I’m not just a good loser. I’d go as far as to say, in all modesty, that I am an excellent loser.
I won’t say I’m one of the world’s best losers; I acknowledge there are others who are better at losing than I am. I can’t even come first in failure.
When I posed the question “Are you a good loser?” on Facebook, I discovered a tribe of people who regard themselves as “secretly bad losers.”
My friend Gianetta Palmer from Georgia puts it this way: “I’m a good loser in public but a bad loser in private.” A correspondent in New Zealand said that despite being a therapist who advises clients about coping with perfectionism, she “screams into the pillow and smashes small crockery” when receiving rejection notices from professional journals.
I don’t do that kind of thing, perhaps because I don’t own crockery. Or perhaps it’s because I boast a certain losing expertise. Losing and I have a long-established, intimate and even cozy relationship.
Growing up, I was the designated loser. I was always on the losing team — when I made it onto a team. Being tune-deaf and clumsy, I was the last chosen for any school play involving singing or dancing. Feel free to imagine the other stories; you probably have your own versions.
And yet I was lucky because in my family being “a winner” or “a loser” wasn’t how we defined ourselves or other people. I knew families who did divide the world that way, however, and they made me want to run away from anything disguised as a “friendly competition.” I won’t insist that “friendly competition” is an oxymoron. I just know that it’s often another term for “barely disguised war.”
One big, bouncy family played elaborate games on major holidays where cousin was pitted against cousin. Have you seen “Game of Thrones?” It was something like that. Whichever side lost would be humiliated, forced to act as servants to the winners for the rest of the day. I suppose it was a bonding experience — the kind that would prepare you for orientation exercises at either a small tech company or a large federal prison — but it terrified me.
Organized games still make me uneasy. A childhood friend came up for a weekend and brought her mother, as well as Mom’s favorite game, “Boggle.” The idea behind “Boggle” is to make as many words possible as swiftly as possible from letters spilled out of a cup. “I can’t believe I’m playing against an English teacher!” giggled Mom, assuming a wide vocabulary would give me an advantage. I smiled graciously. The timer started and we were off. My friend and her mom filled up their pads with elegant multisyllabic words. In three minutes I came up with EAT, RAT and TEA. “You didn’t even see ‘rate,’ did you, honey?” sympathized Mom.
If we want to do better next time and improve our skills, we need to stare down our fear of failure.
Nobody likes to lose, but it happens. Sometimes it rains on our parade, the sun doesn’t always come out tomorrow, and some thoughts aren’t worth the penny you’ve paid for them.
Nobody wants to hear we didn’t win, or that we were rejected, or that an English teacher should do better at Boggle — nobody does — but if we want to do better next time and improve our skills, we need to stare down our fear of failure. Unless we’re willing to lead a fossilized, insulated and inert life, we need to risk losing and risk loss.
Sure, winning is great, whether it’s winning approval, poker games or points toward free gas. Hitting the jackpot, whether it’s in a lottery or in love, makes life richer. What makes life better, though, is the sweetness of being able to weave together the gains with the losses; that’s what strengthens us. It allows us not only to win, but to triumph, which is particularly sweet after you’ve known what it’s like to lose.
Contact Ms. Barreca at ginabarreca.com.