I am a Michael Nesmith fan, both of his Monkees work and his copious solo career after the Monkees. In one of his solo songs, Tomorrow & Me, he has a line “I feel the time has come to accept apparent loss as a battle won.” Now, when I was in high school and first heard that line, I will admit my first thought was:
What sort of hippie claptrap is that?
I mean, if you lose, you obviously haven’t won, have you? Pretty black and white. A lot was black and white when I was 15.
But as I’ve aged, I see what Mike means. You can fail to achieve your goal, yet still walk away with information or connections or meaning that make it an overall win for you. Many scientists and technology people will tell you that they learn more from failures than experiments that go smoothly. And sometimes the very thing that keeps you from finding the specific success you wanted turns out to be a happy accident that will serve you better than what you thought you wanted in the first place.
For example, penicillin was one of those “failures.” The experiment went wrong, if you view it from the standpoint of what Alexander Fleming was trying to achieve, but instead they came up with a drug that has saved millions of lives.
The same holds true in writing craft and business. I am currently struggling with character. Every time I fail, I throw a quiet temper tantrum when no one is looking, but then I look at what went wrong. And then I walk away with more information on what doesn’t work, and am therefore one step closer to figuring out what does.
In business, you may make it all the way to the stage with an agent where they read your full…and then they don’t want to rep it. That’s disappointing, of course, because you’ve gotten excited to get so far, but it’s not really a “lose.” Most of the times when you get that far, an agent will give some indication of where the manuscript failed for him or her, and that feedback is valuable. Also, sometimes even if you don’t end up working together, you had a rapport and may have found a new friend or at least networking contact. And that can’t ever be a bad thing.
So I find that “losing” is often more a state of mind than a quantifiable measure. What you take away from the “battle” is what makes it a win or loss. Often, just the striving for the goal makes it a win, even if you fall short—because if you pay attention you always learn something that will make your next try better and stronger.
And sometimes, it’s like The Rolling Stones say: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes you just might find you get what you need.”
What about you? Have you ever “lost”—only to find that you actually “won”?