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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to Win when you Lose

I will re-emerge. I'm quiet and retreated from the world, trying to get things done and resting quite a bit.

With the recent loss of my Granny and several other "losses" of late, I've been thinking about this thing called life and how it is truly a roller coaster. No one has the corner on victory and no matter how bad it seems, no one really has the corner on loss either.

As I ponder loss and how terrible it can be, I also draw and think upon the things I've learned from history about loss and those who have overcome tremendous loss to continue to make a difference. So, as I journalize, I just thought I'd share a bit about my thoughts on loss and how (I hope) to come out of this.

I do not speak as one who has mastered loss or one who is even over it. I speak as one in the throes of loss drawing on my own life experiences and the wisdom of others.

1) Give it Time

This comes from my own Grandmother. My grandfather died suddenly when Granny was a young 59. She said that for the first year she put one foot in front of the other and just tried to make it from day to day.

Then, she said, one day she woke up and said,
"OK, this is my life and I'm going to enjoy it. I cannot bring him back, but I can live what I have left without regret. Here I am world, and here I go."

She proceeded to travel the world: Egypt, Australia, Europe, everywhere -- sometimes with Friends, sometimes by herself with tour groups.

She couldn't bring Grandaddy back so she gave herself time and then decided to live again.

I try not to make important decisions or write things when I am too upset or two tired, which should explain my recent silence. I will give myself time.

2 - Keep Perspective

Look Long Term.
I read about a Jewish Christian during the Holocaust talking to her family about how to make it through the tough time and she told them to "put on their 100 year glasses." As a Christian, that is something I can relate to.

However, even if we don't look as long term, although there are awards that we'd like to win (I just "lost" one of my own recently - Congratulations to Ben Wilkoff) and places we'd like to present (Julie's and my proposal to run a Horizon Project with educators for K12online07 was cut) in the long term, I suppose I'll barely remember.

Now, these two losses came for me right before Granny died. I'm competitive and I like to win awards like the next person.

But I don't teach because of any award -- If I wanted that I would have stayed in business and pocketed a five digit paycheck every month -- I don't teach for awards.

So, why did I let myself get so all-fired distracted for an award that most likely I could never win? (I am a private school teacher which is often an obstacle for me in the US, though I taught public school teacher staff development for 8+ years.) I guess the problem was that they narrowed it down to two of us so I gave everything I had and came up short.

Look at the positive.

But you know what, there are so many blessings I do have. For goodness sakes, when I want to have a pity party, all I have to do is look at my blog and see you amazing readers out there. And Julie and I won such an incredible award at NECC. I've won a lifetime of awards already and am thankful for every one of them.

Down with the ego.
It all comes down to this dreadful thing that we all fight: ego. That cutthroat nature of mine from the business world comes back at the drop of a hat and that is why I left the business world -- because my own drive to succeed was killing my marriage and motherhood.

So, when I experience loss, I have to ask myself -- is it truly a loss or is it wounded pride. In the case of the Wired Educator award, my answer would have to be it was my own pride.

Just because I'm not what they are looking for doesn't mean that I'm not the best that I can be. I've done all that I can do and that is enough. I'm doing it for the intangible invisible award called changing the lives of my students. And every once in a while, I have to "snatch a knot" in my own head and say,

"Vicki, keep perspective. This is not about you. It is about doing your best, helping your students, and sharing things that will help other educators. It is about being a good wife and good mother and writing to make other's lives better."

Is it tough? Of course. We all want to win all of the time, but it is just not going to happen. And when teachers do win awards, it is often just one in a lifetime and that is OK, we're not in this for gold or for plaques, anyway.

My own mother was an amazing educator and left so many indelible marks on the hearts of her students but she didn't win any awards of any kind... and she deserved it. She didn't present at conferences but she taught everyone in sight how to do better an be better - she is a champ!

3. Be willing to help where you're needed.

Boy, I was excited about doing the Horizon Project with Julie for you educators. We were going to drop the drapes and let you take part and show you how a global collaborative project is done. I had spent hours planning, too bad that I almost forgot the deadline for K12 online conference and perhaps didn't write the best proposal I could have for this.

But you know what, it was turned down. They didn't want it.

Sometimes we have great intentions and plan how we're going to help others when there is not a need for that. Sometimes it is not our time and something else is needed.

I believe that one day I'll look back and be thankful for the several hundred hours this October that I got to spend on something else.

It is humbling to be turned down for anything. But I'll tell you that most people who win more fail more because they try more.

I don't know one baseball player who bats a thousand! They have to miss and strike out sometimes and so do I. So do you. We all lose sometimes.

4. It doesn't mean I have to like it.

I don't have to like the process of loss. It is like the mouse who was in the cage and had shock administered with no hope of getting away -- eventually, the poor little mouse just stood there and took it shivering and painful even though only the spot he was sitting was electrified. He had lost all hope.

I like to use my losses as "tackling fuel" (taken from a great movie the Waterboy -- he envisioned the people who were unkind to him on the helmets of the opposing football team to help him tackle better.) I have to keep my hope and let adversity spur me to be more.

It is like when I was in middle school and went home every day for years in tears because I was called "ugly" and a "geek." Or when I was put on the back row of choir in middle school and told to move my lips because I was such a terrible singer!

I took that and put it into losing weight and winning beauty pageants (at least for a while) and in learning how to sing. Those unkind words and hurtful experiences went on to drive me to be better.

And when I went to Georgia Tech from my tiny high school class of 32 and had people tell me
"You'll never make it here you're from po-dunk south Georgia."
I meant that I was going to do well at Georgia Tech! It was there I adopted my personal motto,
"I may not be smarter but I can work harder."

and put my farm girl back into it and graduated first in my class from Georgia Tech.

My good friend Terry Freedman who I value for his honesty and deep thinking, says "The greatest revenge is success" and there is a lot of truth to that. I am going to do the very best I can to help where I'm wanted and that is enough.

5. The only way to lose permanently is to quit.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down."
Mary Pickford (Gladys Louise Smith), American actress (1893-1979)

"The way to succeed is never quit. That’s it. But really be humble about it."
Alex Haley, American author (1921-1992)

“Fall seven times. Stand up eight.”
Japanese proverb

"Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall."
Oliver Goldsmith, English author (1730-1774)

"Winners are losers who got up and gave it one more try."
Dennis DeYoung, songwriter and member of the pop rock band Styx (b. 1947)

I find it interesting that the only difference in lose and loser is the r -- or "are" sound. Just because you lose doesn't mean you ARE a loser. To BE a loser, you choose to not get up and fight another day. Winners always get up.

And we could go on.

How to Win When you Lose?
Since I'm a list maker, here are my five thoughts I've given myself about how to win when I lose:

1) Give It Time
2) Keep Perspective (look long term, look at the positive, keep the ego in check)
3) Be willing to help where you're needed
4) I don't have to like it. (Let it spur me on to greatness.)
5) The only way to lose permanently is to quit.

I have lots of thoughts on other things but right now, I simply don't have the energy for debate. I'll be "off the grid" with my mom another couple of days and will be back in the midst of the edublogosphere soon.

I need the time right now...

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