The Importance of Losing

6 Mar

Cold eyes and pouted lips reigned at the high school fashion show as a sea of amateur models pranced before family, friends and judges. The objective? Steal the judges’ attention long enough to be voted the school’s top model.

The task seemed daunting, but for one girl who moved as though she ate, slept and breathed fashion, the contest was a breeze. The ebony beauty’s rich, tar-colored skin, flowing raven locks and bold strides made her mesmerizing.

As she strutted and spun gloriously before the crowd, all of the other models eyed her with envy: She was the obvious favorite.

Yet, one model refused to go down without a fight. Tossing poses like punches the entire night, a mahogany-colored model donning a short bob, scarlet-red lips and fiery eyes thrust herself before the crowd’s choice in defiance, brushing her roughly as they posed.

Tensions rose as the hosts slowly rattled through the names of the almost winners.

Third runner up was called.

Second runner up beckoned.

Finally, first runner up was announced: As expected, it was the fierce mahogany maiden.

After pausing in disbelief, the pretty brown girl with the fire in her eyes stood and walked calmly to the stage. Like all of the losers before her, she turned to do one final catwalk for the audience and panel. As she strutted across, she turned to stare into each of the judges’ eyes, smiled sweetly and extended her middle finger to them all.

As gasps and swears swept the audience, she quickly floated down the stage’s stairs, descended upon the judge’s table and, with a strength beyond her petite frame, yanked the papers and tablecloth out from beneath the judges—sending the items crashing to the floor. Then, as cool as ice, she glided out of the auditorium as the outraged judges and startled crowd chased her with their eyes.

Part of me cheered for the girl. Had she not just fulfilled every loser’s fantasy? Did she not just voice the masked anger and disappointment of all of the girls before her—girls who had politely hid behind pasted smiles when they, too, had a few choice gestures for the judges?

No one likes losing. No one likes to be deemed inferior to another human being.

The mantel at my parent’s house is laden with a dusty collection of trophies and certificates—spoils of war from the science fairs, oratorical contests, pageants and awards from my academic youth.

Growing up, excellence was simply the expectation. Recognition was routine. After the first few years, I grew as tired of hearing my name bellowed from the stage as my classmates.

College was a different story. Within my first few weeks, I learned the futility of defining myself and my identity by being the best.

To base your entire sense of self on a comparison is not healthy. An identity that depends entirely on the crowd surrounding you, one that rests on being the prettiest, most fashionable, funniest or smartest is impossible to maintain: Some days, praise and triumph will come easily. Other days, despite all effort, failure and doom awaits.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

Surrounded by people smarter, wiser, faster and arguably better than myself, I learned to strive to reach my personal best. And by competing in a more challenging arena, I grew better: smarter, faster and much more appreciative of the few awards I did manage to snag.

My cum status meant more to me than graduating 3rd in my high school class ever could. The red chord conjured images of long nights spend in the library snuggled beneath my leopard-print blanket, intermittently napping and studying for days on end.

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.  ~Albert Einstein

Since graduation, let’s just say I’ve struggled immensely in quest of my dreams.

The process has not been pretty: Meeting rejection never is. I spent the last several months toiling as a sales girl in a women’s retail store, taking orders and stank attitudes from women who could easily be colleagues. I kept my sanity and my dream alive by writing.  Months later, my work finally paid off. I landed a great internship with a local newspaper, was quickly upgraded to a freelance writer and journalist and was back on track with my dreams.

I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world. Seriously. Through the struggle, I learned the value of fighting for my beliefs.

As for the spirited mahogany girl, rising to challenge her rival has made her a better model, whether she admits it or not. Though she lost the last round, the experience and fresh knowledge endowed upon her will help grow stronger and more competitive.

Losing has its perks.

Yesterday’s losers grow, improve and stretch themselves to become more competitive. Losers learn the value of perseverance.

Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits.  ~Robert Brault

It is through losing that we learn to win.

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