Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The lessons in defeat

This is my fourth year coaching speech and debate and the first year that zero of my debaters qualified to states or nationals. I could blame this on a job at a new school, or a lazy batch of kids (this is for symbolism; I don't have a lazy batch of kids), or the other people I work with. But I won't. It just is what it is.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this meme, it essentially means that I have a first world problem: a problem that does not affect my physical well being and, therefore, is fairly irrelevant in the grand scheme of life. However, it still feels kinda like crap. 

First and foremost I am disappointed for my students who put work into something that they did not succeed at. But, that's life.  It will happen again and again to both them and to me and nothing actually detrimental will come of any of it. 

Knowing what to stay to students who have not succeeded at something has been the hardest part of my job for the past 4 years. I don't know why it took me so long to finally as a colleague what to say to them, but I'm glad I did. Yes, there are the trite answers about working harder next time, but there are some bigger lessons at hand too.  

1) It is okay to be disappointed. This is huge. Students and people in general need to remember that it is okay to be sad. We must let ourselves grieve for a little while, we must get through the grief, and then we must get on with our lives.

2) This is a step in the larger story of your life. Life is not about just one moment. Today you may loose, or today you might win, but these moments are only a fraction of the experiences that will take us through our personal journey. Life will balance itself out, there will be another chance at another goal before we know it, and we have to take all the pieces as part of the whole of who we are.

3) Life isn't about being fair, life is about being. This one is my favorite. This comes a lot from the Buddhist meditation I have been studying, but I feel it really helped some of my students this year. Fairness is something we should strive for because it is right, but fairness is an imperfect art and it doesn't always work out for everyone in every situation. Yes, the moments we get to stand on stage and accept a trophy are amazing, but they are not any greater then the moments when we gave our best performance (even if it didn't earn us a trophy) or the moments we got to spend with our close friends while practicing, or the moments of gratification we took in getting there. We must look for the moments where we are really alive and use them to better ourselves.

4) Don't look for ways you were cheated, look for things you did well. This one is my least favorite. Every year I have a student (and often their parents) who stares at the statistics of the outcomes and looks for ways they were cheated. They concoct bias out of a list of numbers and cheating out of a list of names and conclude that they lost because someone was out to get them. The truth is that if they had succeeded then I, or another coach at another school, would be having this exact same conversation with another student. This year I had this same situation and I was honest with the student and said exactly that. And do you know what she said in response?: "You're right." This doesn't fix the sad feelings, but it does remind someone that the same system that they would have championed if they had won also has to let someone down. 

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