You Are Not A Loser

Seriously, you’re not a loser. Noah Brand explains why.

As boys, we get told that there are winners and losers in this world, and it’s important to make sure you’re a winner. As men, we discover that that’s impossible. There’s always some metric by which we’re inadequate, always some ideal we’ve failed to meet. And so the labels of “loser” and “failure” creep in, become the nouns we define ourselves by. Inevitably, once those words become nouns, they begin poisoning us.

Our society likes to grade men hierarchically by worldly success, what I like to call the Success Myth. Consequently, if you’re not on the absolute top, you are, to at least some degree, a loser. Conceivably there’s some phenomenally handsome, rich, charismatic, athletic, sexually superhuman, generally all-round perfect guy out there who’s at the top of this imaginary hierarchy. That guy can stop reading this article now.

The success myth is wrong, but it’s pervasive, a set of unspoken assumptions that are too often taken for granted. That means that a lot of the men reading this feel like losers, like failures. We don’t have the right career, we don’t have the right relationship, we’re too fat or too short or too something. We turn on TV and see ridiculously handsome and successful men, heroic leaders and brilliant wits and erotic demigods, and then we look back at ourselves and we see a loser. We look back on our lives with hindsight and see mistakes, missed opportunities, plans that didn’t pan out and dreams that didn’t come true, and we look at our present selves and we see a failure.

The thing is, it’s a lie. It’s a lie the world tells us and we believe, it’s a lie we tell ourselves and never question. We are not losers. I am not a loser. Neither are you. And I can prove it.

The Good Men Project was founded by Tom Matlack, who from the outside, anybody would call a success, a winner. He made millions in a difficult and competitive field. He was rich, handsome, popular, successful by any measure you could name. And he felt like a loser. He felt inadequate. He felt like he didn’t know how to be a good man. He started The Good Men Project out of that sense of inadequacy, that feeling of not being good enough.

The fact is, if Tom Matlack isn’t one of life’s winners, nobody is. Indeed, there’s strong evidence that nobody is. When you look at the personal lives of enormously successful men, you often find that same hollowness at the center, that same feeling of quiet, personal failure. Doesn’t matter how well they’ve done, how much acclaim and respect they’ve accrued, the feelings inside don’t change.

So when we feel like losers, like failures, we share those feelings with almost all of our personal heroes. Nobody is a winner. And if everyone’s a loser, then nobody is. The label becomes meaningless.

You may have problems. You may have issues or setbacks. But that doesn’t make you a loser, it makes you a guy with a problem. Problems are solvable; labels aren’t. When you begin to shed the label, the identity, of a loser, you can begin to see how much you really have going for you. I don’t claim it’s easy or that brilliant success will naturally follow. I don’t know what individual circumstances anyone reading this article might be facing, I don’t know what the future holds for anyone. There’s really only one thing I know for certain:

You are not a loser.

Photo by istolethetv/Flickr.

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. Tanumeet kaur says:

    we all suffer from the inner hollowness and emptiness without realising that we are big gems ourselves.
    We are powerful souls very very powerful,peaceful and loveful too.Just need to explore ourselves by being one with our ownselves.

    Here’s an awesome set of videos for all those who want to discover their innerself,for all those who want to realise and know that they have an unexplored diamond inside them.just sending link of the first video,u can collect the rest from net. 🙂

  2. I’m going to deliberately go against the grain here to posit totally different approach:

    “We think we’re losers because we don’t want to be self-absorbed.”

    In almost all cultures in the world, people are taught that being prideful is bad and being haughty is the the definition of an asshole.

    Most of us have something we are really good at, and probably MANY things we are VERY good at. Not the best in the world, but the world is a big place, but probably in the top 10% of people in that particular area.

    But saying you are that good is bad because humility is a virtue; no one likes an arrogant bastard. Se we never allow ourselves to say “Yes, damnit, I *AM* awesome at something” because we actually have a sense of self-restraint. We rate ourselves less highly than others because largely we want to be decent human beings.

    (Obviously I am generalizing about the entire population of the world for the sake of argument, but thoughts anyone?)

    • I actually agree with that — something that’s taken me a long time to realize. There’s a fine line but I see and absolutely agree with what you’re advocating. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging or joying in God-given greatness: just as I probably can’t do your job as good as you, the opposite is probably true; or maybe you’re better at fishing, or I can lift more weights, etc. Great point to bring up: we as humans by and large tend to downplay our accomplishments or talents to fit into an ideal. And for those that rail against the ideal in complete and utter disregard swing the pendulum the complete opposite. The goal is somewhere in the middle. Excellent point Matt.

  3. John Sctoll says:

    Lately I have been wondering if this so-called society is and always has been how Men and Women are treated in the MSM (Main Stream Media). Do the average jane and joe really judge themselves based on what they see around them in their own lives OR what they see on TV, in movies and on websites.

    See the difference for me comes in when we look at WHY does the MSM define men based on how much they earn and base women on how good they look. In my opinion , it is to sell us goods and services. Women right now are “IT”, they are the group of people that everyone advertises to, they are the group that companies try to sell to. Even charities are going that way. Recently I received in the mail a request for funds for Aids research from a charity. Every single reference to victims talked about women as victims and never once mentioned males as victims. They quoted stats such as women being the group that is growing the fastest etc. (of course men are still the majority, but oh well). The Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation is another example. Their recent campaigns have almost entirely focused on women. If this is true this means that of course beauty is going to be a main focus of society, women have always (in recent history anyway) been cherished for their looks so it is ‘natural’ that advertisers and those that live of ads are going to focus on that. BUT you know what women still buy billions of dollars of cosmetics, get billions of dollars of plastic surgery done , so really who is to blame , imho the women themselves.

    But, men are also in this game they too fall for the “must be successful” mantra and spend inordinate hours working and being away from family because after all the MSM has told them they must do so. And men are also to blame for their own downfall.

  4. Birdie-El says:

    David, I have felt the pain of being a loser throughout my life as well, but especially as an adult.

    I think this article has a great message, and if you think about it a little longer, it also shows where feminism failed. Women could have stood up to the message men are fed by society – “If you don’t have a high-power career and tons of cash, you SUCK!” – and said, “Stop the madness!” Instead, they said, “Good idea! Let’s judge women by that metric, too.”

    So now we’re in a recession, and while men lead the unemployed and life-threateningly depressed, women are catching up. Equality? Yeah, in some perverse backwards world where human suffering is prized…

    Great, great article. Where’s the “like” button? = D

    • Wow, first off you guys hit the nail on the head. To add on what David and El said without a doubt, I found my inner critic come out yesterday, after a great night of having fun and going out alone in Philadelphia. I had felt like I was on top of the world the whole night. However, it wasn’t until I got home that I started looking back thinking oh what the hell is going on with my life. I actually was in tears in the morning. Fortunately I had made a hilarious video of me doing karaoke and having fun. So now, whenever I see that critic I will just play the video.

      Now the recession hit me extremely hard, not because I lost a job that was important to me, but because of the fact that I had felt like I had never gotten a chance to even take off, kind of a like an airplane staying grounded not leaving the airport. I had everything packed (26 years of baggage), and the air traffic controller said we’re sorry but we are not going to be able to take off, that means you have to get off the plane and figure out what your gonna do with your shit because its your problem, not ours.

      To this, I say, FUCK THE AIRLINES!

  5. Most of us feel this pain at some point. I certainly do. I was having a great time at South by Southwest, meeting people, having fun, getting ideas, making connections, and my inner critic was screaming at me the whole time, telling me what a loser I am. That sucked, except that I also know that when my inner critic comes out, that means I’m taking risks and growing, so I actually took its presence as a confirmation I was on the right track…and it still sucked to have that bastard yelling at me.

  6. sweetsue says:

    Excellent article. Makes a point that individuals might want to practice a bit of self compassion. Next time the urge to apply a label such as loser etc. to yourself. Take a moment and ask – would you apply this label to someone you loved and respected and cared about – a friend, a parent, your 4 year old son or daughter? What would you say to them? Then why say that to or about yourself?
    No chances are you would tell that individual they may have problems or made an error but they are valuable and worthy of love and respect because of who they are and re-direct them to what makes them special and valuable.

    Why not be as kind to yourself as you are to others? A little self compassion can go a long way to making the world a better place.

  7. So hard to find that space where we compare ourselves to ourselves and what we want, not what we think society wants. Lots of competition set up, lots of places we could say, I need to be more, better, etc.

    Harder to do than to say, but if we can’t find the “enough” in our own self, our self worth, our understanding and compassion to our own beings, we’ve lost everything I think.

  8. I’m not? News to me!

  9. Thanks for the article. I’ve been reflecting on my life lately and feeling a little down about it. I guess life is that ‘Glass of Water’ . Is it half full or half empty? It’s easy to forget our success and focus on the times we ‘came up a little short’ Any way, again, thanks for the article. For me at least, it was very timely.


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