The Stoics said that our control lies in how we play the game. In the competitive commercial world, the reality of winning or losing is a daily occurrence. Either result, we stomach it. Right now, we're witnessing one of the biggest elections of modern history. In a democratic vote, there will be a winner and there will be a loser. With this in mind and human nature being so drawn to winning, I’ve pulled together thoughts on losing, what it means and how to accept a professional loss with grace:
1 I’ve lost deals. I lost one this week. I don’t like it, it saddens and frustrates me but its part of the ebb and flow of the world we operate in and I have to accept I can’t win everything. There must be space for all of us. The absolute worst part of my job is telling a candidate they didn’t get a role, especially if we’d both had our heart set on it. I had to do that this week. The recipient of the news, true to character, was incredibly gracious - they thanked me for my support and time, thanked the individuals concerned in the decision making and asked for constructive feedback so that they could learn and grow from the experience. They bowed out gracefully.
2 . Once we focus our perception, we can find something positive in everything that comes our way. They say feedback is a gift and I’d say the same for losing. By examining and assessing the situation from a critical perspective, there will be learnings, there will have been challenges along the way which may have waved bright red flags, and there are very likely to be signs that this is not the match we thought it was. This leaves space for what is meant to be, be it a new career move or a new client. Once we accept that this thing we wanted is not ours, it makes space for what will be a better fit. Here lies the gift. There is potential in the spaces in between and, particularly when the odds are stacked against us, this is where opportunity lies.
3 Once we think we know everything, its game over. Carol Dweck’s celebrated Growth Mindset philosophy states that whilst failure can be a painful experience, it doesn’t have to define you. By adopting a growth mindset, being deliberately mindful in our response and reaction we can be bigger. By learning, reading and looking for mentors (dead, alive, it doesn’t matter - words and wisdom are held in books, films, song), we control what influence goes in. I even find inspiration in Duran Duran lyrics but hey I’m Gen X, so I believe that wild boys always shine.
4 Change is our only constant - nothing ever stays the same. How we feel about losing can be so intense in the moment that we think we will always feel that way. We won’t. This too shall pass. There is some comfort in knowing that however bad a loss feels, things will never stay the same. Holding on to something that is not meant to be ours is not how life works. Change is inevitable - and every obstacle or loss that blocks our path will change us in some way. Once we accept this, we begin to let go and that makes way for new opportunities.
5 As soon as we deny our failures and assign blame elsewhere, we are on a losing streak. By choosing how we respond to a decision we don’t like, a loss we feel is unjustified or any professional rejection, we are automatically on our next path to success or failure. It is very much like losing a pitch in my PR days - no one respects the man-child who clenches his fists, stomps his feet and demands a rethink. I’ve seen both men and women in leadership positions throw their toys out of the pram in front of their teams on receiving news of a pitch loss - its not cool and it instantly loses respect. Only by being accountable for our failure will we be able to accept reality and get to work on our comeback.
6 The communications world is infinite, so we must mindfully carve out the downtime. So many of us are at risk of burn out, operating in a 24/7 world, navigating a devastating global pandemic, the constant buzz of fear and uncertainty, we need to have developed solid self-regulation skills to know when to switch on and off. And its this self-regulation that is essential to mental health and mindset. If its therapy, exercise or even some excellent self-hypnosis apps that are out there, there are ways and techniques to stop, take care and recharge. Sometimes it can be just a restorative deep sleep in fresh sheets and new pillows with the intent to start the new day afresh.
7 . To bring us back to where we started - how we play is everything, from the micro to the macro - from how we do one thing (morning routine) to how we choreograph the big thing (life plan). How we do one thing is how we do everything. In Finite & Infinite Games, James P Carse says, “a finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play”. Knowing the game we are playing - if its finite game such as football or the infinite game of life, we can choose the parameters of our behaviour and response. As a lifelong Spurs fan, I’ve learned to stomach disappointment, but the passion of being a fan and love for ones team is infinite - knowing the difference and finding the joy in the bigger picture is key to successful mindset.
As a final thought to self: If I lose, I won’t give up. I might step back, rest, refocus and come back different, but I’m not giving up. The opportunity is out there, but its in the spaces where we don’t expect it - and that is where the adventure lies.