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How to Celebrate When You Don’t Win

I’m addicted to the Great British Baking Show. I’ve watched every season we can access in the US, most of them more than once. One of the things I love the most about it is how the contestants help and support each other—if someone needs a hand, there’s always someone ready to go. I recently watched the finale of the current season with a little bit of a pout. My favorite contestant was eliminated the week before, and while I thought the three finalists were worthy, it just wasn’t the same. But that episode was intense—fraught with complications, and no one baked a perfect three rounds. Still the judges chose a winner, and I found I was just as thrilled with their choice as I would have been with my original favorite. What struck me the most, though, was how the two runners-up talked to and about the winner. They mentioned how talented and hard working he was and how much they admired him. And then they talked about how much they had learned about themselves and how much the experience of being in the contest helped them to raise their own level as bakers and artists. WOW. There’s something there!

As a teacher, I’ve always got students competing in something. Literally always, all year round. They work so hard, and when they don’t come out on top, it can feel crushing in the moment. It doesn’t help that most of them are so evenly matched in skill that on any given day, any one of them can win. We just had our regional honor band auditions (precursor to All-State) for juniors and seniors, and predictably, there are tears of happiness and tears of despair, depending on the student. Three of those girls that are evenly matched? They’re in three of the top four chairs, but not necessarily in the order I expected! There are another two seniors who made All-State last year but didn’t quite get there this year, more in the lower band, and probably the happiest student I have is fourth alternate—she never made it on the list before this year.

Perspective is everything, friends. This week, as I talk to the girls about the results and their feelings about it all, I’m trying to remind them each that even if they didn’t win the seat they dreamed of, someone further down the list would LOVE to be them. My favorite conversation so far has been with one of those seniors who made All-State last year but didn’t this year. She shrugged and said, “It isn’t everything. Let’s talk about college auditions.” That kid will be OK!

So you didn’t win? Here are a few ideas to help with that valuable sense of perspective:

  1. Did you learn anything? In the process of preparing for whatever event you entered, did you learn more about playing, preparing, performing? Recovering from a less than stellar moment? Holding your head high even when you are disappointed in yourself? All of those lessons are worth learning, especially the ones about pivoting from a mistake and saving the day by letting it go!
  2. Did you meet anyone interesting? Friends, mentors and teachers can come from the wildest chance meetings, and not winning or placing in a competition doesn’t mean you didn’t impress anyone. All kinds of factors go into those decisions, and it’s wrong to assume that you are not worth the attention of people you might meet because of one result.
  3. Did you come away with some ideas for further growth? Most of my biggest realizations of things I need to work on in my own playing have come from moments where I didn’t live up to my own expectations for myself. In those moments, I could see clearly where I could improve—where I needed to find my self-confidence, usually by breaking down a technique or a bad habit until it was smooth and easy.
  4. Can you remember triumphant moments from your performance? And if so, will you let yourself enjoy them? No performance I have ever given was 100% accurate, but nearly every performance I have given has been beautiful in one way or another, and it’s important to remember that beauty and success at least as much as I remember my little gaffes. And the truth is, other people are never as tuned into perceived perfection as the performer. If you played three notes wrong, don’t let that take away your joy in the 4,568,794 notes you played correctly! Remember…perception is everything!

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