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It’s the harshest reality of competition: sometimes your best efforts just won’t cut it, if only by a hair.

We’ve seen it all before: sweat. Slow-motion. And a final step, swing or buzzer-press that secures the glory of victory, with nothing to thank but a bit of luck. It’s the stuff that mediocre inspirational movies are made of.

But sometimes you’re the other guy.

And we’re talking big losses here, like being the wrong horse in a photo finish at the upcoming Kentucky Derby or the second guy on the moon. These moments we don’t plan for. But sometimes they happen, and just knock the wind right out of us.

For those moments, we’re here to present this: the Gentleman’s Guide to Coming Up Short.»

The Immediate Response

The minutes directly following your loss may be the most crucial, so it’s important to play them wisely. You may not be the center of attention, but you’re not out of the spotlight yet.

There will usually be two options: grace and denial. Go for the former; it will always be greeted with admiration. Though, while physically all it may require is a quick handshake and a few questions answered, the key element here is apparent acceptance of the loss. And since that probably hasn’t come yet, you’re going to have to fake it. So take a breath. And smile.

Further Analysis

Big injuries like these are likely to sting for a while, so take that time to let your emotions dissipate. Remove yourself from the situation. Then reassess.

Were you fully in control of the circumstances of the loss, or was something simply not in your favor? In many cases, the verdict is in before you’ve even arrived. Take comfort in that. Then again, maybe you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. Not ideal, but it happens. Don’t beat yourself up. At least you’ve learned what not to do.

The Rebuttal Option

Don’t take it, because it’s not worth the trouble. Sure, it might seem like it’ll make you feel better to reimagine history some years down the line and dispute a ref’s call, or claim that this kid stole your idea for a new kind of online social network. It won’t. All you’ll get is a bad taste in your mouth (and your reputation), maybe a couple bucks and a caricatured version of yourself in an Aaron Sorkin film.

The Consolation

Okay, maybe you weren’t the first, the best, the strongest or the smartest. Maybe it wasn’t you who took that extra step that changed the world as we know it. But you pushed the guy who did. (And presumably, there were some small victories on the way to getting there.) There’s gotta be something to be said for that.

Doubling Down

As the saying goes, there’s always next time. When that time comes around, you’re going to be prepared. And more so than last time.

Better get to work.

—S.P.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Stephen Praetorius