When I was 5 years old and in my first few months of Kindergarten, my class was out on the recess field playing kickball. I had never played kickball before. I had never even been on a ball field before. I was 5 years older than my younger sister and we lived where we had only a few neighbors. The experience of kickball was brand new to me as were all of my classmates. I was so excited to be out there with all of the other kids!
When it was my time to kick, I kicked that ball as hard as I could with my little foot. The ball flew into the outfield and I ran and ran. I ran straight to the bright orange cone, not to the base, and I was OUT!
I was flustered because I did not understand why I was out (I had no idea what a base was) and the experienced kickball kids and little leaguers were yelling at me and calling me “loser” names.
It was a defining moment for my 5-year-old self. It was the day that I decided that I wasn’t good at sports and the word “loser” was introduced to my mind. It was my first moment of awareness of failure and I did not know how to deal with the pain I felt. I was so embarrassed that I did not even tell my parents about the event. It was a nudge on my life path. I felt shame.
We cannot avoid these moments, they happen. It is how we choose to deal with them that matters. That is where the true power lies.
My 5-year-old-self needed a pep talk. Inside, we all still have a little child that needs an occasional pep talk and encouragement. She needed a vision of possibility and a few coping skills. She needed to know that she was loved and that it was an experience to grow from and that next time would be better. Instead, she bottled it up and stored it and drew from each time shame showed itself to remind herself that she wasn’t good enough.
I have children of my own now. I watch them struggle with growing up. We have dealt with bullying and cruel words. We have had moments of rejection and losing: games, school elections, toys, and pride. We have experienced loss and defeat as individuals and as a family. Such is life. As parents, my husband and I have worked hard to equip our children with the abilities to handle life’s hard knocks because the truth is that life is difficult! Father Mike Schmitz remarked, “Life is not a cruise ship, it is a battleship!” He is right. Every day, we face challenges that we must navigate and without the skills in place to handle them, we might find ourselves in a place of retreat and despair.
We have a duty as a parent and as a person to continue to strengthen our own resolve to have skills and strategies in place to handle life’s hard knocks so that we can help ourselves and others dust off and get up.
Here are 3 immediate actions that we can take to begin to begin the process of dealing with defeat.
#1 Be Present. This is an act of intention. To be present means no electronics, tv, or distractions. It is the decision to be in the moment at hand. It is where we use our senses and tune in to the people with whom we are present.
As parent and friend, this skill is important. The subtle glances, things said (or not said), empty eyes or slouched posture can tell us a whole story before we even know what is behind the curtain.
My daughter is not communicative about her feelings. I really must watch her signals and then go to her in the quiet and wait. In her time, she will disclose her thoughts, her hurt or confusion. Tune in to their station.
#2 Listen. As adults, we like to know all the answers, solve and move on (guilty). A true gift of love is the power of truly listening to the person that you love, be it your spouse, your son, your daughter, your aging parent, your friend, sometimes even a stranger. Let them get it all out. Maybe through releasing they will find their path to solution or peace. Regardless, they need to be heard.
#3 Respond with compassion and love. There is honesty and trust in their vulnerability. It is important to keep the trust alive. If that child is revealing a pain or hurt to you it is important to them, therefore it should be important to you. By responding with compassion, we are teaching compassion. St Theresa of Calcutta boldly says, “If you want peace on earth, go home and love your families.”
Compassion is a critical step in this process. If this step is missed or avoided then the nasty feeling of shame rears its head. Brene’ Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Compassion is critical! We must be warriors for ourselves, children and others to protect their beautiful spirits!
“We cannot equate defeat with being unworthy of love, belonging and joy.”– Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
I have learned over time that I certainly do not have all the answers, sometimes we table the topic until morning and approach things with a fresh mind and spirit. Sometimes there is no direct answer, instead, it is an attitude we must adjust.
Whether we are in role as a parent, friend or dealing with our own defeat, the strategies of being present, listening fully and responding with compassion are three tools to create a healthy life-learning environment. Approaching our difficulties with a humble spirit and a teachable heart allows us to learn forward. The experiences then become evaluated experiences which then translates into wisdom. Life is complicated. Life is difficult. Life is beautiful. Life is hopeful. Let us live it!