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To Win the Game, You Have to Keep Playing


One of the things author Dorie Clark writes about in her latest book The Long Game, is rethinking failure. It’s easy to tell ourselves to set ambitious goals, take some risks, or try something new. But it’s hard not to beat ourselves up if things don’t work out the way we want them to. As Clark writes, “every setback stings”.


These setbacks; yes, they sting, but the pain of the sting will fade and what happens next is key. What’s important is how we cope with, or address these failures.


And this depends a lot on our mindset and our resilience.


Resilience is a trait which helps us recover from failures, setbacks and disappointments. The more resilient we are (and we can work on cultivating it), the more likely we are to bounce back when things don’t work out the way we want. And once we bounce back, resilience helps us to keep pushing forward.


A key ingredient in playing the long game (which is all about persevering and recognizing that achieving your goals takes time and effort) is accepting that, as Clark puts it:

“sometimes our bets pay off, and sometimes they don’t…Success is about being excellent at what you do. But, inevitably there’s a subjective element…You have to be excellent and you need at bats..”

My husband, Jay, learned this lesson while in graduate school. He had submitted a research proposal for an NSF dissertation improvement grant. Awarded annually, the grant was intended to fund graduate students at the dissertation phase of their Ph.D. programs, to free up time for them to concentrate on research and writing. His proposal was swiftly rejected and returned to him with a healthy dose of criticism and suggestions for significant changes. He was, to say the least, despondent and discouraged. In part because both Jay and his advisor thought it was a pretty fine proposal. But so be it.


The following year, Jay approached his graduate advisor to ask if it was worth addressing all the comments and critiques, reworking the proposal and applying for the NSF grant again. His advisor, without skipping a beat, suggested Jay submit the exact same proposal as before. No changes. Nothing.


Jay wasn’t sure that was a great idea, but decided to trust his advisor and go for it. He submitted the very same document again. For the same grant.


Some time passed and he received word that not only was his proposal being funded, he had won the prize for best research proposal submitted that year!


Had he accepted defeat after the first rejection, he would never have learned firsthand that sometimes you can be rejected for subjective reasons. For reasons don’t have anything to do with you. Or reasons that have more do with the context, or timing than your particular offering.

In this case, he just needed another ‘at bat’. But just knowing that isn’t enough.


You have to be willing to step up and take it.


Again and again if necessary. And that’s playing the ‘Long Game’.

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