poised, self confident and kick ass manner because I was there. When she told me she must have done a bad job because she didn’t win, I asked her “But, how did you feel after your speech, before the votes were in? Were you proud of yourself?” She replied, “Yes, it was hard to get up in front of all those people, but I did it.” So, in a sense, she did win.
Do you compare yourself to others and base your self worth on that? Of course I do, but I try to be aware that it is happening and tell myself to “KNOCK IT OFF.” It really does no good. In a race I am competitive with others, and I think the two things are very different. I see competition as beneficial because it feels like the spirit of the event and a dynamic that makes us push harder. In daily life, however, I am most unhappy when I am seeing how I stack up next to everyone else. And, yes, it is VERY easy to compare in the blog world, so we all have to watch out for that trap.
How has failure/rejection/defeat made you stronger? For me, there are stages. At first, I pull back and don’t want to try again. But, over time I keep telling myself that you need to “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” I try not to take it personally and to learn from it.