Does coming in second feel like failure? It shouldn’t–but sometimes it does. Psychology Today recently wrote about how people react to getting a Silver Medal in the Olympics and I spent last weekend in Nashville, Tennessee with over a hundred teenage performers who ended the weekend as First Runners Up with remarkable nonchalance. There are many people, however, who torment themselves with the “what ifs” and have a hard time with just missing that brass ring.
It happens in job searches and at work, where we can be a hiring manager’s second choice or be second in line for that promotion. Coming in second can feel like failure–so close and yet so far.
What many of us do when we come close to winning is imagine what would have happened if we had done something differently. Psychology Today calls it “counterfactual thinking.” The “what if” scenarios imagined by Third Place winners are generally positive, but those of the Second Place finishers are more negative, even though they were clearly almost at the very top of their field.
Counterfactual thinking can be helpful after a near-miss since it helps us come up with alternative behaviors or better choices we might make next time out. Perhaps it was one of your interview questions or answers that made the difference, or something about your presentation which was was less than stellar.
The trick is to make sure you also think about what definitely worked in your favor. Don’t forget to praise yourself for that story you told exactly the way you wanted to, the research you did about the company that surprised the hiring manager, and the relationships you started building with the people you met. It is all too easy to focus on the mistakes you think you may have made, rather than the things you did well.
The high school students I was with last weekend know that they did as amazing a performance as they could possibly have done and their First Runner Up was not because they didn’t do their very best work, so they can be proud regardless of their placement. They have no regrets. There is no shame in coming in second. Making the choice to see it as a top-tier finish will set you up well for your next opportunity to shine.
Wendy Stackhouse, for Artisan Creative