It is Election Day in the spring of 2015. William H. Hall High School is choosing its student body president for the upcoming year and I have thrown my hat into the ring. Armed with my 3 years of Student Association experience, my dashing good looks, and an incredible slogan (“If you don’t vote Hutensky, you don’t know Jack”), I am confident I have what it takes to win. Neither of my competitors can match my student government experience or my connections with the younger grades. Neither of my competitors can match my confidence and practice speaking in front of crowds. Neither of my competitors can match an endorsement from the current president. The day I have been waiting for since the first Student Association meeting has finally come. Losing has not even crossed my mind. The election feels like a formality because I am going to win.
Turns out my opponents had two things I could not match: pencils and cupcakes. In a close three-way race, I came in dead last. I was shocked. I had worked hard, done everything right, and prepared for the moment, but I still came up empty. I was crushed and initially angry about the result, especially because I still believed I was the best person for the job.
After a few hours of angry fuming and my worst golf practice of the year, I decided anger and bitterness were not the best ways to react. I realized that the person I want to be would take the loss in stride and practice humility, one of Franklin’s virtues that is often overlooked. The person I want to be would accept the results (the same way I would have accepted them had I won) and find a way to be the best Student Association Senator I could be, rather than taking the easy route and quitting SA. Though it was tough, I swallowed my pride and followed through.
We often talk about the right way to win, but we rarely talk about the right way to lose. Sure, we have the concept of a “sore loser,” but that addresses what not to do. We lack a model for losing the right way, likely because no one likes to lose, and therefore no one wants to think about losing in the positive.
Even so, losing is inevitable. We all lose all the time. While no one enjoys the bitter taste of defeat, losing always presents a choice. Often, we meet failure with anger and excuses, with hubris, and the attitude that it is not our fault, that we are better than this, and that something beyond our control went wrong. We convince ourselves that we did not deserve our failure. However, there is another way. We can embrace Franklin’s virtue of humility and lose with grace.
What does losing with grace mean?
Outwardly, it means being polite, mature, and treating the winner with respect, in other words: not being a “sore loser.” It means coming up to your opponent and shaking his hand. It means saying good game (and meaning it). It means accepting that your opponent has bested you and giving credit where it is due rather than blaming bad luck or unfavorable conditions. In short, it means being humble enough to recognize someone else’s superior skill or effort and accepting your defeat with class.
In addition to netting you respect from others, being humble enough to admit defeat fosters personal growth.
Practicing humility allows us to confront our weaknesses and honestly understand why we have failed. By abandoning the false notions that we are perfect, we allow ourselves to honestly appraise our weaknesses.
This understanding, when combined with hunger, positivity, and determination, allows us to eventually start winning. Grace in losing, then, is having enough respect for yourself to act with dignity in the moment, and then work toward making yourself a winner from that point forward.
We are not always going to win—in fact often, we will not. Whether it is a loss on the sports field, a setback at work or in school, or even finishing last in an election, we get to choose how to feel, and by extension how to act, when things do not go our way. The person I want to be loses with grace when he loses. He chooses humility, so he can come back better.