Elizabeth Bishop’s refrain in her poem One Art says “The art of losing is not hard to master.”
Read it and you will feel these old words rinsing away the modern sludge of a winner’s attitude that has been obstructing your spiritual health and human happiness.
The other day I coached an entrepreneur advancing her startup. She pondered all that life has served her up to that point: a divorce, a failed vocation, the death of a friend. She kept trying hard to turn these events into some sort of a victory. To no avail. So, I asked her, “Are you are loser?” I regretted uttering the sentence the moment it left my lips, realizing this question has become unacceptable in business, religion, and politics. Today, the L word comes very close to using the F word.
After a period of embarrassing silence, crushing me by the second, she said this simple truth that every human has to learn to say, “Yes, I am a loser.” To which I responded, “Me too. Welcome to a wholehearted life.”
That is how life works. Half of our lives are mediated through the experience of loss. We are born and we die. Everything we win in between, we eventually lose. Loss is inescapable and inevitable as breathing. There is no alternative path to being fully alive.
We all love the win-celebrate-achieve half of life. How about learning to love the other half? For one thing, the best part of life–our ability to connect with other human beings–is predicated on having empathy, arguably the greatest human capacity, necessary for any real success in business, religion, and politics. Well, the only way to empathy is through experience of loss. No loss, no depth.
Recently I met a man who shared with me about the suffering related to a disfigured part of his body and how as he was growing up, he was bullied. Life turned around for him when he stopped asking “Why me?” and began asking “Why not me?” Being a loser is being on the team of Jesus and other transforming and transformative people across time and space who have accepted their full participation in the world.
Love anything and it is going to finish in a heartbreak, a natural outcome of caring for anything or anyone beyond our control.
What is the worst thing that can happen? We die. But is that so bad? Look at the world, look at us writing posts online, reading words from the screen, eating lunch, washing laundry, marveling at the trees outside. It is all astonishing beyond words. The time comes, we move on, and someone else comes along and picks up our work and our loves where we left. We all sit at the table that is larger than our own lives.
Every day, we practice the art of losing and moving towards our final act of disappearance. Three “what if” questions:
1. What if the sticker shock of human vitality includes being a loser?
2. What if being fully alive can only be achieved by shattering our personal, corporate, and national illusions of immunity, inevitability, and safety?
3. What if you begin to measure your love by contributing your love relationships, cause, organization, or community by losing an argument, losing some power or not having it go your way? What would such losing make possible for others? What would such losing make possible for you?
Samir Selmanović, PhD PCC, is an Executive Life Coach (www.wisdomworkroom.com) and Managing Director of Center for Narrative Coaching and Design (www.narrativecoaching.com). Samir’s current interest is in the area of real simple human change. Samir also coaches and mentors entrepreneurs and is Executive Director of an interfaith organization Faith House Manhattan (www.faithhousemanhattan.org).