Lessons on Losing

Oct 15, 2015 | All Blogs, Failure, Resilience

Watching Stanford’s Women Soccer team in action was inspiring. My family and I watched them play Oregon last Sunday, and it was fantastic. These female athletes have given me a new definition of femininity. They are strong, fast, smart and tough. I want to be just like them! If that’s playing like a girl, I’ll take it any day. The best part of watching the game was that it showed my eight year-old daughter a new way to think about how she approaches playing soccer.

While watching the game was awe inspiring, I would have to say that the “chalk talk” session with two of the players was just as interesting. “Chalk talk” is an opportunity for the young fans, which were all girls ranging from approximately 8 to 12 years old, to meet and speak with two of the players on the team.

One of my favorite questions asked was about what the team does when it’s losing. One of the players described a time the team lost. She said that during the game, the team had to come together to decide how to play their best, and they ended up playing their best soccer as a team during the second half. In fact, she said that even though they lost in the end, it was one of their best games ever.

The other player followed up by discussing her perspective on making mistakes. She said that making mistakes is part of the game. Her approach is to not think about the mistake, but to decide what’s she’s going to do next to get the ball.

As a career strategist who works with women everyday, I wanted to jump up and down and applaud. What she said was so important, because it translates to what we have to do when we face tough challenges or failures in our careers.

So often, when things at work turn south, we turn to blame. We blame ourselves or our employers. But the trouble with blame is that it keeps us stuck on the problem instead of creating a solution. Let’s take a few lessons on losing from Stanford’s Women’s Soccer team.

1. Engage with your team

Success doesn’t come solely from rolling up your sleeves, putting your head down and working as hard as you can. Hard work and a strong work ethic matter, but a supportive environment is equally important. Whether you work in a big organization or are a solo entrepreneur, you need a team that helps to bring out your best. You need trusted advisors and a supportive team. If you don’t currently work in an environment you trust, find or build one.

2. Recognize whether you are experiencing failure or disappointment.

We all fail or make mistakes. Many of us use these opportunities to learn and rebuild. In the abstract, failure is simply the lack of success. It’s the context that typifies how we feel about failing. We may, like the example of the Stanford soccer player, use the failure or mistake to move us toward our next decision.

However, if failure is accompanied with disappointment, we may have to confront our expectations. As Brené Brown says in her book Rising Strong, “Disappointment is unmet expectation, and the more significant the disappointment, the more significant the expectations.”

Our job is to determine if what occurred was a lack of success and an opportunity to learn and grow or if we need to reevaluate our expectations. Are we attached to a certain outcome? If so, why?

Releasing our expectations of a certain outcome helps us to be more aware and receptive to opportunities as they appear.

3. Keep moving forward

One of the best lessons I took from the “chalk talk” discussion was to keep moving forward. Often when we fail or lose, we feed the feeling of loss and disappointment. We replay the experience and contemplate different outcomes. Its healthy to evaluate what went wrong and learn from it, but when contemplation turns to rumination, we stall and open the door to self doubt.

The best way to handle feelings of loss and disappointment is to take action. What’s the next thing we can do to push the ball forward? Or better yet, what can we do to help someone else? Positive action shifts feelings, generates energy and promotes a positive perspective.

When you lose, decide what you’re going to do next and then take action on the decision. During the game, Stanford constantly generated opportunities to score even if every shot didn’t make it in the goal.

Stanford’s Women’s soccer team has put together a winning formula. These women are tough, strong, and ready to learn. Their success has placed them at the top of the Pac 12 and fourth overall in the NSCAA.

Take their lessons on losing and turn them into a winning plan for your career.

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