Losing with Grace

Let’s face it, no one likes to lose. Losing just happens to be a part of life, and we can either respond by becoming demoralized and quitting, or we can learn from the experience, figure out what went wrong and try again. When President Kennedy set our nation on a course of landing a man on the moon he said, “We choose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” NASA faced a lot of challenges, took a lot of risks and faced a lot of failures. Rather than giving up, the space program learned from the mistakes that were made and built on those failures to achieve success. We made it to the moon and back several times.

In mid-June, I attended a political convention in San Antonio. A contentious race was held for who would be the leader of the party here in Texas. The incumbent had a distinct advantage, and the challenger faced an uphill climb. As the process goes, the individual senate district delegates voted for whom they preferred, and 22 of 31 districts went with the incumbent. The other nine choose the challenger. This brought the race to the convention floor where the thousands of individual delegates voted individually. The process should have taken 30-45 minutes, but instead lasted 4 hours. Allies of the challenger tried several parliamentary maneuvers that in the end would have had no effect on the actual vote that had to be taken by individual delegates. When the time came to let the candidates speak, the incumbent talked about accomplishments and vision. The challenger made accusations spoke in generalities. Needless to say, the incumbent won with 65% of the vote. The challenger went down looking like a sore, bitter loser.

Later in the convention, individual committee reports saw more of the same. Committee members that didn’t get their way in the committee tried to have the majority’s report replaced by the minority’s report. Again, this just wasted time and in the end the general assembly largely went with what the committees had worked many hours to develop.

So why did this happen? From my vantage point it looked like those that didn’t get there way were just bitter that they didn’t win. The party leadership challenger pretty much burned every bridge to any future leadership position she might have aspired to. This did not have to be. If you are faced with a situation where you are not going to win, use the experience to learn. Figure out what you did wrong. Get input not just from allies, but from opponents. We don’t always see our own flaws and we can greatly benefit from blunt feedback that may hurt in the short term, but will help us in the long run.

In 2016, I attended my first state political convention. I decided to run for elector in my Congressional district. (The elector is the person from that district that serves in the Electoral College when the time comes to elect a president.) I didn’t win. In fact, I got crushed. However, I learned what I needed to do for next time:

  1. Wear a suit. I saw that with any position voted on in that convention the better dressed person won.
  2. Advertise. The position is not paid, but I am going to have to spend some money if I want to win
  3. Have a planned speech that inspires and clearly presents a case for why I am the better candidate.

Remarkably, the individual that won later resigned his position at the last minute for a reason I felt lacked merit. Fortunately, a valid substitute was present at the vote to allow Texas to be fully represented in the Electoral College.

So as you face challenges in your life and luck doesn’t go your way, don’t embrace bitterness, anger and resentment. Embrace wisdom. Don’t throw up your hands and quit. Dust yourself off, hold your head up and try again. America was not built by quitters. It was built by people who persevered over hardship whether it was the Continental Army battling the most powerful military in the world, Mormon settlers trekking west to build a civilization out of a hostile environment, or civil rights workers battling to make America more egalitarian. We are all heirs to their legacies. Let us not disappoint future generations by surrendering our destiny because we encountered adversity.