I Am A Loser

There are three ways to tell this story:

1.  Although after winning a commanding 43% in the final round of The Washington Post’s @Work Advice Contest, they chose someone younger with consistently fewer votes.

2.  I don’t care that I didn’t win The Washington Post’s @Work Advice Contest because I really don’t have time for it anyway.

3.  I gave The Washington Post’s @Work Advice Contest my best shot – I wrote like Monet painted – but the judges preferred Van Gogh.  And that is OK.

See, there are always many ways to tell a story.  And I told all of those versions of my story in the first 24 hours after I found out that, despite having the vast majority of the final vote, I didn’t win.

It was hard.

It really hurt.

Because I had put myself out there, and told all of you that I really wanted the job.

And I worked hard.

And I put other things aside to focus on the contest.

And I fell short.

Then I got a grip, and thought of all the clients over the years who have been final candidates in some executive search and haven’t been offered the position.  What do I advise them?

Honor the full sweep of your emotions. Because there are no “wrong” emotions.  There are just emotions.

So, heeding my own advice, I was – by turns – angry, sad, self-chastising, denying, accepting.

No pretending.  Just whatever it was, as it was.

And, after all of that emotion, I settled into this thought:  Close, baby, but no cigar.

But the damn cigar is completely within reach.

The cigar that’s coming next for me may just be a different brand, and aroma, and size than I expected. And I will welcome it.

You all know that I believe we each have 100 units of energy to spend each day.  Yesterday’s are gone, and tomorrow’s belong to tomorrow – so how I spend my 100 today is vital.  And totally up to me.

I know that in order to achieve anything, I must use my energy to support my greatest priorities:

Being a good enough parent.

Doing work that makes a difference, and that I am proud of.

Caring for my emotional, spiritual, physical and financial health.

Truth is, I would have loved writing for The Washington Post.  But not writing for The Washington Post offers me the opportunity to put more energy units on my true, real priorities.

Plus, there are gifts for me in not getting what I wanted.

(Which is something I often suggest clients look at – and after they throw something at me, they usually find the gifts inherent in any difficult situation.)

For me, the gifts were multiple:

I tested my writing skills and found them strong, coherent, and well-received.

I connected with people who love my work.

I found new people who love my work.

I enlarged my comfort zone.

I felt tremendous gratitude for an ocean of support from people all around the world.

So, I am a loser.  No doubt about that.

How do I know?  Because I did not win.

But, I am a happy loser who feels like she got the best possible part of the whole deal.

See, in losing I found more of myself.

And that’s a win, sugar. A big, honking, bona fide win.


Who Wins?

There is no winning formula.

Regardless of what anyone tells you, success is not one-size-fits-all.

What propels one elite athlete to excellence may not propel you to the same level of performance.

Someone else’s business plan cannot be grafted onto your business idea with the same result.

Your brother’s job search is not your job search.

You are you.

They are them.

So, beware people who want to sell you their “secrets”.  Who offer you a success template.  Who say being successful is fast, easy, and assured – but only if you follow their plan.

You are you.

They are them.

It’s so natural, so human, so very optimistic to wish and hope and pray for an easy solution.  And, we think/hope/pray –  if it worked for someone else, then maybe it will work for me.

We think: Maybe success will finally be easy.

Because we’d all really like easy.

Most of us would like what that old song promised: “That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it, Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free…”

But life doesn’t work like that.

The best winning solution is the one relevant to who you are and where you want to go. The best solution is the one you can visualize for yourself, and create to your own specifications.

The best solution really works for you.

So why not ask the person who’s selling you their wholesale, turn-key, nearly guaranteed thingy,  “Don’t I deserve a customized solution for this price?”

Because you do. If you want to be truly successful.

Unfortunately, the seller’s personal success plan is based on wholesaling solutions to you and hundreds or thousands of hopeful types just like you.  Customized takes too much time, is too difficult, is too specific, is too long-term. Customized requires a relationship, for heaven’s sake.  It’s hard to be a jet-setting, Internet famous, location independent superstar when you have to bother with relationships with clients!

The real problem for “secret” sellers is this:  Customized can’t be re-sold in the same way turn-key solutions can be sold – over and over and over again.

[Which, by the way, is the “secret of success” many folks will teach you. Just saved you $15,000.]

There’s not the same kind of money in telling you that success may take a little thoughtful customization. Telling you success may take some time.  It may take some failure, and learning. May need revision.  May be found in something completely different than you expected. May not come at all.  Hard to sell that in a weekend workshop, or a high-priced mastermind group, huh?

When you were a kid, did you ever read Aesop’s fables?  I did. And there’s one I keep coming back to – The Tortoise and The Hare.

Let me ask you, in that old fable, who ultimately won the big race? Was it the Hare, who ran so fast that he could rest during the race, who impressed the girl bunnies, who had so many tricks up his sleeve, who was so flashy?  Or, was it the Tortoise, who kept on plugging away, kept going step by step, kept to an approach consistent with his turtle nature?

Of course, it was the Tortoise. But it’s easier to sell the flash of the Hare than the steady plodding of the Tortoise.

That is, if you’re selling flash and tricks.

Friends, there’s just one secret to success: be yourself.

Consistently.  Patiently.  Kindly.  Generously. True to your own nature.

That’s it. That’s all. That’s the starting point.

You deserve a customized solution. Demand it.  And you’ll win your race.


The $23 Billion Monkey

I was watching a hockey game the other day when I overhead a little girl ask her mother, “What happens if nobody wins?” And with a shrug, the mother answered, “Somebody always wins, honey.” Which got me thinking.

A la Jerry Seinfeld, what’s the deal with winning? There’s always got to be a winner, whether in sports, politics — even merging into traffic. Why does winning hold so much power for human beings? Especially humans of the dude variety. Ever notice that interest in professional sports rose as the opportunities for men to go to war decreased? I’m just sayin’…

Winning is held in such esteem that a tie, where there is no clear victor, leads to “sudden death.” As in, the battlefield death of the vanquished. Would it be different if we called the tie-breaking overtime outcome “sudden victory”? Feels much less satisfying, no?

Earlier in the week I spoke with a man who is considering starting his own business in an industry he knows extremely well. We discussed the competitive landscape and he noted that the industry leader is known for cut-throat tactics and a lack of integrity. “I don’t want my company to be like that,” he said. “But, can I be successful if I’m not number one?”

Author and tech marketing guru Geoffrey Moore says you can, if you’re smart. He says there are three different kinds of players in a competitive market: Gorillas, Chimps and Monkeys.

Gorillas are the segment leaders, whose products become the industry standard. Think Coca-Cola. Chimps are the challengers — think Pepsi. And Monkeys are the guys who follow along in the market, aping the Gorillas and Chimps, often positioning themselves as unique or offering excellent customer service to get business. Think Cadbury-Schweppes.

In business as in sports, we think we have to be a Gorilla to be successful. But monkeys can make great businesses. Sure, Coke’s market cap is nearly $137 billion, but Schweppes? There are plenty of bubbles in ginger ale, friends — $23 BILLION worth of bubbles.

And you can’t tell me that ain’t a successful business.

“Winning’s not everything, it’s the only thing,” said legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Uh huh. Guess it depends on how you define winning. Because being Number Three, the $23 billion dollar Monkey, can be extremely satisfying. Considering the energy needed to maintain Gorilla status, being a Monkey — doing what you love and doing it well, sounds pretty appealing.

Pressuring yourself to always be the winner can lead to incredible stress. And, as the New England Patriots proved, nobody wins all the time. Some of the best learning I ever had, in fact, was working on a losing Presidential campaign. Sure, winning would have been great — but I learned how to handle defeat somewhat gracefully. I learned about what works, and what doesn’t, in campaigns. I learned about loyalty, and friendship. I learned just how far I can be pushed, physically, emotionally and mentally. I learned about what’s really important.

Which is worth the market capitalization of Coca-Cola to me.

The next time you find yourself driving yourself (or your kids, or your work group, or your spouse) to be the Gorilla, ask yourself this: Is winning worth being completely stressed out? What’s to be learned from doing my absolute best, even if I’m not the Gorilla? Can I be content with being a very successful, centered, happy Monkey?

I say: pass the bananas, baby, ‘cuz the world needs more happy monkeys.