Melissa’s Insight: The Art of Losing

by in Food Network Star, August 11, 2011

Mary Beth and Jeff

Melissa d'Arabian won Star season 5 and has been loving her Food Network adventure ever since. You can catch new episodes of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners on Sunday mornings at 9am/8c. As a Star veteran watching from her couch at home, Melissa shares her insider's take on what went down each week.

Today I’m dedicating my blog to losing. Yes, losing. Next week at this time, we will be focused on who won, so now’s our chance to talk about not winning. Believe me, I’ve earned the air I breathe around this subject. While I did win my season of Star, I know what it’s like to watch someone else get something I wanted so badly, something I believed was my destiny. I’ve had to step aside with a graceful smile and applaud the victories of others. And I’ve replayed events over and over in my mind, wondering if there was a key moment where I lost and, more importantly, what could I have done to avoid it.

I’ve learned more by losing than by winning. When I lose, I try to nurse my hurt ego for a short time and then set it aside. Only then can I see losing as the valuable feedback it is. I evaluate and adjust course. In my experience, losing is a speed bump on the way to winning.

I believe that any given moment, I am right where I am supposed to be, good or bad. If it weren’t uncomfortable, then where would I find the motivation to try something different? Besides, discomfort tells me that life is in session. And that’s a good problem to have.

Here are some truths that have become apparent to me, through the gift of losing:

You are always auditioning for life, never just for the job. Think how many people have lost out on the prize in front of them only to go on to succeed in ways unimaginable. Do you think Jennifer Hudson imagined winning an Oscar when she was sent home from American Idol? My advice: When you lose, impress anyway. Be graceful. Be so good that people can’t imagine not calling you when they are looking for someone with your skill set. Mary Beth may not be the best cook Food Network has seen, but I will be very surprised if she ever has to seek work again as a writer. She’s great at that, and she showed what a class act she is. (Her parting words, “A lot of people don’t ever find their passion; how could I be anything but grateful?” show exactly why she will be successful.)

Penny Davidi

Make people want to pick you first for the big dodge ball game of life. Which makes Penny’s decision to phone in her work this week such a crime — not against Mary Beth because I think she would have been edged out anyway — but Penny robbed herself of the opportunity to turn it all around. Imagine if she had just knocked herself out for her teammate? What could have come from that? We’ll never know, and sadly neither will she.

Your life mission is not becoming a Food Network Star, even if it feels that way. You weekly readers know how I feel about having a personal life mission — it’s critical. Indeed, knowing what small mark I want to leave on the world gets me up in the morning. Here is the secret: If a life mission is about winning a contest (or job or any achievement), then consider the possibility that you aren’t thinking big enough for your life’s mission. As much as I wanted to win FNS (a lot), and as much as I knew why I wanted to win (to pursue my life’s mission), I also knew that my life’s mission could be served without winning. Making the mark is more important than doing it exactly the way I imagined. My life’s mission is helped along by my TV career, certainly, but my TV career is not the mission itself. Means versus ends.

Making peace with not winning is actually pretty simple. Know why you are playing (meaning know your life mission), play a game you can win (for instance, no one can bring Susie’s family recipes to life like she can), put in the work to win that game (no shortcuts), and then let the results fall where they may, accepting you are right where you are supposed to be at the end of it, win or lose.

Lastly, I remember the Olympic creed, which states that the most important thing is not to win but to take part — just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well.

Good luck Vic, Susie and Jeff. Winning the FNS finale is not as important as what it took to get there, nor as important as where you will go after. Whoever wins, though, call me, and we’ll chat about winning, and your new life. Because it’s all about to change.

See what Melissa’s cooking up on Ten Dollar Dinners, check out her Facebook Fan Page and follow her on Twitter (@melissadarabian).

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Comments (113)

  1. Bob Toren says:

    Melissa - very well said!

    • Sue M. says:

      Could not agree more. Well written.

    • jimmyz3 says:

      Thank you Melissa, Penny definitely went into this with a foolish plan. Her whole take on this being a game was so absurd. She is the opinion that she got people voted off which is far from the truth. I love and watch the Food Network for the food and the great people who make it. Even of Penny had won I would never watch her because she came into this ready to back stab anyone and everyone to get what she wanted. That is not what the Food Network is about.

  2. Dancejones says:

    As usual, Melissa, insightful, thoughtful and well written commentary. You are a class act.

  3. thanksmelissa says:

    Thank you for this post, Melissa. Your words bring the whole FNS experience into perspective. As many on these blogs have said, this show is not about clawing your way to the top using any means at your disposal -- ideally FNS is all about making your mark by doing your personal best. Even those who haven't won have gone on to impress the network execs enough to be given their own chance at a show, because they managed to convey a sense of their own unique abilities during the challenges. That someone with such exceptional cooking skills as Penny would destroy any chance she might have had to do the same is just sad, and hopefully future contestants will learn something from her mistakes. And if we are lucky, we will never have to witness such behavior again.

  4. Paul NY says:

    Penny gave up any chance of coming back to FN after this season. Watching the repeat last night I saw Penny's reaction to Alton's comments and it was as if she was saying "Oh, well, who cares..." she didn't care at that point and she was doing what she could to hinder Mary Beth albeit in a lazy, sneaky way. Justin D. was totally right when he said: "The only person Penny is interested in promoting is Penny." Penny's strategy at the beginning of the season was to get rid of a many of the women as possible because it did look like the men were very weak. She just couldn't hide her personality from the judges and ending up getting cut.

    • JimH says:

      That was the part that made no sense to me. We have a number of times that past contestants who have been cut have come back and now have their own shows and seem to being to very well with it. Yet, she chose to cut of her own nose to spite her face and screw things up. Either that is just sheer stupidity or her sense of vindictiveness is so strong that it just pushed all common sense aside.

    • Sam says:

      Penny's an actor hired for the show. I'm almost 99% sure she is. Alicia made that claim, and the fact that Penny has taken an acting role as an actress in a movie right now tells a lot about why she was on the show.

  5. JimH says:

    "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. "

    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    These contestants all put themselves out there, on the line. Only one was going to win but the others grew from the experience (with the exception of one individual).

  6. saluki1 says:

    I disagreed with you on you in your comparison of Jeffrey to Orchid. This week however, you were 100% spot on! .........I was aghast at Penny -----even more-so because of her evident self destructive behavior.......

    Your comments this week were very insightful and so true.........
    Should be required reading for all future contestants.........

  7. ostrich says:

    your blog today is so good i want to print it and put it on my fridge!

    • Disney fan says:

      Melissa is a very inspiring woman, wife and mother--along with inspiring many of us to cook. FN could not have picked a better person to win season 5 and have a successful show. You are right--this is print worthy!

  8. KimW says:

    I was sick to my stomach when I saw Penny back and she did exactly what I expected her to do. It was disgusting and distracting to watch. I watch FN because it is a nice distraction from all the garbage going on in the world on a topic that I enjoy. I am glad the FN called her out on it on the show in a very tactful way. She made her self look very bad. I hope she got an earful off camera about how unacceptable her behaviore was. I am not happy that she is even being allowed to come back for the final episode. If I were to keep seeing this kind of stuff I will find something else to watch.

    • LindaSta says:

      I think that Melissa's observation concernig Penny's actions is one of the most accurate and one of the saddest commentaries I have read about the woman. She probably has no idea, and probably never will have any idea, the harm she did herself.

  9. Wayne says:

    It is refreshing to read a well written, thoughtful blog for a change. Anyone else curious about what Melissa's life mission is?
    "As much as I wanted to win FNS (a lot), and as much as I knew why I wanted to win (to pursue my life’s mission), I also knew that my life’s mission could be served without winning."

    • Disney fan says:

      I've read her "life mission." It is no secret from her fans. She inspires and makes you think. FN is so lucky to have her on their network. Poeple like Melissa are few and far between these days. She's the real deal.

  10. The Shrink says:

    Well written and full of wisdom, Melissa. And you can see that great ideas and great writing attracts a better group of bloggers' responses. I f there was one thing I wished I could have told Penny it was exactly what Melissa has said here: you had a chance to show everyone that you are a good peson who just got off on the wrong foot. I was disapponted in Penny that she didn't sieze that opportunity last week to show everyone she was a terrific person who was just misunderstood. If I was her shrink that's what I would have advised her to do.

    • Disney fan says:

      Penny is just Penny, I'm afraid. She clearly showed ALL of us who she is. There was nothing "misunderstood" about her on NFNS. :(