How to Lose

March 27th, 2009

I lost this week. After months of preparation, documents and samples changing hands, interviews scheduled and rescheduled, the grant committee at the Eileen Fischer program for Women choose five inspiring women run companies to recognize and reward with $10,000. Although we made it to the finalist round, we were not among the lucky winners. We were edged out by the Goat Patrol, a company that uses goats to clean up weeds on people’s property. As a former goat owner myself, I am in no way demeaning the virtue of the business, but compared with my mission of spreading the word of sustainable love….I was hurt. Demoralized perhaps doesn’t even do justice to the emotional fallout from that email rejection.

Recent images of swimmers and runners in the Olympic competition of a few months ago came flooding back to me. As the camera would always zoom to the winners face, I would always search around the edges to see the utter despair of the losers. Here I use the word loser, almost as a joke; all of the athletes sweat, trained and worked until they dropped as winners. The actual winning was often decided by tenths of a second or less. One swimmer lamented clipping her nails the night before, so close was the contest. A hundred years ago, they would have called it all a tie, which is probably closer to the truth.

One of our most significant human frailties I believe is our devotion to the winner. It is a running conversation in my home, inspired by the ongoing sports and musical competitions that make up my children’s world. “There is no losing when you have given everything you have, when you have tried your best.” I repeat like a mantra. For me, the win is in their courage and not giving up on themselves. The rest is the game, luck and wind and bounces off one side of a net…. But this is little solace as the other player or team goes away in celebration. Our personal best is not always enough and yet to live our life and to keep risking our heart and courage it has to be. This is a difficult lesson when you are 12. And I realized on the day I lost, still hard to bear in my mid 40′s.

The same day that I suffered my loss of perspective, self-esteem and general sense of direction, I walked with my friend who just nine weeks ago lost her husband. She recounted a recurrent nightmare that she had throughout her marriage and which had surprisingly showed up again. In the dream, she would be somewhere with her husband and he would disappear. In real life this was a reflection of what happened to them frequently when they travelled. Her husband was full of wanderlust and even in the midst of big foreign cities would often be guilty of not looking back for his wife. She told me that she realized that now in death, just as in life, she had to forgive him, let go of him, and find her way home by herself. We wept.

Loss defines life- percentage wise way more than winning, which is perhaps why we are all so obsessed with the winner. Winners somehow seem to beat the odds and share some magical and elusive quality of living and playing that allows them to somehow walk above the rest of us, who struggle for each and every win. Even amongst the very best winners, the time inevitably comes where losing happens. Like the rest of us, they are forced to rely on their own inner strength and sense of purpose to keep them steady.

Dealing with loss, whether it is at the end of a relationship or the end of a game requires love. When you win, everyone loves you, or so it seems. Finding the love for the one who tries and fails is the basis of loving anyone and for the courage to love life itself. Maybe it was good that I lost, because as much as I would have loved the prize money and a few celebratory pats on the back, what I want most is to keep learning how to love.

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