I have a confession to make: I like winning. A lot. And in the early parts of my life, winning came very easy to me. Contests, athletic events, even boys. If I set my sight on something (or someone) and focused all of my energy on achieving it, it almost always happened. My father says it is because I am lucky. My sister says it is because I am ultra-competitive. Me, well, I think it is because I just don't like to lose. It hurts to not get what you want, and if it is something you have been pushing and pushing for, the hurt is even more intense. Trust me. I have become very familiar with the feeling over the past few years as my career path took a careening drive off the side of a cliff. Then foolishly landed me in an industry ripe with rejection. One of my goals this year is to submit a piece of writing at least once each month, hoping in part that something will be published, but mostly so that I can start getting used to certain words and phrases. NO. Unfortunately. Sorry. It wasn't right for us. YOU LOSE. No matter how the rejection is sugar coated, that is what I hear in my head every time: YOU LOSE. And it hurts. (See above.) My husband has said comforting things like, "You just need to stand up one time more than you get knocked down." Our pastor suggested wallpapering my den with rejection letters. I recently read that Steven King hung his on a nail until the weight became too much and he had to switch to a spike. It is part of the industry. Everyone knows that. But how do we toughen ourselves up for it? And how do we teach that skill to our children?
Things come easy to my oldest son. He is smart, cute and full of charisma. And thankfully, he has a very thick skin. Two years ago he entered a contest to win lunch with a visiting author. The students got raffle tickets for reading a certain number of minutes. Every ticket P earned went into the lunch with the author basket. Every day he came home telling me how excited he was to meet the author and ask him questions. Then he lost the raffle. Sadly, I was more devastated about it than he was. It was one of those moments when I am thankful he does not share any of my DNA. I would have moped for days, but P, he just shrugged it off and went on to tell me about the other fun activities they did during the author's visit. This past year he entered the cub scout's annual pinewood derby with a firm intent on winning first place in design (he already won fastest car in the 2013 race). His car was designed to look like a hammerhead shark, and sadly it was destroyed on the first run due to a weak spot near the wheels. In my husband's defense, he had tried to warn P about the possibility of instant destruction, but our son insisted it would be fine. There were no trophies this year. Last place for speed, and 4th place for design. P was disappointed, but again, not crushed. Just more determined to win next year.
There is a bit of controversy in the parenting world today about nurturing a child's self-esteem by giving everyone a "trophy of participation". I don't agree with that philosophy because in life no one is going to give you a reward for just showing up. You have to be the best, or at least better than other people trying to accomplish the same goal. Therefore, we celebrate winning at our house. Winning feels good, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that rush of adreniline you get when the thing you hoped for finally comes true. But we also try to work on losing gracefully. Whether it is a contest, a friendly game of Skip-Bo, or a life altering moment. That is what I work on daily. Losing gracefully, and not moping about or drowning in self-pity after each and every letter that starts with, "Unfortunately". For whatever reason, winning was not meant to be at that moment. And hopefully (says the trying-to-be-more-of-an-optimist), a better opportunity is waiting around the corner.