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Why Does Losing Suck?
What was your first major loss?
The Opposite of Winning
Nobody likes to lose. You set your goals and through events that may or may not be beyond your control you fall short. Losing is especially bad when you’ve given it your all. We’ve all been there. You’ve run your race like the Greek runner did across Greece from Marathon to Athens only to die from exhaustion immediately after telling the Athenians they'd won against the Persians. Everyone gets the victory dance except for you.
Losing is failure. Losing is a removal. Losing is strife.
Losing is when you come in second out of two – unless, of course, you’re a mouse. Remember, the first mouse springs the trap and the second mouse gets the cheese. There are scenarios where it’s good to lose. When you play to win all the time, you really have to understand that while the victor gets the spoils he really needs to know what he was fighting for. In these cases, I always think of any short story involving Bertie Wooster and his amazing butler, Jeeves. The plots of these stories is that Wooster will be put in a situation where success will mean a lifetime of long term suffering – usually in the form of marriage to a woman that will make Wooster’s life hell or a long term financial commitment to a cause that will do him no good. Jeeves, through his manipulations, will turn what Wooster originally thought as a failure into a win. Yes, he lost the girl that was never right for him. The question is, “Was this really a loss?”
Nevertheless, as a rule, we as human beings play to win. Remember what we were told: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Robert Fulghum writes in All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “The race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong, but you better bet that way," and "About playing the game - Play to win!"
But losing is important and here’s why:
And What Have We Learned?
There are battles. We fight them every single day. We see they are battles and sometimes we lose them. It is of paramount importance that we recognize this. And while we lose some of these battles we need to ask one thing after each and every loss.
“And what have we learned?”
Losing sucks and we have to accept that it happens. We don’t have to like it. Regardless of how many times we lose and how much we hate it, we always should learn something new from every loss. It takes a cool head and a person of character to sit back and understand this. We also have to realize what the correct lesson is, too.
My best example of losing came when I was seventeen. It was 1983 and I had just gotten my license three weeks prior. My parents allowed me to take the family car to visit friends in Rahway. I was a little bit ambivalent about going up to Rahway because it was busier than the semi-rural area I’d been used to. My father encouraged me to go despite my apprehension.
After I’d gone up and driven around, I was on my way back home that night and blew through a stop sign. I hit another car. Fortunately, no one was hurt. I was shaken though. I had wrecked my car and I really didn’t want to have anything to do with driving again.
After I spoke with the police and got my ticket for careless driving, my father picked me up. Because my father was all about building character, he made me drive home despite my objections.
So, what did I learn?
Well, the original gut lesson I thought was, “Driving is bad; don’t drive.” I had to remember that I really was a stupid teenage kid. My father’s view on it was that some fool had issued me a license and I was a qualified driver for passing my test. The conclusion I came up with was wrong.
I actually learned a few things that are so ingrained in me that they are second nature now.
Firstly, I learned that it’s important that after a loss like that it’s important to immediately “get back on the horse” – meaning that I couldn’t let myself be afraid of this and that I should conquer the fear immediately. Getting back in the car to drive home did that.
Secondly, I learned that stop signs aren’t a suggestion. They are there to keep people from driving stupidly. A stop sign says that you no longer have the right of way and that you have to stop and proceed to the next road with caution.
Thirdly, I learned that a car is not a toy. People can be killed if you are stupid.
The other ancillary lessons I’d learned were educational – like, insurance rates will increase until your points are gone, $1,700 of damage to a $400 car means that it’s totaled, and a ’71 Oldsmobile Regency is built like a tank.
All of this knowledge came because of a loss, a bruising of ego, and a family car. The win was that I walked away with all my parts intact and that they were on the inside of my body.
What is the Price of Winning?
I touched on this before with Jeeves & Wooster. However, the real story involved my wife.
When my wife and I were first married, she was working in an orthopedist’s office. She had been at that job since she was fourteen. When we got married, she was almost thirty; so she’d been at the doctor’s office for sixteen years doing various billing and coding work. She wasn’t pulling in a lot of money – at least not what she was worth. And on top of this she was working with her mother (never fun to work with a parent), and a peer that I can only describe as an “officious prick” (OP for short).
Leaving the nest is hard for anyone who has been the member of a two person household and my wife’s staying at that place was a crapshoot of pleasure and pain. So I could understand some reluctance on leaving. My rationale to get her to leave was twofold. I wanted her to earn more money and we were going to move from Secaucus to Freehold. A commute to a job that would barely cover her costs did not make any sense. And while it was going to be a bit of a sting to leave her mother at that office, it was the right move to leave because, in reality, she really wasn’t happy working with the OP.
When I asked her why she wouldn’t leave she said, “If I leave, he’s won.”
Yes, but what was he winning?
It’s important to know what the prize is before you pay the price. He would win at being the highest paid employee at a low paying job without a future. Because when you think about a medical practice, the only way to make money is to be a contributor and therefore you would need to be a doctor or a business partner – and the business is only good while they practice medicine. So, if there’s one doctor, he’s the service provider. Everyone else is just overhead.
The point is that you have to make the war worth your effort or else it’s a pyrrhic victory. And you don’t want to be the idiot who spent all of his resources on a war that has no payoff. Sometimes it’s best to fold if you have a weak hand and there’s nothing in but the ante.
Some Losses Are Just Painful
Sometimes we just don’t want to lose because the actual loss would be too painful to endure.
This usually comes at the end of a long term relationship. This is real loss. You are actually losing something that is important to you. And while enduring the relationship is painful, you can envision that the actual failure of the contest is going to cost you.
It’s the pain of lancing a boil. The boil is ripe. You can even see the head. It’s at that point that the doctor, nurse, or “guy with the hot needle” stabs it. And, yes, there’s a hell of a lot of pain. Then the poisonous puss runs from the boil like a leaking water balloon. When the pus runs from it and gets cleaned out, the wound begins to heal.
You have to let go of all the pain and the perceived fear of what loss will do. When you come to grips with the actual aftermath of the loss, and see how all the bad crap is now gone, although you’re in a lower place, you can begin to rebuild yourself back to a better place.
Louis CK said it best, “Unlike my marriage, my divorce is doing great.” Half of his act is how much happier he is now that his marriage has ended. Not that I endorse this philosophy, I just know that there are people who make each other miserable and they’d be better off without their “better half”.
This goes for a lot of other things as well. This goes for money, career, friendships, lifestyles, and some families.
Just remember, sometimes the fear of loss is worse than the actual loss itself.
Loss on Amazon
Nobody likes losing.
Really, I’m pretty sure that’s a universal truth. It goes contra to what we want. After all when we get what we want through an effort and a success, it’s a “win”. As Americans we like being Americans because as a war nation we’re, what, 11 and 2? And everyone loves to be a winner.
Sean Connery said in The Rock, “Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and #*@$ the prom queen.” To the victor go the spoils. It’s when we realize that the spoils aren’t so great that we don’t mind losing so much.
We look at wins and losses with our own personal blinders. We are confronted with a problem, an issue, or a situation and we want to resolve it. We create criteria of what makes a win or success. Then we go out and try to make that happen. When we don’t get that success, we, by our own instincts, define it as failure or loss. However, the truth is that some failures are actual wins and some successes are actual failures. It all depends on your perspective.
We should also agree that some losses are necessary. When we look at our pets and we see our dog that is getting elderly and sick and see that he’s in pain. Our natural reaction to this is that we want him to get better. It isn’t until we find out about his hidden cancers and failing organs that the only thing we can do is put him to sleep and cope with the fact that we’ve lost a beloved member of our family.
It is loss. It is also painful. Unfortunately, it is also necessary for us to go on and realize that despite all of it; it was the best way to go for everyone.
I hate losing. But occasionally, despite my best efforts, I will lose. And sometimes, it’s for the best.