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. Sanita Riker says:

    Melissa, your blog is like a breath of fresh air. I agree while Mary Beth was not the best cook, she sparkled! Penny really shot herself in the foot, she will never have a shot with food network. If we all didn't have life lessons how would we grow? I wish all the contestants, that they find their passion in life. Best luck to the final three.

  2. Pat says:

    From the beginning Penny seemed to never realize that it's not just a cooking competition. You have to be liked for viewers to want to watch your show!

  3. Great comments Melissa. Sounds that you are a little bit into Zen, but maybe not conciously. Anyway, my congratulations to Vic, Susie, and Jeff for making it to the final 3. I as have said before, anyone of the last 5 could at least have a job with FN.

  4. diane says:

    Melissa, you are insightful as always, You speak of the contestants on their journey in life, win or lose they will be the richer. How true, except the only true LOSER on this series that you comment on, is food. The overall message being depicted here by the network is this; and I quote " you kicked the food right under the table." The true star of the Food Network is the food, correct, all else is merely a vehicle in which to deliver it's glory. In your season I rooted for you, not because of your POV, but because you had something to say and stated it through your food. Your passion and grit shined through as not to be unheard. This season however, it seems not to be the case, and I say this with a saddened heart, What a shame. Some preperations of food could be considered criminal acts. (Turning a $40 per pound aged prime cut of beef into sandwiches, leftovers yes, main course no.)( It had have better been the best sandwich ever.) Is this what you meant by any means possible? I love the talent BEHIND the food, but for me it's always been the FOOD that is the WINNER!

  5. Paula says:

    Melissa, I agree with most of what you said, but I think you seriously underestimated Mary Beth's talents when you said, "I will be very surprised if she ever has to seek work again as a writer. She’s great at that." Mary Beth is terrific with words, but it wasn't her writing that was on display during the competition. Mary Beth would be gold on Food Network: extremely watchable, likable, articulate, and knowledgeable. Given those qualities, which can't be taught, she is a natural and should be snapped up by Food Network or other smart entertainment executives ASAP.

    • socaldot says:

      I took Melissa's comment to mean that she will always be able to find work writing........which I've said before is most likely very good.

      • Melissa d says:

        Paula, fair point...yes socaldot is right on...I certainly didn't mean to imply that writing is Mary Beth's only talent. I'm absolutely a fan. :)

      • Paula says:

        Check out Mary Beth's blog and you will see that her writing is excellent! :-)

    • Eileen says:

      I totally agree with Melissa's wise comments on losing & life- bravo! But I also hope folks don't evaluate Mary Beth's cooking or other talents solely by this show. Yes, Mary Beth is clearly great with words but many times in FNS she also cooked great dishes and even inspired ones. I think the challenge for her wasn't her overall cooking skill but that she's not as good as the others at cooking or creating really, really fast or in environments/kitchens you don't get to see ahead of time, which FNS & other competition shows require in spades. Lots of successful FN stars are like her, for example Ina Garten said when she was on that she'd never be able to win at FNS. I think Mary Beth will have a Jennifer Hudson event in her life very soon, and I for one can hardly wait!

      • Paula says:

        Eileen, I absolutely agree! Mary Beth did create some amazing dishes under extraordinarily difficult conditions. I should have acknowledged her cooking skills in my comment, but you have done that, and so eloquently. Mary Beth is multi-talented, extremely likable, and has more than earned her own show. Food Network, are you listening?

    • Vicki says:

      I completely agree. So watchable and compelling too.

  6. Grace says:

    I agree with Melissa. It is harder to lose than to win, if you know what I mean. I mean, it's harder to win the competition than get eliminated, but if you were as close as Mary Beth to winning and want it so bad... and then lose, it's even harder than what she had to go through in the cooking challenges. I liked Mary Beth. I'm sad to see her go.

  7. Linda says:

    This is such a wonderfully refreshing blog! Even though everyone can't be the one to come out on top, a graceful loser is still a winner in my book! When I watched Mary Beth's response after elimination, the first thing I thought to myself was, "I bet she earns a spot on the Food Network within a year..." I hope the Food Network execs take her into consideration. She would be a great host of a "travel" type show like Guy's triple D's, or when Alton Brown and his buddies biked the Mississippi route (a great series that I wish Alton would do again!). Mary Beth is smart, funny and engaging - and a darn good cook to get as far as she did. Best wishes to her. And to Melissa - may I say, that your blog post proves that Food Network picked the right finalist last year! You really know how to put things into perspective. I am sure everyone agrees that we all extend our best wishes to the final three!

  8. LindaSta says:

    Melissa, your comments are refrshing and very much to the point.
    I was extremely sad to see Mary Beth go. I know she is not a trained chef and that she has no experience cooking under strict time constraints or with other chefs, So i was very impressed that she was able to do as well as she did.
    I hope that, having seen her mission in life she will, as you suggest, find another means to achieve it. She obviously realizes that although this door is now closed, there may be others and she needs to find them.
    It would be great if FN could find a way of using her obvious talents and knowlege of food. Even if she doesn't have the training or experience to compete successfully in this kind of competition, she does have a lot to offer.

    • joyce says:

      Your comments are awesome. I too was sad to see Mary Beth leave, just as I was sad to see Whitney go. We have our final three now and the decision is the judges have determined who the winner is.

      I wish Mary Beth the best with her new passion!

      • LindaSta says:

        Joyce, thank you.
        It was so good to read the very thoughtful post by Melissa after all the negativity and - let's fact it - cruel comments that have been posted over the last few weeks. I was particularly strudk by her comments to Penny. There is no doubt that Penny's conduct has made her extremely unpopular and has probably closed doors that might have been open for her. She has a lot of image mending to do and I hope she realizes the harm she has done to her own image. Maybe she can take steps toward a more positive one. It would be good to think that some good came of what we saw.

        I hope all of us can take a cue from Melissa and be a bit more positive and thoughtful for the remaining time on this blog.

  9. Pam G says:

    Melissa, you have great insight...except I love Vic and hope he wins...Susie is nice, but I would not watch her.

  10. Guest says:

    Congrats to the finalists. I am hoping Susie wins but have enjoyed watching no matter the outcome. Watching the last show I was struck with how dumb Penny was to throw away such an opportunity to show she wasn't the hateful, selfish, person we all think she is. If she was a legit contender and not a plant, she made a huge mistake. I suspect her unjustified ego is so laaaarge that she thinks she doesn't need opportunities. Always, always a mistake because you never know what the future holds.