Advice for Trump: Here’s How I Learned to Lose Gracefully

Former President Donald Trump in 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

By Sue Wasserman

November 13, 2020

Making a teachable moment out of President Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election. 

I was a freshman in high school, nervously participating in my first fencing tournament. My older brother, a rising star on the high school fencing circuit, was with me for first-timer support.

I can’t specifically remember in what round the bad call came that caused me to lose a bout and knock me out of the tournament.

While foil fencing is electric and you know who makes a touch based on the lights triggered, each bout is still formally officiated because fencers frequently land their blades simultaneously. In those cases, the director awards the point to the fencer controlling the action. In that moment, I was certain it was me, but instead, the point went against me, and the bout and tournament were finished.

Overcome with anger, I took off my mask and hurled it to the ground. As I got off the strip, my brother took me aside. He let me know bad calls would happen. It was simply part of the sport. He also let me know throwing my mask was not acceptable. It was, in fact, a sign of bad sportsmanship.

That was the moment I learned to lose with grace.

I continued fencing through high school. Ultimately, I shared this lesson when I became co-captain of a girls’ team, which I was able to get off the ground in my senior year. Previously, I fenced on the boys’ team. Given so many newcomers, I was certain our losses would outweigh our wins. I wanted my novice teammates to be prepared for the stiff competition and take pride in simply putting forth their best effort, regardless of the outcome.

My skills and level-headed reputation helped me win a fencing scholarship to The Ohio State University. Mark was right. Over the years, there continued to be many questionable calls, the most heartbreaking of which went against a teammate in the finals of an NCAA national championship tournament. As devastated as my teammates and I were, we graciously shook hands to congratulate the winners, commiserated with each other, and accepted the loss. We had done our best, which was all we could do.

One thing of which I’m certain more than 35 years later? Learning to lose with grace has served me well in various corporate and freelance roles. 

Losing isn’t something for which to be embarrassed; it’s simply part of the human equation. It means you tried. There’s actually dignity in being able to keep a level head and accept defeat, especially when you know you’ve done your best. Personally, I’ve learned how to be more empathetic, communicate more effectively, pitch articles that get accepted more, and transform award submissions – all as a result of losing. I also know I have the capacity to be disappointed at my loss without diminishing the success of the victor.

The timing of this 40-plus year-old memory is perfect. The world is watching Donald Trump create unnecessary and dangerous drama because of his inability to admit and accept defeat and congratulate the President-elect. 

There’s a powerful teachable moment here. Whether on the playing field or in the boardroom, few people, politics aside, respect or want to do business with a graceless loser. If you as a parent, coach, teacher or even corporate executive take time to discuss both the meaning and value of sportsmanship, as well as the importance of losing with grace, we can turn lamentable loss into proud victory. 


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