“If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” The words were emblazoned on my kids’ elementary school walls.
So. Not. True. There are things I can dream of that I simply can’t do. They’re physically impossible. And there are other things that are within my grasp but which continually elude me.
Our culture lies to us. We’re not all winners. There are times when we lose and times when we lose big.
I’ll never forget playing high school soccer and losing 0-10. And one of my boys had a similar experience with the same score this past week. Thankfully, he and I had conversations about losing and what to expect during the week before.
He knew this would be a rough season pretty quickly. After the team’s second practice, he got in the car where I was waiting to pick him up, sat for a bit and then said with all seriousness, “I think I’m the best player on the team.” And then after another pause, “And that’s not a good thing.”
He’s always been a mid-level player on the teams he’s been on, and now he’s the top. He knows this isn’t because he’s all of a sudden a much better player. He knows this means his team will probably lose all of its games.
At first, he considered quitting. But as we talked about it, we were able to reframe the coming season not just as a chance to lose a lot of games, but as a chance to learn how to excel in the midst of adversity.
We talked about professional athletes who play for teams that lose most of their games over the course of their careers. These are people who have devoted their lives to their sport only to end up on teams that fail over and over again. Do they show up each game just because of the paycheck? Maybe. I’m sure some do. Or do they show up each game intending to give everything they’ve got, even if they’re over-matched? Absolutely. That’s why we get stunning upsets by underdogs from time to time. Not all the time and not even frequently. But it happens enough that players keep showing up and hoping they can pull one off.
I asked him, “If you could make plays that reduce the final score from 0-15 to 0-10, could you feel good about how you played?” He nodded.
Anyone who is ultimately successful has to have the ability to face loss and accept it. No team ever wins all of its games forever. Sure, there are come impressive win streaks, but they’re not normal and they eventually end.
Being prepared to lose is not the same as giving up. It’s part of dealing with reality in a way that enables us to survive loss and continue on to get to eventual wins.
In their book Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath claim that preparing to fail is one of the few essential element of good decision making. Having a too-inflated sense of our abilities and chances for success is far too common and leads to disastrous results. Being prepared to fail doesn’t paralyze us into non-action. Rather, it helps us come up with contingency plans while not walking arrogantly into catastrophe, thinking we’re better than we actually are.
The “we’re all winners” approach to life teaches us to be blind to failure and gives us a false sense of achievement that’s undeserved, a false sense that will let us down for the rest of our lives.
If we have no experienced expectation of loss, we will be ill-prepared for the many losses sprinkled through our lives and will be more inclined to quit than the push through failure to the possibility of success on the other side.
As Donald Fagan sang in the old Steely Dan song, “They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. I, I want a name when I lose.”
When I face loss named and known, I am resilient. I may not be invincible, but I can come back next time and the time after that and the time after that and still give it my all.
My son’s team lost their next game 0-13. As his father, it was hard to watch, and I was prepared for a quiet ride home. But when he joined me and we walked toward the car, he turned toward me and said, “That was actually fun.”