A History of Losing

“Last night I took an L but tonight I bounce back.”
— Big Sean

Losing is the worst. There isn't a single area of life in which you lose and then say "wow that was great I feel so much better now." No, losing is just the absolute worst.

Writers from SB Nation recently wrote about the worst losses they've ever experienced. They talked about blowout basketball games and tough soccer losses. And it took my back to those tough moments in my life where I took bad losses and not just in sports.

When I was 8 I told my mom I didn't need note cards for the church play I was in because I had the lines memorized perfectly. On stage that night, I completely blanked on anything I was supposed to say and my best friend who did have cards with all the lines on them wouldn't even share them with me. I took an L.

In 4th grade, the girl I liked didn't even take the time to check the "no" on the note I gave her. She just looked at my face with her perfect blond hair and blue eyes and shook her head in a type of way that she felt embarrassed for me that I thought I could ask a girl like her out. A big fat L for 10-year-old me.

Fast forward to college. I'm (at the time) prepping to become a high school history teacher. One of the few times I actually went to the library and studied/researched at all was for a big term paper on Pearl Harbor. I felt good about it (because I'm a history major and all) so imagine my surprised when the professor calls me into the hall, shows me my paper with a big red D on the top, and says "frankly Mr. Becker, this paper isn't very good. I knew then I wasn't meant to be a teacher. Or maybe not a writer. Chalk that up as an L for the college kids who think they have a clue but really don't.

These were all bad Ls to take, but the ones involving sports were really the worst. That includes watching your favorite teams lose in the most excruciating fashion. 

Watching the Braves lose the 1991 World Series was a tough L. (Kent Hrbek is a terrible person.)

Sitting in an apartment with young people watching the Panthers lose Super Bowl XXXVIII was a brutal L. (Adam Vinatieri is a stupid human being.)

Watching Clemson lose on a last second shot in the 1990 NCAA tournament was a soul-crushing L. (Tate George is an evil individual.)

But even worse than your favorite college or pro team losing a big game is when you are personally responsible for your team losing a big game.

It was the 1993 Star Tournament, a regional basketball tournament for 4th and 5th-grade teams in North Carolina. Here I was, late in the game, with a chance to be the hero. I had the ball with two seconds to play, down by one.

I took the shot right inside the free-throw line. I bricked it. (I was one of the worst players on the team, so me having the ball at the end of the game was not an ideal situation). But hope was not lost. The shrill of the ref's whistle meant one thing: free throws.

Prior to this moment, I don't think I ever got to shoot free throws. I didn't drive into the lane unless it was wide open, and never got fouled while shooting because, again, I was a terrible player. But this moment, in the Star Tournament, with 0:00 on the clock, offered me a shot to prove myself.

I stepped to the line with the weight of Drexel (my town's and team's name) on my shoulders. There must have been at least four dozen people in the stands watching in tense silence. It was so quiet you could almost hear my coach roll his eyes at the fact that I was the one taking the last shot.

First free throw: slightly to the left, bouncing off the rim and backboard, in that order. Miss.

No worries. We're down by one point. Make this next one and we at least get into overtime.

Second free throw: slightly to the right, off the rim, to the floor. Miss. Game over.

The one proud moment of what was ultimately the most crushing, most embarrassing L of my life is this: I cried like a baby. I wept like Adam Morrison in the NCAA tournament. I desperately wanted to win the game for my team. I literally had to be picked up off the floor because failure had punched me square in the stomach. I look the biggest L ever that night as a 12-year-old boy trying to become a basketball savior.

That moment was over two decades ago, but it still teaches me lessons today. That losing happens. To everyone. Failure is not a possibility. It is not a probability. It is a certainty. 

My teammates were the first to rush over, help me up, and remind me that it was okay to fail. It was okay to take an L. Everyone does. None of them said anything mean to me. They understood. Even some random guy came up to me after and told me to shrug it off. 

After the game, my mom and brother-in-law took me out to eat. I can remember being sad in the car and sad at the Shoney's we went to. That sadness left when the hot fudge cake came out. And I don't remember for sure, but I think the next morning I got up and went about my day as usual. I didn't stay in bed and cry.

Losses happen. No matter what age you are or what stage of life you're in. Last week my 7-year-old daughter poked me in the eye and scratched my cornea. I took that L to the optometrist and got it fixed. Some days I look at my bank account and it looks like it's been hit by a tornado of Ls. But it always recovers. I've gotten countless rejection letters from editors and publishers on things I've written. I've got all those Ls saved in my email.

If you woke up today, there's a chance you'll experience an L. Just know it's coming. You'll be alright. Just make sure the Ls you get don't stop you from trying to get Ws along the way. Because without the losses, the wins wouldn't taste nearly as sweet.