There is rarely a consolation prize in almost winning that pitch or big promotion

Author of the article:

Katie Dupuis, Special to Financial Post

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There’s something to be learned from being the first loser, both in sports and business. Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Ask an elite athlete if they’d like to win an Olympic silver medal and they’d almost certainly say yes. But ask them if they’d rather win a silver medal or a bronze, and you might be surprised to learn that third place is the more appealing finish.


How can that be, you might wonder? It’s because of the almost-but-not-quite factor of being the first loser.

Research consistently shows that third-place finishers are happier than those who place second, because instead of comparing themselves to the gold medallist, as the silver medallist does, a bronze medallist compares themselves to those who didn’t place at all. They’re just happy to have medalled.

In stark contrast, the second-place finisher logically knows that silver acknowledges all the hard work and dedication that goes into being the world’s second best in something, but there is a pall over the win. They got so close to gold, but couldn’t quite catch it. Yeesh. No wonder studies showed that bronze medallists were observed to be the cheerier bunch.


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The same theory can be applied to business. It’s cold comfort to learn that it came down to your bid, pitch or skill set and someone else’s and you lost, because it was right there, within reach. There’s no consolation prize. “Almost” doesn’t pay the bills.

That’s the difference between sports and business. In sports, there’s still recognition for second place. It’s a very public accolade. You get to stand on the podium and receive the applause. At work, you have to move on to the next opportunity. OK, there might be a proverbial pat on the back from a colleague or supervisor, but with much less fanfare, it can be even more disheartening to learn you just missed the mark.


There’s something to be learned from being the first loser, though, both in sports and business. Consider the career of legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., who is credited with coining the term “first loser.” (The full quote reads like this: “You go out into that ring and give it absolutely everything you’ve got. After all, second place is the first loser.”)

But Earnhardt had 70 second-place finishes during his illustrious career. He also still ties the record for most NASCAR Cup Series Championships more than 20 years after his death. The lesson? Sure, being the first loser stings. But you’ll never know what it feels like to win an important RFP or get that huge promotion unless you keep trying.


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