Winning from Losing

I gave this at my first International speech contest in Spring, 1993. I won at the area contest and placed second in the division contest that year. 

Inspirational speeches. I have a problem with inspirational speeches. They all say the same thing: “WIN!”

  • “When the breaks are beating the boys, tell ’em to go out and win one for the Gipper!”
  • “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing!”

Yeah, right. If winning is the only thing, then why do we wind up losing every so often?

That’s what I’m going to talk about tonight: losing. Losing seems like such an ugly word, doesn’t it? Who wants to be called a loser? The cartoon character Ziggy might like being called the “world’s most lovable loser,” but is that a title you’d want for yourself?

But I’m going to share with you a little known secret about losing: Losing isn’t such a bad thing. Losing is educational. Losing can lead you to your ultimate success.

I’m going to show you tonight how you can learn from losing. And if you haven’t made losing a teacher for yourself, you should. Because all of us — yes, all of us — will wind up in its classroom at one time or another.

Let me give you an example from sports. That’s where most of our ideas about winning and losing come from, right? In a field that values winning above everything, there must be no higher pinnacle than to have a perfect season: to win every game during the year.

Do you realize that in the National Football League, only one team in the past twenty years has had a perfect season? That was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. There was no team in the NFL that year that was better than the Dolphins. They won every regular season game, every playoff game, and of course, the most important game of the year, the Super Bowl. This record has been unmatched for the past twenty years [and still stays unmatched today].

But the year before, the same Dolphins played the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, and they were trounced 24-3. 24-3! The Buffalo Bills did better than the Cowboys in the last [1993] Super Bowl than the Dolphins. At least the Bills scored some touchdowns. The Dolphins had to settle for a measly field goal.

But the Dolphins regrouped. They worked hard to stay in shape during the off-season. They developed new strategies during training camp, and they practiced them until they were perfect. When they hit the field that year, they were an unstoppable force. Not only did they win the Super Bowl that year, they came back to win it the following year.

So, what did losing teach the Dolphins? It taught them to learn from their mistakes, to regroup, and to come back stronger than they did before.

Let me give you one other story about winning and losing — my own.

I’ve been a technical writer for many years. Like any ambitious person, I didn’t want to be stuck doing the same job at the same salary for the rest of my career. I wanted a challenge. So, I decided that I would go into management.

I realized that I needed to learn new skills to enter management, so I took classes. I took every management training class that my company offered. And when it didn’t offer a class I needed, I took classes on my own, paid for with my own money. Eventually, I had the opportunity to supervise one employee, then four.

But I discovered that all those classes really didn’t prepare me for what I experienced. They didn’t prepare me for the thorny conflicts and difficult decisions I had to face. I also discovered that I really didn’t have the aptitude to be a supervisor. Management wasn’t for me.

So, when an opportunity arose for me to go back to a writing job, I took it. It was a demotion, but it was the best thing I did for my career. My new writing assignment exposed me to new and challenging projects, such as reference manuals for programmers. I rediscovered my ability to come up with creative solutions to problems, and it enabled me to become a more effective leader for my department than when I was a rung up the management ladder. I’m much happier in my job than I was before.

So, what did losing teach me? It taught me that I was going in the wrong direction, that I was going astray from where I really wanted to be, and that I needed to get back on course.

Learn from your mistakes. Get back on track. These are the things every successful person must learn. And those are the things that losing teaches you. You’ll discover that losing is an effective motivator, honest counselor, and helpful mentor.

So, if you want to succeed — if you really want to succeed — go out there and blow one for the Gipper!