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Is a blog post about the football too soon?
I’m not a fan of sports in the slightest, but you can’t help have felt the energy and excitement that the country has had over the past few weeks as the English Men's national team fought towards the European finals, the first time they've reached a tournament’s end in 55 years.
And then we lose. 3-2 on penalties (which has always struck me as a dreadful way to decide anything, apparently the reaction times of goalkeepers are scientifically not faster than the speed of the ball, so it’s pretty unfair on the goalie, the team, and hopes and dreams of a nation).
Naturally - it’s devastating for England fans, and it would be easy to write that there’s a positive view here: an amazing team reaching the finals, the first time in a half-century, a remarkable success!
Changing your perspective on situations which seem negative and looking for the positives, or reframing a situation - it’s a well tried and tested technique to try and step back from something and look for alternative views.
But, there’s also a risk of advice like this being glib - not much more than “look on the bright side!”.
There’s a huge amount of weight on anyone to succeed, and the difference between failing so close to target, rather than on the journey, is significant.
Research consistently shows that athletes who win silver are less happy than those who win bronze. Bronze comes with an overwhelming sense of reward for reaching the podium, but silver feels more like “I didn’t win gold”. A 2006 study analyzed 84 photos of Olympic judo athletes and found the bronze medalists actually have more genuine smiles.
Where am I going with all of the sports analogies? Freelancing can so often feel like a constant state of rejection: pitches not landing, being told “you didn’t get the project this time”, clients just stopping answering your emails. For the every-day rejections, it’s really important not to take each one as a failure - as you never even got a chance to shine. Those amazing projects where you’ve been invited to pitch for a client you’ve always wanted to work with can feel like a bronze medal at times, even without doing the work. But those times where you’ve worked really heard on a proposal, or getting something to the point where it feels like you’re so close to winning, and then having it not happen, right at the last minute - it hurts, and there’s no taking that away. And unfortunately there’s often a lot of work to do, before the project even begins.
A feeling of loss isn’t a bad thing. If we never felt loss, we’d not value what we have, and we’d appreciate the wins less. Success and loss need to co-exist. But loss is different to failure. Being so close to reaching a goal, and it being taken away at the last minute? That’s a strange hinterland between the amazing success getting so far, without the feeling of satisfaction at the end. Not success perhaps, but far from failure.
In the shift towards modern work and emotional health being more integrated, we need to embrace the entirety of the human experience, the highs and the lows. Employers ask us to bring “our whole selves to work”, but in truth they only want the positive/passionate bits of you. Self-employment by default means our whole selves are at work all the time, and ensuring we have a support network - to be there on the bad days, and celebrate on the good days - is essential to ensure we’re not doing it alone.
The morning after isn’t the time to “look at the bright side”. It’s okay, important even, to feel that sense of loss. But taking some time a couple of days later to step back and recognise that both exist, to be able to see the progress and achievements you made, as well as where things didn’t work out - that’s where we learn and develop. To chalk up some of those projects as steps towards another win, and look at the macro view, of your career and work progressing and growing over time. Here’s to the losses and the even greater win next time.
Corrections: An earlier version of this article stated "the English national team fought towards the European finals, the first time reaching a tournament’s end in 55 years". One of our members Frances K, rightly pointed out that it is the Men's team who haven't reached a final in 55 years, the Women's team got to the UEFA European Championships in both 1984 and in 2009.
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