There’s a saying that everyone has heard, “It’s not whether you win or loose, it’s how you play the game.” I don’t necessarily buy into that theory, because I really, really like winning. However, I also enjoy doing things that challenge me, whether or not I necessarily succeed at them.
That brings us to the topic of today’s post, the value of losing. I absolutely despise losing, and I hate failure. I mentioned once before that the only way to truly fail at something is if when you don’t succeed, you fail to learn anything from your lack of success. I stand by that statement.
If losing is so bad, and something that I will go to great lengths of effort and expend blood, sweat, and tears to avoid; what value can be found in it? You’d be surprised, and I know that I have been.
To me, losing has always been that bogeyman of failure, and I’ve been guilty on many occasions of losing a game/sport/contest and being a poor sport of the whole thing; which of course impedes my ability to learn from my loss, and thusly win next time. Every now and then (and more often as I get older) I actually do keep my head out of my ass and manage to maintain my dignity if I do lose. When I do that, often the first thing I learn from losing is I get a refresher course in one of my most challenging topics: Humility.
I am not a very humble person, my father tried to teach me humility, and it just didn’t take. I don’t feel too bad about it, because it didn’t take very well with him either. One of the greatest lessons I learned in humility was when I was a very young warthog, home on leave from the Coast Guard Academy. Momma Ahab had introduced me to a nice young lady named Mandy that she knew from the gym where she taught. Mandy offered to play racquetball and I offered to take her shooting. Now, being 19, in excellent shape, I figured that my athleticism would more than make up for my lack of experience at racquetball.
What I didn’t know was that Mandy played on her college team, and was quite good. When she finished kicking my sorry ass all over the court, I could hear the words of my father ringing in my ears. “Son, don’t let your mouth write checks your ass can’t cash” or something to that extent. I suspect to this day that Momma Ahab was setting me up in the hopes of taking me down a couple of pegs. It worked.
Of course, just learning humility would be enough, but there is a lot more value that can be extracted from not succeeding. The 2nd most valuable thing that I’ve ever picked up from not winning is perseverance. I don’t believe in quitting, especially if I want to do something. I quit at something that mattered once, and I don’t want to ever do that again.
When I first started shooting Collegiate pistol for the Coast Guard, I was lousy at Free Pistol. I hated the weird gun, the teeny targets, everything about it. Then I started practicing more. I sucked, and I lost, then I sucked a little less, my scores started to rise, you know how it goes. the point is that it would have been easy to just say “screw it” to Free Pistol and focus on an event I had more natural talent for – but the ability to persevere through my failure and bring my game up was a much more valuable lesson.
The final value of losing that I’ll talk about today is the joy that it adds to victory. This may not apply to everyone, but I don’t particularly like “coasting to victory”; I much prefer scrapping tooth-and-nail for my wins. I love to win, and even more than that I love to win at things that I’ve previously lost at. For instance, when I passed Chemistry at the Academy, the fact that I had struggled, failed assignments, and just had a general bad time with the subject most of my life; finally getting it and stepping up and beating it was delicious.
I don’t want you guys to think I’m going soft, and that I’m saying it’s okay to lose. I hate losing. I absolutely despise it, and I compete to win at everything. Ask my wife; I hate losing at anything from Rock, Paper, Scissors to a game of 9-ball. I can’t even stand to lose at board games. I’m not saying that you should go out and lose a bunch so you can learn lessons, either. But when you lose, you only fail if you don’t learn something from it. There are a lot more lessons than the three basics I mentioned here.