Winning When We Lose

We all love to win. But life and business are not fair. No one ever said they would be. We will inevitably lose sometimes. And, how well we lose says a lot about us.

In the past 15 years, I’ve organized, moderated, or sat on the judges’ panel of several outstanding speaker’s competitions and showcases. And without fail, there always seems to be a few sore losers. Either they weren’t selected to compete, they didn’t win the prize, or they received some critical feedback from the judges that they weren’t expecting or with which they did not agree. Ironically, most competitors were invited to speak at some major meetings, whether they won or not. But meeting planners have shared with me over the years, that how those speakers acted and reacted to a loss was a major determining factor in making the offer. People are watching us, on and off the stage of our life and work.

If you aspire to be a professional in any business or you just live an active, engaged life, you will experience some losses. Take these for example (and don’t ask me how I know): A potential client chose a competitor’s bid over yours. You weren’t accepted to the school or program to which you applied. A governing board rejected your fellowship or certification application. Another woman got the guy. Someone else won the competition. Another applicant got the dream job, or another employee got the promotion. A different speaker was selected for the program. You didn’t win the nomination or the vote.

What if we reframed these “no’s” into “not yet’s”? Then, we could see them as opportunities to not only improve but also to practice better and better personal responses. Professional character is forged by these occasions to get back up, learn and grow, and get back in the game. Learning to see the opportunities embedded in them is half the battle.

Here are some tips, not just for speakers but, for any of us when we experience a “Not Yet.”

  1. Be classy. Respond with grace, sophistication, and class. For example, send a personalized note thanking the decision makers for the opportunity. Mention how much you grew and learned from just going through the process. This shows that you respond to challenge with maturity and would be easy to work with in the future, especially when things go wrong… a fantastic reputation to carry you into your future for sure.
  2. Apply again. Be sure to say that you will be applying again next year or for the next opportunity, and you look forward to developing much more during that time. This shows that you are willing to roll up your sleeves, do the work, and try again until you win. Winning the long game almost always goes to those who continuously show up.
  3. Cheer for the winners. If you’re not selected for a competition or event, send an email and let them know you’ll be in the audience cheering on the chosen competitors or on the sidelines ready to help the person who did win. This tells the group or person that you are not a sore loser, but rather a collaborative, supportive colleague who knows how to play for the larger game and the entire team.

Think of your efforts in business and life as a marathon, not a sprint. Get in it for the long haul and be open to all there is to learn from both the “Yes’s!” and “Not Yet’s.”


“When I was a kid, my mother told me that if you could not be a good loser,
then there’s no way you could be a good winner.”

~~ Halle Berry

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