Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why I Want My Children to be Losers

Country Fair Blog Part

In these parts, we’re currently experiencing the regional holiday known as: fair time.  It really might be better than Christmas because we see all of the people we care about and eat great food that we don’t have to cook.

Loving on her cousins' show cattle... just like her big cousin did with mine when she was little. :)
This week is the lull between our district fair and the county fair to our north.  I could write pages about all of aspects I’ve looooooved about these fairs over the years: cool fall mornings, steam rolling off of a heifer’s back at the wash rack, hanging out with your “family” all week.  Although, I’m not sure if I could put into words the joy of watching my sweet daughters begin to fall in love the same traditions.  Which is good because that’s not what this post is about…

My farmer and I both enjoyed several years as livestock exhibitors.  We love chatting about sharing this tradition with our daughters when they are old enough.  As much as I want them to win with their prized animal after a year of hard work, I can’t help but reflect on how I also look forward to walking them through losing.

Why do I want them to lose?

At a recent leadership conference I attended, from several speakers emerged a common idea: failure is important.  Some employers in the Silicon Valley refuse to hire workers who haven’t had a major failure and story for how they recovered.  Why?  Failure is inevitable.  It’s not whether you lose or fail that makes you distinct, it’s how you bounce back.  Here are the lessons I want my daughters to learn from losing in the showring.

1.       How to explain their lot in life without shame.

Is there nothing worse than having your great-aunt so-and-so excitedly ask how the show went, only to have to explain, head hanging low, how you placed last in your class?  If they’ve worked hard, I want my daughters to always look loss in the face, explaining that they didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, but can still be proud, positive, and looking forward.

2.       How to be open to critique.

It’s crazy how many bad judges I hear about out there.  Or… maybe how many folks don’t want to hear a good judge’s opinion.  When we’ve lost or failed, that’s the hardest time to hear truth.  No matter their placing, my girls better walk out of the ring zoned in on the judge’s gift of an experienced critique, contemplating how they can use his words to improve, rather than fuming.

3.       How to value their own assessment of themselves over others’.

At the same time, judges do get it “wrong” (it’s still all very subjective).  Other times, two animals are both excellent, but the judge prefers a certain type or trait.  If my girls have sincerely listened to the judges’ rational, but still disagree, I hope they value their influence on their project.  I hope they maintain their confidence in their judgement over the animal they picked or bred and the skill they exhibited in preparing the animal for show. 

4.       How to NOT be entitled.

Hi.  I’m a Millennial, and everyone tells me I’m entitled.  I think in rural life the trend might be a little different, but we know entitlement is an epidemic in our society.  I want my girls to lose because I want to leave them determined to win next year, not expecting to win next year.

5.       How to be graceful in winning.

I want them to lose so that they when they do win, they have empathy for their fellow showmen.  Enjoying the reward of hard work is warranted, but no gloating.  It’s lonely at the top; especially, when you’re a jerk.

6.       How to be confidently humble.

No tail-tucking as they quickly disappear into the barn in tears.  (Thank you big brother for teaching me there’s no crying in showing... or baseball, coincidentally...)  My girls will learn to shake the judges’ hand with genuine appreciation even when they feel slighted.  My girls will then shake the hands of their friends when they win and learn that they can feel disappointment for themselves and sincere happiness for their friends simultaneously.  Maybe even more difficult, my girls will do the same for the gloating girl they dislike, even when she wins.
Where the journey starts.

7.       How to look beyond the win.

Success is in the journey.  That was the motto for one of my FFA officer teams.  Part of the point is just to have an enjoyable time working hard and loving on animals alongside family and friends.  I want my daughters to understand all they are gaining from the livestock showing experience.  Learning how to calm yourself in order to calm that crazy heifer is one valuable, transferrable skill in life, among so many others.

8.       How to measure opportunity cost and risk versus reward.

I am certain that there will be exhibitors who spend more on their show stock than we will.  Investing money in livestock is a risk that may or may not be rewarded.  Helping my girls understand what else we could do with that money paves the way for the opportunity cost lesson.  Investing time, resources, and personal safety justifies consideration of opportunity cost and risk.  I want my girls to be able to evaluate these trade-offs in all situations.  Risk isn’t bad, I just want my girls to own and analyze it wisely.

9.       How to persevere.

My dad likes to tell the story of my brother’s first year showing.  He hadn’t risked much for my fourth-grade brother.  The plain steer had been rolled to near the bottom of his class on a rainy week, leaving my tiny brother in mud up to his ankles and a foot the steer had bloodied when he stomped it with his heavy hoof.  My dad thought for sure he knew the answer when he asked, “do you want to do this again next year?”  To his surprise, my brother had just caught the show cattle bug.  Cattle were his passion and focus throughout high school.  That’s the kind of showman I hope my girls will be.  Not defeated; determined to do better next year because they love what they’re doing.

10.   How some days just aren’t your day.

Life is unfair.  A calf can get sick.  Your little sister can loan out your show halter right before showmanship (guilty).  A cold front can kick a little crazy into a calf you worked tirelessly.  A judge can overlook you in a big class.  It’s important that my girls understand and accept that we get some hard knocks.  We keep moving.

My dad couldn’t tolerate a poor sport, so while it was harder to learn some of these lessons than others, you can be sure I learned them all or we wouldn’t have been allowed back the next year.


…even as I write all about how I want my girls to have the opportunity to lose, I don’t want them to be okay with losing.  There are definitely lessons to be learned from losing, but that’s not an excuse to lose.  I think sometimes in an effort to be a good sport, I became nonchalant about why I was there.  My girls need a desire to win, or they won’t try their best.  It’s okay to fail, but not to set out being okay with failing.  But, then again, I guess "winning" is achieving the goal you started with… so maybe I’d be a wise parent to not dictate the goal.  My girls may not want to show livestock, at all.  They may find activities more important to them, but no matter what they choose, I hope the lesson in the loss is not lost on them.


  1. such a great post! (and adorable photos!) your daughters have such a great mother! :)

    1. Thanks, dear girl! If they grow up like you, I sure wouldn't complain! :)

  2. Wonderful! So many lessons learned in the show ring and losing is one of the hardest, but very powerful at the same time. Like you, I too want my children to have the desire to do better and win, but not at the cost of hurting someone else or being a poor sportsman.
    Thank you for linking up a the Country Fair Blog Party!

    1. Thanks, Laurie! Glad to be joining you for the first time!

  3. I absolutely love this! Thanks for joining the Country Fair Blog Party. I just shared this on Facebook because I love it so much. Do join us for another party on the 1st!

  4. Thanks, Nicole! I'll look forward to next month! :)

  5. I found this throug Nicole's page. I loved the title and thought who else likes for their kids to be losers! Loved your reasons! Piqued my interest in showing for yet another reason.

    1. Thanks, Amber! And, love Nicole's blog! Are you thinking about getting involved in showing? It's a lot of hard work, but if you get the whole family involved it makes for a priceless experience!