We can’t get enough of them. Our culture celebrates them, rewards them, idolizes them. We wear their jerseys, follow their stock tips, and flock to their movies. And, oh yes, we buy their books, eager to discover the secrets of their success.
We love about hearing from those winners. When they open up and reveal their secrets, they don’t just share the positive qualities that helped them succeed—work ethic, education, persistence, etc.
Every successful person has positive traits we can learn from.
Every successful person has failed in some (or multiple) ways.
Oftentimes, there’s even more to share about their failures. When they list the mistakes they made, and more importantly, how they learned to move past them while also embracing the insights and opportunities those set-backs provided them…that’s where the real gold is and the more interesting part of their story.
Learning how to deal with failure—since we’ll inevitably experience it—is a skill worthy of mastering.
There are unlimited lessons one can learn from mistakes and failures. Here’s one example of how to show an impressive level of integrity while also strengthening relationships in the face of defeat.
When President George H.W. Bush lost the presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992, he followed tradition and crafted a letter for his successor. After Bill Clinton assumed the presidency and entered the White House for the first time as the 42rd president of the United States of America, one of the first things he did was read the message that Bush had left for him. That letter is a master class in how to lose both graciously and with style.
The letter reads as follows:
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I'm not a very good one to give advice; but just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you.
Bush could have wallowed in bitter disappointment and frustration at losing a hard-fought election; instead, he went above and beyond the call of duty to not only bury the hatch with his political rival, but to make it clear that he was personally invested in Clinton’s (and therefore the country’s) success.
The result of Bush’s extraordinary graciousness in the face of a very public and humiliating loss was the forging of a lasting, if unlikely, friendship. In fact, the two men formed such a close bond that none other than future president George W. Bush observed that his father and Bill’s friendship had evolved and deepened into something more akin to a father-son relationship. (Which must have created an interesting dynamic for George, Jr.)
So, out of this very public loss came an unexpected and unlikely partnership that enhanced and enriched the later years of former president Bush. And the world itself benefited, as the two rivals-turned-friends would work closely together to help rally support in the face of a number of global crises. And it seemingly all began with the generous spirit and a thoughtfully-worded letter from a man whom had just suffered one of the most public and painful losses imaginable.
Everyone has experienced failure and loss in life, even those seemingly untouchable individuals who have the world at their fingertips. But people handle these situations quite differently.
Some become the quintessential “bad loser,” stewing in their misfortune while making those closest to them miserable. Instead of framing this setback as an opportunity to re-examine and adjust their flawed assumptions and plans, they lash out at those they blame for their failure while refusing to take any responsibility of their own. The result? An endlessly repeating cycle of failure and frustration.
Others perceive defeat in a different light. Yes, failure is painful (sometimes bitterly so), but it can also provide an opportunity for reflection and personal growth.
They take the time to understand what led to their initial failure and try again, this time armed with an added wisdom and, maybe, humility that they didn’t possess before. And often, that new insight is the critical element to realizing their future success.
Author and small-business expert Frank Sonnenberg details 8 Ways to Be a Good Loser in his fascinating and insightful observations on the subject. It’s a super quick, concise, and worthwhile read.
Some of the biggest “winners” in the world today only achieved their success after first failing, sometimes multiple times.
The secret to their ultimate success was how they decided to view those set-backs. They discovered – after trial and error - one of the most counter-intuitive truths in life: failure is often the gateway to success.
Don’t cultivate failure, but when it does inevitably occur, turn it to your advantage and parlay what you learn from it to achieving future success. Who knows? The next letter you write might be on presidential stationery.
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Written by Kinn Melby
Edited by Amiee Mueller
Image by Louis Hansel