Learning From Loss, in Life and Politics

Matthew Dowd

By Matthew Dowd

Jun 2, 2013 7:00am

Learning and lessons in life come more from our losses than from our wins. And our growth and forward movement arises more out of our mistakes and mishaps, than out of what we perceive as our smart decisions and choices. This is as true in our relationships as it is in our politics.

One big lesson I have learned through many relationships, including two marriages and two divorces (as I tell people, anyone who gets married a second or third time must be the ultimate optimist), is that I finally realized that I was only ready for a relationship when I no longer needed a relationship. Let me explain.

For all those reading this who are commenting to themselves that why would we pay attention to a guy on relationships who has two divorces, give me a chance here.

First, the people who have usually learned the most — whether in business or politics or life — are the ones who have been unsuccessful in previous endeavors. I became much better at political campaigns by analyzing my losses, or studying the losses of others, than I did from the wins. As I have written before, most people learn the wrong lessons from victories because they attribute positive cause and effect to all decisions, when in likelihood this is not the case.

Second, people who have suffered loss in their lives, if they have the courage and openness, look at themselves and their own accountability and try to improve. When you win or succeed, it is hard to force yourself to grow. When you lose, if you take responsibility and don’t blame someone else, it is the best chance to evolve to a better place and not settle for the status quo.

Also, people who suffer loss or make mistakes are often the most compassionate to others. They understand human fallibility and the twists and turns of life, and become less judgmental about the actions of others, and ultimately themselves.

I turned 52 last week, and I finally feel like I am ready to be in a relationship in a free and open and loving way. In years past I was always arriving into a relationship from a place of lack or need. Hence, the relationship would somehow complete something missing in me (I am sorry to the makers of the movie “Jerry Maguire,” but relationships shouldn’t complete me) or fill a need I had.

If you have a hole in you or emptiness, you are on a fool’s errand if you think someone else can fix that for you or fill it. You will be disappointed and distraught later, when you learn that no one else can fix what’s missing but you. No matter how much I thought I loved someone or tried in the relationship, I was always left with myself.

The great test of whether you are ready to commit to a relationship in a full way is if you are at peace with yourself. And if you can look in the mirror without anyone standing next to you and like what you see, and be satisfied with who you are alone. Be honest with yourself right now, would you rather be alone or in a bad relationship? Most people, if self aware, would say they would rather be with the “bad” over the be “by yourself.”

And I think this is all true in our politics as well. Yes, we want our leaders to improve our lives and the lives of others in this country, but do we want to make them responsible for our wellbeing and our happiness? Do we want them to fill something in ourselves that we should fill on our own? If we vest this power in our leaders, we will ultimately be disappointed in their actions and decisions, just as we are in our personal relationships.

This happened with me at times with President Bush, and has happened with many voters including myself with the actions of President Obama.

We have to be willing to commit to doing what we can on our own to make the change we want, and build the country in the small circles of our life and in our most intimate relationships first. And then hopefully we can find a partner as a leader who joins us in this commitment. We shouldn’t be interested in picking a leader or partner who will improve our lives without our participation, but someone who will partner with us in our own commitment to improve.

This is exactly what I am going to look for in the leaders from either party who will be running for president in 2016, and it is what I am looking for in a partner in my own life. I have given up on the idea that a woman or a president can fix my life. It is my job, and it feels good to finally have that awesome power. Onward.

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