Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.
Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
– Henry Ford
We’ve all seen lots of quotes about how losing builds character and failure is the best teacher. They are great quotes with an important message. But these sentiments, while inspiring and often true, miss an important piece of the puzzle — namely that in the moment, losing sucks! It stings, it hurts, it makes you feel sad, angry, frustrated and disappointed. It might lead to good things moving forward, but in the moment it really, truly sucks.
Losing feels very personal for me this weekend. My daughter and her fantastic team of softball players ended their season in a difficult game last night. After fighting hard through 3 games of the tournament, they fell apart. They looked tired and defeated, dropping catches that used to be easy, making bad throws, giving up run after run, and making too many mistakes. Finally, it was the bottom of the last inning – their last chance to rally. The Stars have rallied so many times this season, but this time something was off.
Now before I continue, there’s something you should know about my Kari and her Stars. She LOVES her team and she LOVES softball. She can be heard regularly leading cheers and chants from the dugout, shouting words of encouragement to each batter, dubbing them with fun nicknames, and rallying her teammates over and over again with “We got this, Stars!” After we missed a couple of games during our vacation last week, the coach’s wife approached me to say “We’re so happy to have Kari back. The dugout is a happy place again!” That’s my Kari. So last night, as they got ready for their last chance to rally, I walked over to the dugout and said to my girl, “Come on, Kari. They need your positive spirit now more than ever. Do your thing!” And my sweet girl stared back at me with that ‘get-the-bleep-away-from-me’ look that all parents of teens have experienced, and said coldly – “I. Don’t. Want. To.”
I stormed away furious. They were going to lose, and they were going to lose because they weren’t willing to fight. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to shake her. I wanted to scream at the umpire (who seemed to believe we were playing croquet instead of softball– but that’s another story). I wanted to throw my chair. I had sat there cheering them on all day, all season for that matter. How could they just give up like that?? And then I stopped. And I thought, “When did I invite my Ego to this party?” This wasn’t MY tournament to win or lose. It was hers. And she was going to lose. And it sucked.
When we got home I was tempted to offer any number of the typical post-losing clichés that we all love so much. “It’s ok. You tried your best. You’ll get them next time. The ump was terrible. You played hard and that’s what matters.” Those statements are all true, mind you, but it wasn’t the right time. Instead I thought about the new Disney/Pixar movie INSIDE OUT. Have you seen it? You definitely should. The moral of the movie boils down to the idea that sadness and disappointment serve an important purpose and we need to let ourselves experience them. We shouldn’t be so quick to sweep them away and ignore them.
So I let her be mad and rant for a while. Then I let her cry for a while. And let’s be honest – I cried too. Because losing sucks. And even when you know in your head that she is learning an important lesson, watching your child cope with losing really sucks.
I still believe losing builds character in a way that winning never can. And I still believe in all those silly, overused quotes about how what really matters is getting back up after you get knocked down. All of those things remain true. But before we can get to the lesson of losing, let’s always remember to allow ourselves, and our kids, to feel what they feel. To sit with it, acknowledge it, and accept it. No sugar-coating needed.
And I do believe, like any good sports mom, that the Stars will be back next season to win the whole thing!
P.S. Kari woke up this morning and asked if we could go watch the championship game. She wants to cheer for the underdogs. That’s my girl.