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Other than the lump in the stomach, all too near the heart, there isn’t much to say about a fall downstairs. I believe everyone takes an occasional such incident. Most people don’t talk about it at all. It hurts; it’s embarrassing, maybe it’s better left alone, kept locked up, unspoken. Failure is no fun.

But possibly a more important quality is that failure depicts who you are, really. Success tries to define you, but winning does not take character, although ultimately character is the name of all games. Failure, on the other hand, asks quickly, all too quickly, “What’s next?” It wants to know if it has the upper hand. It wants to be the lead character in your personal drama. Whether you will let it, or not, can become your shining moment. If you allow it to define you, then suddenly, you become a failure, but taking the next step can be a step upstairs again, a step in the right direction.

If you pick yourself up after the fall, brush off the leaves, tidy up the scraped knees and move along to whatever is next, your character has been defined as someone who is not a loser, but is a trouper. Troupers keep moving. They see the work to be done, and lend a hand. This motion-after-a-fall is easier said than done. Weep, wail, moan, howl, but after that, keep going.

The fine art of learning from the past should not be discounted. What did I do wrong? What did I leave undone? What could I have done differently? These are all questions that need careful consideration, but not from someone with a losing mentality. It does no good to simply say, “I lost, I failed, I didn’t get it” – whatever the prize. To rationally look at your part in the failure is a good measure of growth, taking responsibility.

And therein is the secret. The victim says, “They did it to me.” The ultimate winner says, “What can I do better?”

I recently lost an election. Now that has happened in the past, often. When I start out as the underdog it is not so surprising, and seems to be less injurious with each loss. But to have won, and then to lose is an entirely new ball game. So I spit, swore, cried, stomped my foot. But in the end, answers, and there were few, were the same. Review the plan. See what could have been done better. Find out what’s next and move on.

The sun does shine, even after the lost job, the lost love, the misplaced contract. See the little things that remain untarnished by the single losing event. Who loves you? Whom do you love? What does that person need? What was lost in the failed effort that now needs to be regained? Was it family? Yes, Chris, I will read the funnies with you. Was it friendship? Let’s have coffee tomorrow morning. Was it self-identity? “I am, I cried!”

The everyday stuff that was neglected in an effort to win now needs tending. Things were passed by; now they need repair. Relationships need attention. The act of renewing friendships can be especially rewarding. Other people – whom we admire, like, help, are helped by – emphasize a portion of our own identity that we don’t even recognize. (Not only am I alive, someone cares that I’m alive.)

Sometimes when we lose – be it an election, a lover, a job, a tooth – we find something infinitely more important. We can find self in that state. We can reshape our own identity in a far better way because we’ve faced the world and grown.

Terri Mudd, who lives in Lewiston, tries to maintain a winning mentality, even when she loses.