A Lesson from My Roommate

I had five roommates during college. One I lived with for only a day, deciding early that I would be incompatible with the house’s party culture. A second had the single in our triple suite and I remember only two things about her: her propensity for taking our phone into the bathroom and the way she had claimed the common room by the time I arrived with my stuff. I remember talking about it with my roommate and deciding that it wasn’t worth it to make waves. We lived quietly in our shared room for our semester and then parted ways. I reconnected with her recently on Facebook after more than twenty years apart.

My closest roommate lived with me sophomore year. We couldn’t have been more different, but we had an easy way of coexistence and connection that has endured. I was in her wedding when my daughter was a toddler and we visited her again last year. Our low-stress friendship is characterized by our mutual acceptance of someone for the person they are, even when that person confuses the crap out of you. It’s simple: she knows and loves my crazy and I feel the same about her.

Each of them played a role in my life, but it was my first roommate who taught me the power of learning from someone else’s experience.

When I went off to college I had a vague understanding that meeting people unlike me was important. I felt the limitation of my insulated life and was eager to see what I had missed. That natural curiosity burbled below the surface, popping out in late night conversations with the close friends I made over my first year. My growth was subtle, tucked inside and passive. I learned quietly bit-by-bit without intentionality or drawing any attention to my efforts.

 

 

My roommate, on the other hand, telegraphed her intent. She was outspoken about her desire to learn from the diversity and experiences of others. Sitting down with someone she would boldly ask, “What is it like to be __________?” She had grown up in Cambridge, Massachusetts and had lived her whole life in the city, so she found my very different rural Midwestern upbringing interesting. She didn’t have a driver’s license and asked me about the persistence of the car culture in my home state. Didn’t we realize how problematic the fascination with driving was and that we should walk and utilize public transportation? I told her, amused, that it wasn’t an option. We lived miles away from anything and there was no public transportation beyond the yellow school buses that took kids to and from our consolidated school district.

Her sincere interest often came before any deep friendship had been formed. Her questions were sometimes taken as an intrusion into people’s privacy, or worse as a kind of oblivious entitlement. As an 18-year old eager to fit in and find my place in the world, even I failed to see her intent clearly. It is only recently that I can see it for what it was and wonder, in retrospect, whether I would have grown more had I been bold enough to try her approach.

The simple truth is that I have only learned so much from my own experience. Casting a wide net out into the world and keeping my eyes and heart open to the experiences of others has helped me grow more. I feel empathy and understanding building every time I read a book, listen to a podcast or watch a film and wonder, “What was that like?” Even so, those moments pale in comparison to the impact of a close friend sharing their experiences. Those are the stories I tell others, the ones that cause me to reframe every future interaction through their words and the look on their faces. They are burned in my memory, especially when I find myself shaken by something I had never considered.

That’s why I can recall the moment I realized how little I understood about being a black woman in the United States.

 

I was having lunch with a good friend, an African American woman about ten years my senior. The weather had been pleasant and we had walked companionably the mile or so to the local pizza place down the street from our offices. Sitting down we ordered and then started talking about our children. Mom talk was easy for us, even though her son was in graduate school and mine was still just a little boy. In the wake of the Treyvon Martin shooting, she was sharing what it was like to fear for son’s safety in the world and the feeling of being constantly on guard. The conversation went through a number of twists and turns and then she calmly made a statement that I will never forget. “Mel,” she said, “I regularly get followed by security guards when I’m shopping at the mall.”

My first instinct was dismay. Sitting in front of me was one of the most sophisticated, stylish women I have ever known. The idea that anyone could see her as a shoplifting threat was ludicrous. Frankly, it was easier to believe that someone might look at me skeptically, but I had never given a thought to being a target of store security. And here was my friend, the wife of a police detective, sharing that it was a regular part of her lived experience. I stared. I stammered. I tried to rationalize away her experience as misguided or overly sensitive. Maybe she only thought she was being followed? Maybe she was remembering things wrong? Maybe it was a one time thing and not something that regularly happened? My brain tried to reject the truth of her statement and the calm look on her face and when it couldn’t I did the only thing I could do as her friend.

I believed her.

It may seem like a very small thing, believing that your well-dressed friend could be shadowed by plainclothes security at the mall, but to me it was transformative. Once my brain accepted that she had been profiled, I opened myself up to all kinds of other possibilities outside of my own lived experience. I was able to read articles and listen to stories without filtering it through my truth. If she could be profiled, I thought, certainly that was possible.

Now, more than ever, we need to understand that no one has cornered the market on experience. There are more than 7.4 billion lived experiences on this planet, from an elderly person who has lived their entire life in the same earthen home to the toddler of privilege who has already filled a passport. In a world where my own experience feels too narrow to understand and appreciate the questions of my generation, I find myself channeling that roommate of mine from long ago. No, I don’t go up to people and say, “Tell me what it’s like to be…” but I listen to people tell their story and no matter how hard it is to fit within my experience of how the world works, I try to do one thing.

I try to believe them.

 

Balance (Or How I Can’t Seem to Get There)

I spent the morning at a women’s leadership event, fortunate to be invited to give a quick intro to the first speaker. As I sat at the reserved table with the others who were speaking, we were asked to do a quick table exercise. The questions we were asked to consider what this: “A year from now, what is one thing you will wish you had done today?”

My two colleagues provided their perspective. The woman noted that in a year she planned to do a triathlon and that she would likely wish that she had run that morning. The man shared that, when faced with the striking statistic that parity for women in the workplace would take 100 years to achieve, he would wish that he had done more in his work to improve things for his daughters and granddaughters. I thought it through and commented that a year from now I would look back at deteriorating metrics reflecting my lagging commitment to writing and wish that I had blogged.

My first year of blogging, I published 64 posts in six months. The following year I published 65 posts in twelve months. This year I’ve published 19 posts in eight months. I wish I could say it is because I’ve run out of things to say, but that would be untrue. What is more accurate is this: I’ve stopped giving myself either the time or the focus to write. Often exhausted and without the calm to center my own thinking, I have fallen into a habit of just not writing. And today, when faced with my year from now self, I knew I would wish I had done better.

My failure to find balance in my life appears to be a poorly kept secret. Just this week I had a dozen of my colleagues complete an anonymous assessment to support the Franklin Covey “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” training. The assessment includes 78 statements and asks responders to reply with a range of answers from strongly disagree (0%) to strongly agree (100%). As I paged through my results there it was, a black and white reminder of just how obvious my imbalance is. My highest score (at a unanimous 100%) was on the statement “is a hard worker.” My lowest score (with a 53%) was on the statement “balance all aspects of life (e.g., work, leisure, family) to maintain overall effectiveness.”

Everyone sees it, not just me.

I wish there was an easy answer, a switch I could flip or a pill I could take to make it easier for me to create balance and boundaries for myself. I am envious of the people I know who do that well, the ones who manage to create satisfying engagement in their work, their hobbies and their families. I have hard working colleagues who coach their kids soccer teams, who never miss golf league, who lead their church choirs or quilting clubs. I had a friend once who managed to write a novel while working a full-time leadership job in IT. But here I am, unable to prioritize sitting down for a couple of hours twice a week and embrace my passion for words.

It seems so ridiculous not to do something. Not to do something better.

So, I sat down in my library tonight. Even fighting a cold and fever I convinced myself to take the thoughts swirling in my head and push them into the keyboard. It may not be my best post — it may not be something that reflects the most astute thinking or the most universal theme — but it is a reflection that I am more than my work. It is a small reminder that I am a woman who enjoys the simple act of finding the right words and stories to convey slivers of life.

And, a year from now I won’t have to wish that I had done it, because I did.

 

My Why

Late last year, I caught a video on my Facebook feed called Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace. I rarely click video links because I tend to browse social media when I am around other people and the audio can be distracting and frankly I just prefer to read and add my own audio track. But, this video was posted by someone I respect and so I clicked.

Over the course of 15 minutes I listened as Mr. Sinek shared his point of view on the 75 million individuals born after 1984, including stating that they were troubled and hard to manage, mostly due to bad parenting and technology. It was interesting and thought-provoking; I recommend you watch it. But my biggest take away was not some new enlightenment around Millennials, it was something much simpler.

I decided I wouldn’t want to have a beer with Simon.

As someone who enjoys both interesting people and ideas that’s weird, right? There was a smart, articulate person — someone who I was certain could get an audience with nearly anyone and whose videos have generated millions of views — and my first thought was that I would turn down the chance to sit down with him one-on-one. To be honest it made me feel a bit awkward, but I couldn’t get past the fact that while I liked his ideas I didn’t much like his attitude. Listening to his words and watching his mannerism I came away thinking that he was the kind of person who thought he had everything figured out. And, frankly, I prefer to talk with people who believe they are still learning.

And that’s why I was bemused when, a few months later, I found myself on treadmill watching TED videos and there he was again. This time his name was attached to a talk called How great leaders inspire action and faced with three words that I love (leader, inspire and action) I clicked. I may not want to chat with the guy, I reasoned, but that was no reason to say no to good content.

I’m glad I clicked.

At the center of his talk was the idea that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” In his version of the golden circle you start with a clear why, and then the how and what follow authentically and lead to great results. I loved it and immediately started articulating the importance of why with my team. As an idea, it fit nicely into my mental model of leadership and eventually I found the time to listen to Start with Why, the 2009 book he wrote around this idea. Perhaps not surprisingly, as I’ve listened to the book I found myself wondering, “What’s my why?”

(Note: It’s harder than you might imagine to answer that question without sounding like a self-important blowhard.)

But I managed to push that feeling aside and I’ve decided that my why is simple. I believe in the unique human possibility to grow and — through that growth — create something of value. I see it as my “why” to seek out and support that opportunity for growth in every aspect of my life. Nothing is more exciting for me that finding someone (myself included!) at a growth cross-roads and being able to give them a nudge of support to make it to the next level. Talking to someone days or even years later and hearing their growth story can put a smile on my face for hours — finding out that something I did helped them get there can last for days. My why comes through authentically in every part of my what — my fervor for academics, my approach to marriage and mothering, my non-linear career, my blog and my love of mentoring. I regularly get asked why I’m not a teacher; I answer that I teach every day, anyone who is willing to learn.

 

It may be one of my life’s ultimate ironies that someone who struck me as having nothing to learn gave me a framework to articulate my why — a why framed in the power of growth. But, I think it just reinforces the fact there is something to be learned from everyone and every situation if you can get past one small challenge.

You have to be willing to click the link — and listen long enough to hear it.

Habitually Bad at Habits

My brother’s best friend during childhood ate dinner every night at 5:00pm. Every night. Weekdays and weekends. School days and summer break. Every single night. In contrast, my family lived by a kind of vagabond flexibility. True, some days the five of us gathered together around the table at 6:00pm but others we were fending for ourselves and eating at the picnic table at 8:00pm. We were as likely to go out for a linner (late lunch / early dinner) with the senior crowd at 3:00pm as we were to eat brunch at 11:00am and then gorge on snacks watching Love Boat.

As a child I remember being incredulous of his family’s consistency; as an adult, I am in awe.

I suck at building habits. My life is a cautionary tale of one failed attempt after another to build routine and standardization into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the power of positive habits, so much so that I’ve invested in more than a few models and techniques for building them. Here’s just a short list of things I’ve tried to build habits around that have been massive failures:

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  • Doing 15 minutes of daily planning
  • Exercising 3-4 days per week
  • Reading every evening before bed
  • Taking maintenance medication
  • Blogging 2x per week
  • Creating an evening facial routine
  • Prepping meals for the following week
  • Writing regular correspondence
  • Keeping a journal

You get the idea. The failures range from work to personal and from things that will benefit me to things that benefit others. It doesn’t matter which aspect of my life it falls into, even when I want to build the consistency of structure, sooner or later it falls under its own weight because I just can’t hold it up.

Lately, I reassessed my Strengths Finder results and found that I was fairly consistent from the last time I took it about six years ago. My five dominant strengths are Strategic, Achiever, Input, Learner and Communicator. I’m willing to bet that Discipline — the strength of routine and structure — is non-existent in my pattern. And I can tell you this, it is truly annoying to know the power of positive habits (Strategic, Input, Learner), to be singly focused on leveraging those benefits (Achiever) and to still be unable to get it done.

Today, I listened to a TED Radio Hour podcast called A Better You that included a segment by Matt Cutts around the power of changing habits in 30 days. He argued that doing one thing every day for 30 days is long enough to build a new habit. After listening I was excited about the possibility of real change — imagine building TWELVE new habits in a year. My brain quickly identified not one but a handful of things I needed to conquer and (in typical Mel fashion) I decided I would do them all in the first month. If one is good than five is better, right? Right?

[Cue Mel’s inner voice: “Wrong you idiot, it’s one thing for a reason. One thing. One.”]

By the time I had walked from my car to my desk I had backed myself off fixing everything that is wrong with me and I had picked one thing. I won’t tell you what the thing is, but I will tell you that today I did it and I marked a big black X on my calendar to show that I had done it. Tomorrow I’ll do it. And Thursday. And Friday. And if I can do it for 26 days after that I’ll pat myself on the back and go onto the next thing and do THAT for 30 days.

So, how long do you suppose it takes to build a habit for building habits?

 A Driving Love Story

When I started driving I realized something — I was too small to be comfortable in most cars. People would comment that they thought they saw me driving down the street, but they weren’t sure; my head wasn’t visible over the seat back. I would have to adjust the seat to its farthest front position just to reach the pedals, and after air bags were invented I wondered what would happen if one deployed. But, I adapted and moved on. Years later I came home from work and told my husband about a car that had been mocked up to show a six foot tall man the experience of a short woman. I shared how funny it had been been that my male colleagues had been shocked to be unable to see the front of the car, a daily experience for me.

“Wait,” he said, “You can’t see the front of the car?”

Maybe that’s why I fell in love with the first Mazda MX-5 Miata when it was released. Sixteen years old and desperate for the freedom that comes with a set of car keys, the two door roadster immediately caused my heart to go pitter patter. I started telling my parents that it was the only car designed to fit me and ribbing my dad that if he truly loved me he would buy me one. It became a repeating gimmick — me making demands that were so outrageous that I knew they would never be met and my parents handing me keys to their practical sedans and hand-me-downs.

By the time I returned from a study abroad experience in Australia and saracastically asked my then boyfriend (now husband) if my dad had finally gotten around to buying me a Miata it was a well-practiced schtick. He laughed. “Why do you keep saying that? Who would possibility do that?”

Turns out, my parents.

It’s been nearly 24 years but I still remember the feeling of pulling into the driveway. I had been traveling for 36 hours straight and all thoughts of exhaustion were sucked away by the sight of that shiny red convertible with its top down on a sunny June day. The pictures show me bedraggled with a 1,000 watt smile, my bemused husband looking on stunned. My parents hadn’t told him of my plan — somehow they knew enough about the two of us that they thought I might ask and they knew he wouldn’t be able to keep the secret.

And guess what, I loved being behind the wheel of that car every bit as much as I thought I would.

I drove that car the day I got engaged, getting a horrible sunburn on every spot not covered by clothes or the seat belt. I drove it throughout my senior year in college, including a trip down the highway with an 8′ rug rolled up and sticking out the open top. I drove it with a 3′ tall stuffed Buster Bunny that I won at Cedar Point strapped into the passenger seat. That silly car could only fit one pathetic milk crate in the trunk, but I didn’t care — I was in love and everything else was just details.

We carried on that way, blissfully in love, until I ran into a freak snowstorm in upstate New York hit on my drive back to college over Thanksgiving break. I drove white-knuckled for the better part of seven hours and then spun out on a off ramp. With my headlights pointed toward oncoming traffic I got turned around by sliding back and forth into guardrails. I finally made it back to my dorm, parked illegally and collapsed on my bed. I don’t know whether I was more distraught by the accident or the fact that I realized that my car wasn’t perfect. All I know is that I started to wonder whether a 20-something who lived in the midwest could really own a Miata. Maybe our relationship couldn’t survive winter. Maybe the honeymoon was over. I agonized and then finally confessed to my parents.

Always pragmatic, they offered a solution. Mom had a practical, front-wheeled drive hatchback. We could swap cars and titles; I could have her car and she could take over the Miata. She didn’t have to drive when the weather was bad, and if she did, she could borrow any one of a number of other cars available to her. I felt the sadness of a break-up, but squared my shoulders and went to the Secretary of State office to process the paperwork. I had given up my perfect car for practicality, choosing dependable and reliable over fun. And for fifteen years I played the dutiful adult driving that car and then a series of sedans and sport utility vehicles, one right after another.

And then, I got a call. My mom had kept the Miata all those years eventually buying a second winter car. Now they had decided to upgrade and they wondered if I wanted to buy my car. I hemmed and hawed. By this time I had been married for fifteen years; I had two children and my driving life was designed for carpools and car seats, not convertibles. And yet my parents knew me, knew what I had given up those many years ago in a necessary moment of adulthood. They listened to my many practical reasons to say no and then paused a moment. “Ok, well what if we just gave it to you?”

Thankfully, I said yes.

No, it is not practical to own a 23-year old car. No, it is not practical to take up garage space for a car that only comes out six months a year. No, it is not practical to invest in a new top or tires or speakers. No, it is not practical to drive a car without modern safety features at 70 miles per hour down the freeway singing like a freak to 80’s rock and modern dance hits. But, I haven’t faced a moment yet that is so hard or so demoralizing that it can’t be made better by dropping the top, climbing behind the wheel and driving my little red convertible for 30 minutes. When I drive my Miata I feel like the sexiest woman in the world even though I passed into middle-aged frumpy years ago. No, it’s not practical, but I’ll tell you what — I plan to hold onto that steering wheel so hard that someone will have to pull it out of my cold dead fingers.

It may be impractical, but that’s love.

What Theatre Taught Me about Leadership

There were three moments during our wooing phase when I seriously wondered whether my husband and I were compatible. The first happened during a vocal and agitated debate about the role of violence in movies (plot device or merely gratuitious?) after we saw Demolition Man. The second time occurred as I was falling and fuming after he abandoned me on our first (and last) cross-country skiing outing. But the most serious time was in the audience of a production while I was taking a master’s lighting design class my junior year. After a lengthy description of the complexity of lighting design — equipment, hang position, intensity, timing, gels and gobos — and the important role of the stage manager to call the cues he looked at me perplexed. “What? Don’t they just hang a few bulbs from the ceiling and flip a switch?”

Only the strength of my love kept me from walking away after that.

Sure, I’m a boring corporate suit now, but during my first two years in college, theatre was my life. As a new first year student I went to the theatre orientation and quickly volunteered to be the assistant stage manager on the big fall production. After that I went from one show to another taking on any back stage role that needed to be done. I did stage management, lighting design, flies, set builds, props — literally anything. I took every design class except costumes and I would have gotten a theatre minor if only I had gotten the nerve to take acting. I was working a full-time job for which I got no pay, until the fates shined on me and I got hired as a lighting technician. I loved the feel of an adjustable wrench in my hand as much as I loved sitting in the booth and calling the perfect show.

Recently, a fellow thespian asked me for a favor. She IM’d me and asked, “Could Too Much Mel talk about comfort with ambiguity? You are a management guru and I would love to hear how you talk about this with people.” And it struck me that, ironically enough, I learned more about dealing with the unexpected and unpredictable challenges of leadership during my time in theatre than anywhere else.

In theatre, you learn that you cannot anticipate every crazy circumstance that might happen so you either get very comfortable responding to it or you leave. It’s a common occurrence for a director to change an actor’s mark during the final dress rehearsal or for a prop or set piece to break during a production. It sucks and it can be really hard to deal with, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone on stage and backstage knows that their only real responsibility is to give the audience a great experience. I still remember the night when our lead actor was picked up on a bench warrant driving to the show. Every person who could furiously scribbled script cues on scraps of paper. We taped them to various props and the director went on stage and winged it without batting an eyelash. 

After all, the show must go on.

In business, I see people struggle with ambiguity. When faced with a new situation or an unclear assignment, some people look for an easy answer to make it go away or an excuse for why it is unfair or inappropriate. My job description doesn’t list it. My manager doesn’t have a clear vision. My company ownership is uncertain. My predecessor didn’t keep good documentation. My position is different than it used to be. Yes, those are all real circumstances that can make it difficult to feel grounded and to deliver your best work. Fortunately for me, my time in theatre gave me three ways to deal with it.

Start with a Shared Goal

In theatre, there is crystal clarity on the goal: a great performance. And everyone, from the person organizing the prop table to the lead actor, to the director, to the person responsible for operating the sound board, gets it. If you are lucky enough to have theatre friends, ask them. They will have story after story of drama, intrigues, characters and close shaves, but I’m willing to bet that they will share that everyone understood the importance of what happened between curtain rise and final applause. When you have that, everything that pops up that will harm that goal has to be deal with, quickly and without complaint. Sometimes you get a chance to get a team together and plan your action, but most times you don’t. 

In business, not all teams achieve clarity in goals. We let the details overwhelm the overall direction and once that happens ambiguity is devastating. When I took over my latest team I came up with a simple, repeatable vision statement. I say it a lot. A whole lot. So much so that I was talking to someone outside of my team about it and mentioned how glad I was that my team was getting comfortable with it, knew why it was important and could state it he smiled, “Mel, I bet I can say it.” That may seem like overkill, but when faced with a new situation, the odds are my team will have a structure under which to act.

Talk about What’s Not Working

After every rehearsal and performance the cast and crew get and give notes. Notes are all about tightening the performance or responding to things that didn’t work great. In the real world someone might call that criticism, but in the world of theatre — where everything is focused on a great performance — notes are how you get better. It could be simple (someone missed their mark) or complicated (the lighting effect in that scene still isn’t right) but each one needs to be listened to and dealt with. Sometimes notes result in a lot of dialogue or give and take, sometimes they are quickly acknowledged and responded to. And sometimes notes have to be given multiple times. But through it all, everyone knows that theatre is hard and it’s never perfect. That’s ok, you just give a note and ask for what you need.

In business, there can be a reluctance to talk about where we’re not perfect and that is too bad. No one is perfect, especially not in times of great change. In my job right now we’re introducing a complex new technology platform that we’ve never done before — and at the same time we’ve had some personnel changes on the team. I have stepped down into some working meetings and I can tell the group is uncertain. Should they be open about the challenges they are facing: what they don’t know and where they are stuck? If they knew my background I think they would be more confident in being honest in giving notes to me and to each other and we could all help each other find a path to success.

Celebrate with Vigor

My friends in theatre know how to celebrate a successful show. After we’ve struck the stage (i.e. taken the set down, cleared the lighting and made a blank canvas for the next production) the cast and crew will head off to a party. Depending on the group, it can be a low key event at someone’s house or a blow out in a bar, but the amenities are not the point. What is important is that no matter what the challenges, there is a recognition that the group came together to provide a great experience for the audience. Sometimes you have packed houses and everything works exactly as planned, sometimes you have crickets and it feels like everything that can go wrong does. But, there’s an amazing amount of comfort in coming together after you’ve survived together; that you’ve taken words on a page and turned them into a human experience not once but many times. That feeling of success has given me the strength to step into new ambiguious situations, not without fear but without paralysis.

In business we don’t always have those seminal moments when something is done. And sometimes, especially when the moments are painful, we don’t feel like celebration is appropriate. But, there is something in the human condition that needs to feel rewarded and capable after getting through a challenging situation. Taking a moment to celebrate in a way that is authentic to the person and the team can build up the experiences to make someone more capable in the next moment. It will only help the person and your team if you take a moment and say, “I know that was an unclear task outside of your normal responsibilities and I really appreciate the fact that you did it. Next time you’ll do it even better.”

I haven’t been a part of the theatre community for a long time; my last real show was in my early 20’s as a lighting designer for a high school production in which my brother acted. In fact very few people in my professional circles even know that it is part of my experience, much less what it meant to me. But, they benefit from the lessons it taught me in very real ways every time I focus on a shared goal, openly give and take notes, or celebrate our wins. I am thankful that I learned that the show must go on, no matter what crazy stuff happens.

Learning from Failure

As we ended 2016, a 29-year old woman went to work and had a really bad night. A lot of people have bad shifts, but I'm willing to bet she was probably the only one that night who did it in front of more than 18,500 people with millions more watching live at home or bars. Traditional and social media covered it within minutes showing pictures and videos of her beaten face, describing her 48-second destruction and calling for her immediate retirement. Articles noted her previous suicide attempt and hoped that she would pull through the devastating loss.

I'm not a fan of mixed martial arts, but at the time my heart went out to Ronda Rousey.

In that moment I started and abandoned a blog post. For more than a month she was silent in social media as everyone sat on the sidelines of her life and speculated about her next steps. Tonight I sat down to write and thought, hmmm, I wonder whether she has found her way out yet? A quick Google search revealed that just yesterday she emerged with a single quote on her Instagram account.

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-10-06-00-pm

I hope the post means that she's finding a way to pull herself back up, to recognize that her worth as a human being will not be defined by a single night. I hope so.

Our culture is framed in a ridiculous binary where the people either win and get everything or lose and have nothing. I cringe every time I hear phrases like "second place is first loser" or "to the victor go the spoils" because they reinforce the idea that if you can't win you shouldn't play. It's like every dystopian novel, filled with triumphant winners and cringing losers.

That's a load of crap.

It's not that I'm against winning. Everyone who knows me knows that I am a feisty competitor and I like a medal or an "A" as much as the next guy. It's just that I haven't learned a damn thing about living from my wins. Every single worthwhile story in my life is built around a loss. The time when I fell just yards from the line at states. The time when I swung for the fences applying to graduate school and got rejected. The time when I tried to do a no-win job and failed. Losing has helped me recognize the value of a life well-lived, relish my diversity of experiences and create a community of support. Winning I was a cocky entitled pain in the ass. Losing taught me grace.

We don't celebrate failure (or more importantly the growth that comes from failure) often enough. Look, I get it. Success is sexy and failure is messy. Failure requires a good hard look inside yourself to ask painful questions. Did I try as hard as I could? Was I as prepared as I could have been? Was I in over my head? Who did I harm? Can I try again? Should I?

Some days I think it's easier to just win, but easier isn't better.

So, I'm pulling for Ms. Rousey. I hope that she's finding a way to look inside herself and find a woman that she respects and loves. I hope she recognizes that whether she continues to fight or never steps into the arena again she has value and can contribute to the world. Sure, I'm an out of shape middle-aged desk jockey, but if I could I would sit down with her and assure her that nothing about her life is predetermined at 29. I would look into her eyes, thankful to be sitting with her and not the winner, and I would ask her one question.

What did you learn?