Lessons on Losing

Photo Credit:  Jane G Photography

Photo Credit: Jane G Photography

This piece was originally published on the ZGiRLS website on February 5th, 2015.

Trust me, I get it. Losing HURTS.

As I watched the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX, I was reminded of my own experiences of losing. I remember missing the fifth and final shot in a soccer championship shootout… The loss was so heavy that it sat in my belly for days. And I remember failing to finish a World Cup race that would ultimately decide my placement on the U.S. Ski Team… The sadness I felt was almost unbearable. I remembered how much it really can hurt to lose.

I put myself in the shoes of the Seattle players and coaches; just moments prior, feeling like they had the game in the bag. The gut-wrenching disappointment they must have felt. The disbelief. Trying to wrap their heads around what just happened. And the torrent of thoughts: “it wasn’t supposed to happen like this” … “we’re so much better than that” … “but we worked so hard to get here” … “I can’t believe we got beat by them.” I know those feelings. I know those thoughts. Every athlete does. I don’t care how tough you are, that stuff just hurts.

Like most Seahawks fans, I was baffled by head coach Pete Carroll’s final play-call. I wanted clarity around the question WHY? (Why throw when you’re 2nd and goal on the half-yard line? Why not give it to Marshawn?) I’ve been a big Pete Carroll fan ever since I read about his balanced approach to player-development, but as far as I was concerned, he had some explaining to do.

Sure enough, as I listened to an honest local radio interview, Pete Carroll put all of the pieces together; and he helped me remember how winners lose. My focus instantly shifted from what went wrong, to what can be done moving forward. As Pete Carroll explained, “The why’s are just something that we have to process through, and the how is about moving ahead. The moment has passed and what are we going to do about it? How are we going to grow from it?”

In my ten years as a professional athlete, I “lost” way more than I won. As most athletes do, I internalized every loss, and I beat myself up for every mistake. Luckily, toward the end of my career, I began to learn the difference been losing well, and losing poorly: losing well is CONstructive, losing poorly is DEstructive.

I’m inspired, even (dare I say?) grateful, for the Seahawks experience losing the Super Bowl on Sunday, because honestly what we get out of it, is so much better than a parade. We get a public, real-life demonstration of how winners lose:

The experience of losing is a loss, literally. Feeling anger, sadness, and frustration is normal; and the emotions must be both acknowledged and processed. Everyone has permission to grieve.

While every loss must be processed, there is a point when grieving can become counter-productive. Be honest and discerning. There is a time to transition out of grief into a more constructive frame of mind. (Hint: This usually needs to happen sooner than you’d naturally prefer. Often, a mental/emotional “nudge” is necessary.)

Like Pete Carroll pointed out, “the moment has passed.” What happened, has happened. The outcome cannot be reversed, and mistakes cannot be recalled. There is no other choice: be strong, and let it go.

We all know it: losing is breeding grounds for growth. Reflect on what went wrong, and learn from mistakes and shortcomings. Understand the difference between reflecting and ruminating.

If you’re only looking to the past, you will never be able to move forward. Resist dwelling. Instead, take what you learned, and create a game plan to improve and move ahead.

In the end, enduring adversity and devastating loss makes us stronger. It becomes part of our story, and evolves into a source of strength. Commit to the process. Resolve to grow.

With the wound of loss still fresh, Pete Carroll (and the rest of the Seahawks) are showing us how to lose well. As Pete emphasized in his interview, “This moment should not define us.  What should define us is this process and this journey that we’ve been through; the attitude, the approach, and the mentality that allows us to move forward and move through, no matter how difficult it is, how hard, how tough it is… We will outlast this. We will be on the other end of this; it is just going to take some time.”

Super Bowl champs or not, I think we all can take a page out of that playbook.