March 31 – Handling the discouragement of defeat

“Defeat should never be a source of discouragement, but rather a fresh stimulus.” (Robert South)

I tend to be a competitive person. If I am engaged in an activity where the score is being kept, I want my team, or myself to come out on top. There have been times in my life when my competitive nature has caused me some grief. Playing board games or card games with family and friends sometimes ended badly because my competitive edge was too sharp, and I couldn’t handle the idea of losing, let alone actually losing. As I have grown older, I had greatly softened that edge when it comes to friendly family game time. I was able to do this, in part, because games with family and friends are supposed to be fun, and the winners should not really matter.

In life, though, there are competitions that do matter. There are victories and defeats to be had every day. Sometimes the person I compete with most is myself. I compete against my past performance, or my own goals. Sometimes defeat isn’t even about a competition where there is a winner and loser, sometimes it is just about my not being where I want to be in life. These are the kinds of defeats I think of when I read this quote.

I have taken on many challenges in my life. Some have ended with accomplishment, while others have not. All too often I have let the sense of defeat at not making a goal become the reason to give up and not try again. Rather than stoking the fire within me to work harder on the next round, I have packed up my gear and withdrawn.

I really don’t like the feeling of disappointment. And while I know that the spirit of this quote is right, which is to persevere and find fresh stimulus in defeat, I sometimes have a hard time taking that advice. Instead I allow myself to become bitter, or I withdraw completely. It is then that real defeat happens. It is then that I deprive myself of the opportunity to learn and grow.

As I sit here on the last day or the first quarter of the year, I am reflecting on how I handle competition in my life. I think I have reigned in the overly-competitive spirit that once ruined family games. But I do not think I have the right attitude when it comes to handling defeats in other parts of my life. I think this is an area that needs more reflection and work before I can truly say that I handle competition well. Only when I am able to channel defeat in my life into the stimulus to do better will I truly have a handle on my competitive nature.

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