As each of us travels through life — writing and playing music, editing and mixing sound, recording, designing, having relationships with people, and so forth — we accumulate victories and defeats. From a professional standpoint, this accumulation constitutes a track record that often serves as the basis for people judging our success. But the numbers do not tell the whole story. Each outcome of a particular situation carries its own richer tale, the details of which convey a larger picture of what transpired and who we are.
That is even more true from a personal standpoint. How we handle triumph and setbacks is more important to who we are than the simple fact that a situation is resolved in a way that is viewed as a win or a loss. Most significant is the way one responds to a rout or disappointment, much of which comes from one's inner sense of identity, strength of character, and self-confidence.
I admire those who, unaffected when their efforts do not bear fruit, pause only to absorb the lessons gained from the experience before embarking on another attempt. In contrast, I am affected when life knocks me down but usually have the strength to pick myself up and start moving forward again. As long as I have at least occasional victories to replenish my internal reservoir of belief and energy, that works. When that reservoir has been depleted by a succession of blows, it gets tougher for people like me to shake off defeat, as that situation challenges the essence of self-image. In the face of such fundamental questioning, my best response may simply be to keep putting one foot in front of the other out of faith that, eventually, clarity will prevail and inner strength will return.
Still, while persistence in the face of adversity is a key to success, there are times when it is most sensible, and sometimes is the better choice, to admit defeat and close the book on a given enterprise. As W.C. Fields famously said: “If at first you don't succeed; try, try again … then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”
Yet bouncing back from defeat is not the full description of character in the realm of endeavor. How success is embraced is also important. For most, success brings confidence and strength, propelling a person forward with increased momentum. But there is every bit as much danger to the soul in success as in defeat, perhaps even more. Some people accept success almost as a birthright, something inherently theirs that places them above others who have not (yet) attained the same level of accomplishment. Such an attitude can be insufferable and have greater personal than professional consequences. Others can be intimidated by the pressures success can bring to continue a “streak” or a “meteoric rise.” Staying on top can become an obsession that leads to poor decisions, professionally and personally. For those who are so driven by internal demons that the achievement of victory after victory is never sufficient to convince them of their worth, success is hollow.
As usual in life, the balance between accepting the validation and momentum of success and allowing oneself the pride of a job well done, while exhibiting grace that reflects the retention of some humility, is hard to attain. Beyond success and defeat, however, there are situations that cannot be defined clearly as either. In fact, these “no decisions” often include some aspects of both. Outcomes like that can be puzzling, leaving a person straining to determine what the real meaning was.
In the end, the way that people deal with wins, losses, and draws is not only vital to their own frame of reference, but it can be visible to others, who frequently respond as much to other people's attitudes as they do to their track records. This, however, is as it should be: the manner in which a person responds to the ups and downs of life says a great deal about his or her depth of character, and that is a very good basis on which to choose one's friends and colleagues.