You Can Learn a Lot from LosingJan 22, 2024
I’ve had many successes, spanning an incredible range of life stages and arenas.
I’ve launched successful companies in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, played a key role in the turnaround of a publicly traded energy company that led to a premium valuation and sale, performed in an acclaimed off-Broadway show, appeared in a series of commercials on MTV, delivered keynotes to tens of thousands of people on stages large and small, and won national awards for volunteer service, growth, innovation, leadership, and company culture.
I also married the woman of my dreams and together we are growing and raising a large family with the shared priorities of God before spouse, spouse before kids, and family before all else. Our home has become a true center of gravity.
And when I hear someone say that everything seems to fall in place for me, I want to share with them my even longer list of losses and the life lessons that have ensued. The times I’ve come up short, been passed over, or had to shut the doors on a dream are some of the most formative and motivational chapters of my journey.
As I entered my senior year at Texas A&M University, I had hit my stride and felt called to continue making big impacts. Less than a year earlier, an incredible group of friends joined me in creating CARPOOL, which quickly became the nation’s most successful program to reduce drunk driving in a college town. Now I was set on running for Student Body President in the nation’s largest student body elections.
After selecting the top leaders for my campaign, we galvanized the troops and got to work on promoting how my potential term as president would create positive changes for the student body. We worked tirelessly and had a blast in the process. We gathered at the end of the elections to hear the public announcement of the results. The anticipation was incredible. Then we felt the energy let out of our collective group when we heard that I had missed the runoffs by 31 votes in an election with more than 14,000 voters.
Our team met after the results were announced in a nearby classroom, and I will never forget what happened next. Hundreds of volunteers followed us to the meeting room despite being out of the race.
I scanned the standing-room-only lecture hall and attempted to make eye contact with everyone present. While I was thanking God for each of the people present, I realized that many in the room had also run for various elected positions in the student senate and various class officer roles, and rather than celebrating their own wins, they were here with my team to reflect on our loss.
A divine grace came over me, and I started by saying that the results of this evening called for a celebration. One at a time, I recalled each person in the room who won that night, and we all cheered and celebrated their victories as they prepared for their new roles. It was a joy-filled room and a reminder to me of the amazing people in my life.
I never planned on losing the race. I focused only on what life would look like once I was elected, and now I was gifted with a great deal of free time and a chance for reflection. As I looked in the rearview of the elections, I learned three life lessons that still resonate today.
- Virtue is Leadership – Launching CARPOOL was the main reason I was so well known on campus, and that organization was the result of my own drunk driving arrest at the start of my sophomore year. During my time on the campaign trail, I often heard from people who had met me during my wild start to college, many of whom I had dismissed or disrespected back then. And while many of them had forgiven me, the stain of my previous actions was not easily forgotten. In the end, I realized that I had hurt many people and that my actions were unbecoming of a future student leader. It was evident to me at that time that virtue and leadership are synonymous and must co-exist in my life going forward
- Consistency Matters – I looked back at the branding and messaging we produced for my campaign and realized that the symbols and colors we used on the t-shirts didn’t match up with the flyers and yard signs. Just one year earlier, we made it clear in CARPOOL that all advertising had to include our signature steering wheel and that we could only use the lime green + black color scheme. Yet here I was, running a large-scale campaign and not following my own advice. It turns out that consistency matters in messaging and beyond. I have since learned how to be consistent (posting daily on LinkedIn, continuing the same themes and threads, etc.), and I’ve become incredibly consistent in the things that matter most (faith, family, community, etc.).
- The Best is Yet to Come – When the world doesn’t unfold how I expected or wanted, new doors have always opened, and I’ve been able to look back at the previous disappointments with gratitude. With enough trips around the sun, I have come to realize that all disappointments are just new opportunities, and now find myself strangely joyful when things are failing out of anticipation of what unknown graces are yet to come. This shift in mindset allows me to be more present to others and more productive in any situation. It is precisely this viewpoint that allows the Undivided Life team to talk about failures and disappointments as just “good practice.”
These three lessons play into my life daily and none of them were learned when everything went as planned or during an award ceremony. For me, the best lessons come from losing.
What are life lessons that you’ve learned from times of failure or loss?