I’m always blown away by how much can be learned simply by living and experiencing. I think sharing a lesson that you found valuable only increases and enhances the value of that lesson — and certainly widens the scope of its reach, even if only one other person finds it helpful. At the very least, it is good practice in the act of generosity and connectedness.
All in all, as the educational moments outside a classroom compile, I am reminded of the importance in being willing to accept and assess my life experiences. So much of life is what we make it — to be in the position to maintain autonomy over the meaning of your existence and experiences is a privilege to be cherished and not squandered. In many ways it is a responsibility, or else we’re simply letting our days unfold without any consciousness or presence or will. If, throughout the highs and the lows, you can find worthiness in the lows, then you will likely enjoy a much greater portion of the ride, and since we’re here for a finite amount of time, you might as well make the most of it.
1. If you do not already know how, learn to lose with grace and humility. Basically, lose like a winner. A winner’s confidence is not contingent upon victory — it is far more independently and consistently ingrained in his or her aura. Taking a loss like a champion will reveal that. Not only is losing gracefully a far more honorable and impressive and respectable shade to paint yourself in than a pouting sore loser, but it teaches you to win in the same manner. I’m not saying some good, old-fashioned trash talk doesn’t ever have its place or that it can’t be a fun addition to a competitive atmosphere, but there’s a difference between that and losing like a loser. Losing with poise also humbles you to seeing what you can gain from the experience. And of course, if your opponent is rubbing their victory in your face, your dignified loss will only make them look like a fool (in case the other elements weren’t motivation enough, there’s probably some quiet satisfaction in that).
2. Acknowledge honesty as a prize in its own right — a liberating, empowering medium through which to channel your thoughts and exert your opinions. More than simply speaking honestly, living honestly tends to make it easier to truly understand yourself, and that is an invaluable first step to actually achieving what you want, determining what you need, and letting the best version of yourself shine forth.
I went on an interview once for a position at a well-established organization in which I had an interesting experience that highlighted the value of truthfulness. I was very interested in the position – more so because the organization was doing meaningful work, and I imagined I would be challenged and stimulated, than because it specifically focused on my area of interest. I arrived at the interview and it started off well, with my describing a bit about my background, qualifications, experiences, and so forth. But no more than 10 minutes in, the woman interviewing me candidly and kindly offered her opinion that, the position was probably not a good match. A significant part of the role centered on something I had not had much experience with, and while confident I was capable enough to pick up the required skills quickly, she simply didn’t think I would enjoy the role. I would be entering into the position with the clock already ticking as to when my excitement about it would dwindle, and that would be unfair for both parties. In hearing her say it, I knew she was right.
We had a refreshingly honest conversation. She told me she really liked me — I expressed the same sentiment — and we both avoided a lot of wasted time by recognizing that it simply was not a good match. Of course it was disappointing because that’s never how you want an interview to go, but I left the building with an appreciation for her honesty — a truthfulness that illuminated the importance of my being candid with myself, and not bending that honesty to fit in the context of paths not meant for me to walk. It wasn’t a fit and that was a beautiful thing, because for a sincere compatibility to exist, for a real success to unfold — there must be contrast to highlight it and give its meaning weight.
3. To the best of your ability, accept disappointment, for it is inevitable, and keep it confined to its territory — do not let it spill over into areas it doesn’t belong or you will find yourself wallowing when you could be focusing on something positive. There are moments when it is surprisingly easy to avoid that slow melancholy immersion into self-pity. The very nature of self-pity is that you sort of let yourself sink into it, and then it can become crippling and deflating. There are times when we need to self-pity, when it serves its purpose — and of course, there are times where try as we might, we cannot elude its grasp. But there are other times — many times — when it is self-indulgent, unproductive, and entirely avoidable. Keeping disappointment in check helps keep self-pity in check as well.
4. Things are usually not as bad as they seem. Often it is the point of entry into a problem, a crisis, an injury that is most overwhelming and startling. We react — mentally, emotionally, physically, whatever the case may be — and in our encounter with the unexpected and unwelcome, we freak the hell out. Many times a level head and a brief further inspection of the situation will reveal that it is totally manageable.
I experienced this on a physical level just earlier this week. In a basketball game that rendered the court more battlefield than game site, I caught a hard elbow to my right eye while going up for a rebound. It hurt, but I’m used to playing aggressively and making contact, so while frustrated not to hear any whistle from the ref, I was otherwise unfazed. A moment later, however, I heard several teammates and opponents shout that I was bleeding. I looked down and realized there was blood all over my shirt, and in retreating to the bathroom and seeing myself in the mirror I discovered the gash and saw that the entire right side of my face was covered in blood too. Since I have an affinity for the legacy in scars and the honor in injury, my first instinct was split between wanting to take a picture of my bloody face and wanting to get back in the game. Once it was insisted I clean up my face, I found that the cut, while definitely a notable gash, was quite confined. Already, things were looking less gruesome. Several people predicted stitches, but after a quick trip to an urgent care unit, it turned out all I needed was a little bit of glue — not even a headache to speak of.
I will try to carry with me the value in this experience as I encounter other moments in life that seem, upon arrival, scary or daunting or messy or terrible. These moments are jarring, but once we adjust to them, like entry into a cold pool, we become more comfortable and calm, and then we can simply figure out what to do, and do it.