A Good Loss

I’m a fairly competitive person. I like to win. And pitching new business is like preparing for the big game. You put your best people on it. You train. You prepare. You get your game face on. And you go in there to win.

Except, in this case, we lost.

We worked really hard. We were prepared. We came in with ideas. And we lost.

It’s ok. It was “a good loss”– much like the Samurai considered death in battle “a good death.” But, unlike the Samurai, for us there was no harm in trying. The client chose a firm that specializes in their industry. We did our best, but we don’t specialize in their industry. We put forth a good effort. So it was a good loss.

A loss is easier to live with when it’s just. Justice is all we can ask for in business – and in life. Justice is defined as proper. Right. Fair. Correct. It’s “just” when hard work pays off. When the good guy gets the girl. When the underdog succeeds. We want justice to prevail. And it’s inspiring when it does.

I was inspired by my son Dalton this past week. He’s entering the ninth grade. High School. If you recall, freshman year in High School is worlds apart from middle school. You’re walking the halls with awkward kids who are barely 14 as well as grown men and women who just turned 18. Half the student body can legally drive. It’s scary for a ninth grader – and terrifying for a ninth grader’s parents.

Dalton wanted to play J.V. soccer. He didn’t go out for the J.V. football team because he preferred soccer. He came back from camp to find he’d not only missed try-outs, but the soccer team had been practicing for two-and-a-half weeks. He was distressed. I felt terrible. I had not actively checked on this over the summer. I assumed that – since he had put his name on a list indicating he wanted to play – they’d contact him. Welcome to High School.

I went to the school to see if there was anything to be done. They suggested I e-mail the coach. I e-mailed him requesting he have a look at Dalton. He said his team had been picked and chances were extremely slim since he’d cut so many boys already. In the end, he allowed Dalton to practice with the team that night. I was proud that Dalton had the guts to go.

As I dropped the boy off at practice, I heard one of the boys say, “You might want to tell your mom to stick around. You won’t be here long.” Welcome to High School. Turns out the Varsity and J.V. practice together. He stood among 20 gangly teenage boys and 20 full-grown men. I thought I was going to be physically ill.

When I returned to pick him up, they were still practicing. In fact, they continued to practice for another half hour. It was grueling. I was relieved to see that Dalton was holding his own. I tried to approach the coach, but he walked to the other side of the field. Not a good sign.

After practice, he told Dalton to come back and practice from 9-11 the next morning and he would know. Later that night, Dalton got physically ill. He was not used to that much exertion. He threw up. Every muscle in his body was sore.

He was still sick the next morning. He wasn’t sure he could do it, but realizing this was his only shot to make the team, he mustered up all his strength and got to practice 15 minutes early.

“What can I do to set up, Coach?” I heard him say as I left.

When I picked him up two hours later, the coach walked straight towards me. He’s going to get the bad news over with, I thought. “We’re going to keep him,” he said. “But he has to sit the bench for the first three games for missing 2.5 weeks of practice. Is that fair?”

Fair? I’d say, it was just. Proper. Correct. Right. Dalton’s hard work, positive attitude and determination paid off. Justice prevailed. Had he given his best and not made the team, it wouldn’t have been the storybook ending we all crave. Or a storybook beginning to his high school career. He – and I – would have had to accept it as “a good loss.” A pretty hard concept for a 14-year-old.

Welcome to high school. It’s going to be a long 4 years.