Lessons Learned From Losing
After years of dreaming, months of groundwork, weeks of preparation, days of practice, and hours of pretending I wasn’t scared out of my mind, I faced a loss like I had never experienced before. It was early June and the Illinois FFA had just elected five state officers to lead through the next year. I was not one of them.
Each state has their own vigorous election process, but Illinois’s always seemed a little more intense. Twenty plus members are narrowed down to 10 after facing the selection committee: a day of giving speeches, taking tests, answering questions, running through scenarios, and performing group work in front of advisors, students, past state officers, and industry experts who are all there to judge our every move.
I was relieved to find I advanced past selection committee, leaving a month to prepare before elections at state convention. Session begins early in the morning and after a brief voting tutorial, it begins. All 10 candidates give their first, longest, and most well-rehearsed speech. We are promptly taken away to a room in the basement while voting proceeds. The walk down is silent as we all attempt to gauge our performance. The room we arrive to is void of anything interesting. We make awkward small talk facilitated by a couple of the younger advisors assigned to watch us. We are simultaneously in support for and in competition with the other blue jackets sitting around the table.
However long it takes to reach majority, however many cuts they go through, we are hidden from it all. We hear footsteps coming down the stairs. A knock at the door. A decision is made and we are silently ushered up the steps to backstage. We huddle together as they announce the next state officer. We have a few moments to talk to a “runner” who we chose earlier (mine was my older brother).
The winner makes a quick thank you to the crowd and we line up to walk back on stage to give our next speech before the news has time to truly process. This is repeated four more times as the number of the people left in the room and on stage slowly dwindles down. Each of us still hold on to the sliver of hope that we will hear our names announced next.
Everyone reacts differently as doubt sets in. Some become quiet and shut in. Others are driven to perform even better. A few may give up completely as things begin to look bleak. I fell back on humor and wrote a speech about Leslie Knope and waffles. Looking back on this, it starts to make more sense why I wasn’t elected.
After the session ended, I took a direct path to find my family. A few members stopped me to tell me I did a great job and they were rooting for me. As composed as I tried to keep myself, I still broke down into tears when my mom hugged me. She told me everything would be ok. Eventually it would.
The five of us who failed to receive a position attempted to balance the joy we felt for some of our closest friends while also processing how to pick up the now scattered pieces on our own lives. We were forced to face the reality that you can put your all into something and still fail. I had prepared for the fact that I could have to give up my normal life at a moment’s notice. The journey was over, the universe was telling me to move on.
Achieving success is a direct result of learning from failures. These failures yield important lessons, but only if they are looked back upon. Reflection is the most difficult process. After a loss it’s natural to make excuses or place blame. It’s much harder to think back and identify what could have been done to become closer to success. Sometimes the conclusion is that there is no working against certain forces of the universe.
It would be a few months before I fully bounced back, but my failure confirmed my belief that everything happens for a reason. I hung up my jacket, continued with college, and made my impact in other ways. It wasn’t my path to become a state officer, but I would have lived my whole life with regret if I never made the attempt.
Winning feels good, but it isn’t everything. Losing is worth just as much when it’s turned into a learning opportunity. Take the loss, dust yourself off, and move on to the next thing. Keep chasing your goal, even when the goal has to be changed.