How to lose gracefully and come back stronger

“In the Beginner’s Mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.” Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

As I was sitting watching the Women’s Wimbledon Final last week, I was struck by the powerful message shared by Serena Williams, during a brief interview at the end of the match.

Having just lost 6-3 6-3 to Germany’s incredible Angelique Kerber she was asked to share her thoughts on the match, pausing several times to process her emotion before speaking, she said:

“It’s obviously disappointing, but I can’t be disappointed, I have so much to look forward to. I’m literally just getting started.”

As I sat watching her, you could feel her emotion. I felt the goosebumps. 

For a moment, I pictured her life, how incredibly talented she is, how many tournaments she’s won, her open struggles about early motherhood and her comebacks. I couldn’t help but feel huge admiration for the way she carried herself in that moment. 

What struck me was her attitude. 

In the moment, she leaned into her emotion, put all the stories, judgements and feelings of failure in the background shifting her mindset from disappointed to gratitude. She didn’t judge, blame or make excuses. 

She embraced losing with a fresh pair of eyes. 

Just to put things in perspective (I had to look this up, because I’m not a tennis buff) Serena Williams has won 23 Grand Slam Singles Titles and is the only player in the world to win two Grand Slams seven times each (7 Wimbledon titles and 7 Australian Open titles).

For a champion of almost 20 years, widely regarded as being the greatest female tennis player of all time to say “I’m just getting started” is what we call having a beginner's mind in mindfulness. A fundamental attitude that helps us embrace fear and turn failure into success.

She did all of this in about 15 seconds.

Ordinarily it might take days, weeks or even longer to get unstuck and recover from failures in work and life. We fail to see failure as an opportunity. We want to avoid failure because it’s uncomfortable. And there’s a reason for this. 

Our brain is wired to stay out of danger and avoid failure. 

Thanks to the amygdala (the fight, flight processing part of our brain) our natural instinct is to avoid danger and discomfort. When we’re in the moment, it’s normal to react, it’s normal to be judging of ourselves, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable, we’re just being human. 

We have to learn the process of moving towards discomfort.

It starts with attitude.

That’s the key to losing gracefully and coming back stronger than ever.

Instead of judging your losses, think about everything you have to be grateful for. Your health, your family, friends, clean water, a roof over your head.

Harness your curiosity and meet your mistakes with a beginner's mind. It helps you move through failure, become more comfortable with the discomfort and take bigger leaps.

And ask yourself as often as possible: What have I failed at today? 

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You’ve got this.

How has failure helped you succeed? Please leave your thoughts below!

Photo of boy in red by Ben White on Unsplash