I have a friend who has worked for various political campaigns (mostly in the finance department). I asked her once why politicians seem so scared of not being re-elected that they will do absolutely anything to continue raising money from wealthy donors or to avoid upsetting the tiny slice of voters who vote in primary elections. While it certainly sucks to lose a job, it’s not like any of the members of Congress are going to miss a rent payment and get evicted if they don’t win re-election. They’ll all do fine for themselves and their families.

She said it was because losing re-election is like getting fired AND getting dumped, at the same time.

That certainly does sound unpleasant, but the thing is, that is almost exactly what happened to me once. I quit my job to move across country to be with my girlfriend of four years, and then three days before I was supposed to board the plane, she dumped me.

(Now, yes, I did technically get hired to be a media commentator, as demonstrated by the fact that you are reading my column in a newspaper, but that was a long time later, and the deal is not anywhere near as lush as it is for former elected officials with cable news contracts. I look terrible on TV.)

Americans need to lose more, is what I am getting at. You have to take a few licks to know how to get up again, you know? Rolling with the punches means you have to take a few punches.

When a fear of losing outstrips the desire to win, people start to change. They do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. I read in the news about how in North Carolina, Republicans in the legislature waited until the Democrats were in committee meetings, on Sept. 11, to override the governor’s budget veto – after the Republicans had told the Democratic representatives that there wouldn’t be any votes that morning.

Now, I like North Carolina. It’s far enough south to get good barbecue and far enough north to need air conditioning for less than half the year. I’ve got a good friend from North Carolina. But boy oh boy, that was some ridiculous stunt they pulled. Even if technically legal, it stinks of cheating, of bad sportsmanship, and of yellow-bellied desperation. Not to mention doing it on one of our country’s most somber anniversaries, which added an extra layer of scumminess.

I know a few things about being a loser. I ran long distance in high school – cross country and track and field – and I never won a single race. There were plenty of races in which I came in dead last. I think the last time I won a competition was in seventh grade (school spelling bee. I can say with confidence that I am a pretty good speller). I’ve failed my fair share of tests, papers and classes. I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost family and just last night I lost a roll of packing tape. I’m a Red Sox fan, for crying out loud. Crushing failure is a seasonal emotion.

By most American metrics of success, I’m not one. I’m 27, unwed, I have $70,000 of student loan debt, I live with roommates, wear a name tag to my job and have cellulite. As Beck once sang, “Soy un perdedor.”

One major problem today is how afraid we are of losing, or of failure, or not coming in first. That’s why politicians gerrymander districts and accept corrupting money from corporate lobbyists. That’s why large corporations and wealthy investors scrape every dime of profit that they can, even if it comes at the expense of the environment, workers’ health and safety or the economy in general. (2008, anyone?) If you view life as a zero-sum rat race in which you have either a winner or a loser, and no in between, and that being a loser is the worst thing that could ever happen to you – well, that’s a recipe for slow-moving disaster and a disintegrating society, as we lose all incentive to care for anyone but ourselves.

I don’t have a good formula set up for who should lose, and how much, and when, and in what rotation. But I think a good start would be: If you’re more scared of losing, of taking an L, than anything else – well, let’s start with you.

As one of my favorite rappers, Big Sean, once said (quite wisely): “If you a real one, you know how to bounce back.”

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

 


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