Losing is hard.
You put it all out there, talk yourself out of your fears of inadequacy, with your soul at risk. You train and make sacrifices, suit up and show up, with the right equipment and skill set, your body fed, rested and ready. And then: you come up short. Sometimes it’s your own fault — you let yourself down — other times, random bad luck just seems to find you.
For me, as hard as it is to be the loser, it’s more gut-wrenching to watch it happen to my kids.
My 10-year-old daughter Charlotte recently competed on Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship, Season 3. On week 2, her cake just didn’t bake through. Sadly, as soon as my girl flipped the cooled cake out of the pan, it completely caved in on itself. It wasn’t just unpresentable, It was basically inedible. As Charlotte’s eyes went from tentative anticipation to fractured hope, to brimming with tears. All in the space of about half a second.
She realized that, barring some crazy miracle, she had lost.
Those of us watching at home realized it, too. There was no miracle for Charlotte that day. She simply did not win. She replayed that cake bake thousands of times in her head, for weeks, trying to pinpoint where she had gone wrong. She re-lived every limb of the decision tree that led her to that losing cake, sure that if only she had chosen differently, she would have survived that competition.
“If only” is a tough road to travel. Are there any strategies for making loss a little more palatable, for me and for my kids? For you? For yours, if you have them? I have lost enough times in my life to have amassed a decent-sized toolkit.
- GIVE IT TIME
I’ve learned from experience that time does heal, and sometimes the only way out of something is through it. If I just let myself have some time to be disappointed, I can usually get it about 75% out of my system pretty quickly. It’s the pesky 25% left behind that continue to swirl in my head and keep me awake at night. So, for that…
- LOVE THE ARENA
After a loss, I read Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech, which celebrates the guts it takes to put yourself out there. It reminds us that the magic is there – in the arena, doing the work. He wrote:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
If I want to know both victory and defeat, there is no way around it. Life, in its richest version, requires us to be willing to fail, while daring greatly, with sweaty, messy brows. There is honor in losing. The comfy stands of the arena are not where I want to live my life. The pain of living on the sidelines is not an option.
- KNOW YOUR WHY, AND CREATE A DIFFERENT GOAL
When I throw my hat in the ring, I get very clear on the WHY behind the what, and then use the WHY to create a separate goal that has nothing to do with winning. Every time I compete on an “all-star charity” version of a Food Network show, like Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen. I focus on my WHY, not the what.// The WHAT is that I am cooking to win a sizeable amount of cash for one of my favorite charities, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
// But, my WHY is: because I care deeply about removing the stigma surrounding both suicide and the ugly messy path that leads to suicide.
// So my goal is: get suicide awareness mentioned as many times as possible, and then continue the conversation on social media when the show actually airs.Amazingly, so many people reach out to me when these shows air, and we get to raise the volume on the conversation about suicide prevention in a way that fills my heart with purpose. And joy.Am I disappointed if I lose? Yes. But having a different goal in my hip-pocket helps.
Back to Charlotte. Though she lost, she made 11 new best friends from the show,. Kids who love baking as much as she does. Every single one of them called Charlotte and Facetimed her the night her elimination aired. There are already travel plans in the works for an informal reunion of the bakers and their families. While Charlotte may not have won KBC, she is now firmly planted in the middle of a beautiful new community. That loss was a big win for Charlotte.
- BREAK THE ADDICTION TO SUCCESS
Failure is proof of a life lived in the arena. I make a concerted effort to celebrate losing as evidence of trying, both personally and with my four girls. Around the dinner table, we ask our kids to share not just their successes, but failures. I hope to break us of the natural habit of wanting only to win. Addiction to success is a dangerous thing. If we value success too highly, we might never enter the arena at all. Or worse – go into the wrong arena just to make us look good, keeping our brows clean and tidy, building up notches on our belts. Failure isn’t our enemy. We should fear success at the wrong thing even more.
- RISK OFTEN ENOUGH THAT ONE FAILURE DOES NOT DEFINE YOU
The more times I enter into the arena, the more often I will fail. And experience the triumph of achievement. The more I lose and decide to get back on the horse, the less each single failure will sting. I know I can get back on the horse, because I have done it. And I want my girls to develop that skill. Failing young, in the safety of a loving home that will guide her back on the horse is one of the best gifts my Charlotte has received from competing on KBC.
Just last week, I lost a job that went to someone else. My daughter Valentine wasn’t accepted into a prestigious ballet program. My other daughters’ (Margaux and Oceane) soccer team lost their big, final tournament.
We all agree: losing sucks. But let’s do it anyway.