I believe I have learned more from losing than I have ever learned from winning. Don’t get me wrong; I love to win. It is exhilarating to excel, but for me the rush is temporary. I quickly move on to the next challenge without much reflection. There is no epiphany. No change in my thinking. The experiences that have most transformed me have come from the losses in my life.
The experience of loss, though, appears to be vanishing in our society, especially in our schools. Failure is more and more uncommon. Everyone is picked for the team. These days, we go out of our way to make sure that all children are winners. While it is important to make every child feel valued, are we actually denying children the opportunity to learn from their mistakes?
My husband laments the new philosophy that says everyone is a winner. He disdains clubs and organizations that give everyone a trophy or a certificate no matter their performance or capability, because he believes that this sends a very unrealistic message to children. Loss is a fact of life, and kids need to experience it. I have come to agree with him. I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today, and many of those experiences involved loss. I didn’t get invited to the birthday party of the most popular girl in my 5th grade class. I didn’t get accepted into the college that was my first choice. And no matter how hard I try, I don’t reach every single student. But each one of these experiences helped me to develop empathy, compassion, and the ability to persevere.
As a teacher, I have worked with students who have never experienced adversity. Their parents have created a false sense that the world will always treat them well. Sometimes, our schools make sure they circumvent failure. On some state exams 55% is passing! I believe one of the most important lessons we can teach children is how to cope with adversity. It is crucial to celebrate achievements, but isn’t it equally important to give children the opportunity to grow and develop into innovative, creative thinkers who can overcome life’s difficulties? Their future success may depend upon it.
I lost my mother when I was 22 years old. I cannot even begin to describe how difficult this experience was. What I can share with you, though, is what it taught me about myself. I found a reserve of strength that I never knew was there. I could clearly see this quality in my mother when she was dying, but I learned to see it in myself by losing her. This experience made me a better daughter, a more loving wife, a more compassionate friend, and a more caring teacher. I was given a gift the day I watched her pass—I learned how to appreciate the joys and sorrows that make life worth living.
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