One of my generally pointless downtime indulgences is watching competition shows on TV. These might be cooking competitions or interior design challenges, extreme fitness games or even crazy survival shows.

One of my favorites is “Project Runway” – I think it has something to do with my latent desire to be a fashion designer (oh, the irony – but that’s another story).

I recently watched an episode in which the challenge for the designers was to create a garment for a loved one, for her “next life adventure.” One woman was going back to college in midlife, one had just been promoted in her job, and another was starting her own record label.

A young designer, who had shown much promise in previous episodes, was creating a dress for her mother, who was heading off on an extended European vacation. The young woman designed a three-piece outfit that just didn’t work – it didn’t fit well and didn’t look great on her mom. Plus, it was unfinished – a big no-no for the runway.

The judges gave her an unfavorable critique about how the shapes were wrong, the proportions were off, and the jacket wasn’t even hemmed.

The designer was obviously upset, tears trickling down her face, but her mother kept smiling.

Asked by a judge how she liked the outfit, the mom replied, “I love it, and I love my daughter. But sometimes we win, and sometimes we learn.”

Sometimes we win, and sometimes we learn.

What a wonderful teaching moment, not just for the woman’s daughter, but for everyone listening. It struck a chord with me, and now it has become my new way of thinking. I even spelled out the quote on a message board at home.

Consider for a moment some of those times when you didn’t “win” and felt like a failure. We’ve all had plenty of those moments. I thought about a few relationships, job interviews, competitions of all sorts (even a smoothie-creating contest), diets, responses to uncomfortable situations.

What about an application to college, playing the big game in any sport, a campaign for office? I shared this story with someone who had recently run for office and didn’t make the cut. The former candidate’s eyes lit up and replied, “I need to remember that.”

Sometimes we win, and sometimes we learn – if we choose to take that approach. Would it not be more positive, helpful and encouraging to consider how much we learned in preparing for the challenge?

As I organized my thoughts for this column, it occurred to me that this quote might have circulated the internet already and I had missed it. Lo and behold, I found a book by John C. Maxwell titled “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.”

The New York Times bestselling author of leadership and success books maintains that “any setback … can be turned into a step forward when you posses the right tools to turn a loss into a gain.”

I maintain that a simple retooling of our mindset could accomplish the same success.

In life, in athletics, in relationships, in most all of our choices, sometimes we win, and sometimes we learn. It might be wise to start paying closer attention to situations we encounter and figure out how and what we learned from it.

The young designer was eliminated from the competition that night. And I’m betting she and her mom had a good long talk afterward. I’d like to ask her what she learned.