Sometimes losing can mean winning.
I was mayor of a small village on Long Island, New York. I won every election cycle for 12 years and was never challenged, mostly due to an apathetic public. As long as the garbage was collected and the roads were clean, most residents did not care about what was going on in Village Hall.
In 2011, another resident decided to challenge me for mayor. At a meeting between us, we agreed on certain parameters for the campaign, one of which was that we would not have a "Meet the Candidates" evening. However, the following month, my opponent unilaterally decided we would indeed, meet up "mano a mano" in a debate format.
Although I had run dozens of meetings, I had never had to speak publicly in this way. I would have to explain and justify complex tax policies, budget decisions and building codes. I was essentially proud of the accomplishments of my administration, but I was uncomfortable being put in a position of having to "toot my own horn." In short, I was terrified.
I was terrified that I would not be articulate enough. I was terrified that I would lose my cool in the face of an opponent I had come to disdain. I was terrified that my being terrified would be obvious to everyone in the audience. I was so terrified that I considered saying that I would not participate. Why not simply refuse to go? Wasn't that better than facing humiliation? After all, this was a voluntary position and my livelihood did not depend on it. I struggled and spent several sleepless nights. But, in the end, I decided to lean in. I prepared myself, studied up, and got a haircut. I put on a nice sweater, some makeup and my best foot forward.
I sat down at the podium, with a dry mouth and shaking hands. My opponent was glib, well-informed, and clearly used to public speaking, but as the questions came, I found that I could answer honestly, clearly, and even occasionally, with humor. I can't say I won the debate, but it was no worse than 50-50 and I definitely held my own. To this day I am proud of myself for standing up to the challenge and doing something I never thought I was capable of.
A postscript to the story is that I lost the election by 10 votes. In 2012 a few grateful residents organized an event in my honor. I was feted by local, county and state officials with citations and plaques and embraced by friends and neighbors. My opponent, on the other hand, was greeted with Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and Blizzard Nemo. I guess you always have to be careful what you wish for.
And it turned out that what I wished for was to continue to pursue public service in a meaningful way. I now had the courage to put myself forward as a candidate for our Library Board, a respected and competitive position. I got it!