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Six strategies for winning or losing with grace

By ELAINE SVEET - | Nov 14, 2020

There are countless experiences in life where we are victorious or defeated. We have the capacity to respond to every situation with faithful grace. It is possible to smile in all circumstances and be kind. Being the winner or loser is an opportunity to demonstrate character. Let’s demonstrate the best of ourselves. Shaped in the image of God, we can choose to display the good.

1. Read your opponents. Consider the feelings of those on the other side. If your sports team wins and you have a friend who is a fan of the other team, you might have a fun tradition of humorously teasing the loser. Enjoy that. But if your colleagues at work are very politically divided, it may not be appropriate to show up the day after an election in full attire of your candidate strutting and making disparaging remarks to the other side. Read the room. Think of other people’s feelings, and the impact of your actions. Grow empathy.

2. Congratulate the winner or console the loser. With genuineness reach across the aisle. You often see professional football players from opposing teams shake hands and speak words of support to each other immediately following a game. The quarterbacks will come together and coaches to show good sportsmanship and name that experience as a good game. In life, how we speak to our opponent after a contest matters. In our workplaces, sporting events, and political arenas; our character shows. Show up well, naming the strengths and skills of your opponent whether you lose or win. Compliment, uplift and appreciate the abilities God created in the other person/team/organization. Let your humility and grace abound.

3. Know yourself. If you have a history of a bad temper, set yourself up for success by having a plan to give yourself space from other people. Maybe the best plan for you is to immediately remove yourself from a location of people to process a loss privately. Maybe you know yourself to be an active gloater, so you plan to take a walk right after a game, a promotion, or an election decision. Give yourself space to feel and express the emotions of the moment apart from other people. The aim is to avoid doing things you might later regret. We can all strive to do better, but if you know your current weaknesses with how you handle winning or losing, give yourself space to be you in a way that does not injure relationships or your reputation.

4. Emphasize the positives. What are you grateful for in that experience? What did you do well, regardless of the outcome? Perhaps examining a political result allows you to notice the positive that there was a higher voter turnout and engagement than usual. Maybe you can celebrate the peacefulness of the process, or your personal restraint from name calling or insulting supporters of the other side leading up to Election Day. Find the good. Find what you personally did well and honor it. Mindset makes a difference in our resiliency after defeat or in our ability to enjoy a win.

5. Make space for feelings. Grieve if you’re hurt. Settle into the emotion for a moment. Grab the Netflix and the ice cream and a blanket and just be sad for a moment. Don’t bottle it up. It’s okay to feel and release it. Celebrate if you were victorious. Make a toast. Call someone who will share your joy and express it together. Enjoy the moment privately. We can be considerate of other people’s feelings without negating our own. Give time to your reaction. It’s good to care enough to have an emotional response to an outcome. Honor it.

6. Pray in preparation for what’s next. Invite God into the experience of loss or victory. Offer to God your gratitude for what went well. Ask for guidance in what can be learned. Ask for self-control and humility, that selflessness and compassion might rule you. Give to God any anxiousness or grief. Request direction for what you can do next. If you win a promotion you might want to ask for guidance on how to navigate the transition to this new position, and wisdom to equip you for the new task. You might ask for gentleness and the right words as you encounter colleagues who competed for the same promotion and did not receive it. If a promotion is lost, you might ask for hope as one door closes that another one will open, and patience as you wait. Prayer is not just for before the game, the promotion, or the election. Prayer is powerful for how we handle the results and prepare for the future.

It’s not just our young people who need to be taught about how to avoid being a sore loser or an obnoxious winner. As adults, we need to work on losing and winning well too. There’s a ton of victories in your future and disappointments too. Let’s invite God to equip us and lead us well in these moments. This is where our light can really shine!

Elaine Sveet is the former pastor of First Lutheran Church in Rugby. She lives in Granville with husband, TGU School District Superintendent Erik Sveet and three children.

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