May marks one of my favorite times of the year. Not only do I get to celebrate the birthdays of several family members and Mothers’ Day, the month of May also brings the Indianapolis 500!
Last year a young 23 year old rookie, JR Hildebrand, took the lead late in the race. He was running away with the race and only a few laps remained as the crowd went wild. Soon the white flag unfurled signifying one lap to go and everyone cheered with excitement as Hildebrand whipped around the 2.5 mile oval one final time. Then it happened. The unthinkable. As he lapped a slower car in the final turn, Hildebrand’s car got out the the groove and smacked into the wall. While the damaged car scraped down the wall and limped across the finish line, Hildebrand was passed by the late Dan Wheldon and wound up finishing in second place.
No one could have predicted what would come next. In a very un-tewenty-three-year-old type of way, Hildebrand reacted with utmost professionalism and candor. He was calm and collected and accepted the outcome without complaining or blaming anyone else. The truth of the matter is that the rookie had just finished second in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the reality was that he had just blown the race win. I ran across a fantastic interview with Hildebrand that covers the ups and the downs of his first Indy 500. The most impressive part of the story is that he handled the situation with such grace that he won over a number of fans and returns to Indianapolis for another shot, this time as a known, and respected, veteran.
There are a lot of great tidbits in there that help showcase the ability to be graceful in defeat. Inevitably everyone experiences (ok, almost everyone) some sort of defeat in their lives. As many great leaders have alluded in various ways, it is not about what happens but rather how we react to it that shows who we really are. When you get knocked off the horse will you complain and overreact? Or will you get back on it and ride off into the sunset?
“Even before the car had come to a stop, I knew I was going to have a bunch of microphones shoved in my face and I wouldn’t be able to just bat them away. I thought, “I’m going to have to stand up and own up.” -JR Hildebrand