Winners Beware! Why Losing is Better Medicine

“Son, if you ain’t first, yer last!

– Reese Bobby (Father of Ricky Bobby) in Talledega Nights

It’s easy to love winning and envy winners.  That is, until it’s us on the podium.  In the meantime, we like to play the victims of circumstance.  Do we ever consider how much we, as losers, have to gain? 

Consider the following pitfalls of winning:

Winning never lasts

The one thing in common with all wins – in sales, in sports, in career pursuits – is brevity. The victory party may last for days, but it always ends. The money gets spent. The trips get taken.

If winning was measured solely by what is kept for the long term, everyone’s true prize would be expectations. “Nice job! Let’s see it again – only this time faster, better, or more,” is what we eventually hear from others and ourselves.

The immediate aftermath of winning feels a bit like throwing your own birthday party. We seek reassurance from others that our accomplishment is worth celebrating. Many salespeople will attest, the lower the value delivered by a product, the harder one must work to sell it. As I write this, I just finished the third quarter at over 114% goal attainment. High value products, like the one I currently represent, are easy to sell. But, besides being able to pay more bills, what did I accomplish?

Winning helps us deceive ourselves

The most valuable reward I’ve ever received in sales was the permission to think of myself differently. My first good year gave me a clue that perhaps I wasn’t an impostor after all. Maybe I actually had learned how to do this job? Maybe I was even…an expert?

Unfortunately, just as thinking I was an impostor was ironically false, so was the value in being an “expert”. Dr. Carol Dweck, has gotten much well-deserved attention for her research into mindsets. A fixed mindset entails believing that one’s abilities are static. We’re all novices until, one day, we magically become experts. Therefore, the entire game of life is pass/fail. Conversely, a growth mindset comes with the belief that there’s always something new and interesting to learn. Happiness is about remaining a hopeful student and not becoming a disillusioned master.

Winning distorts reality

“There are no moral victories!”, is a common slogan recited by coaches and athletes alike. Eliminating failure as an outcome sounds good in TV interviews and on Investor conference calls. In truth, they might as well say, “I want success so badly that I will use magical powers to get it!” In reality, all the begging and manipulation of 1000 salespeople can’t force a customer to act. Therefore, in sales, failure IS always an option.

Yet, we persist in thinking we have control over others. As a result, we sweat and stress in the name of winning. This hyper-focus closes us off to our own empathy for the customer and problem-solving creativity. While we are busy go-getting, our customers are for-getting both who we are and what we sell.

It’s time to re-visit losing

Winning gets us noticed. It might even earn you a promotion. If you like, it’s the ultimate validation of whatever you did before. So why change? Just keep being an expert! This is the downfall of many salespeople. We can’t look beyond our wins. Instead of improving, we stagnate.

In response to the traditional, closed-minded lust for winning, we can develop a secret crush on losing. This means admitting that the number next to our name on the sales report is an outcome, not an identity. Remove self-judgement, and losing becomes an opportunity to truly learn and become better.