Not everything is a contest, but you can always be a winner. Here’s how.
We live in a very competitive world, perhaps even more so here in the United States where we’ve managed to turn weight loss, dating, and apprenticeships into game shows. “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” are words that many take to heart, and as a result they complicate their lives with unnecessary stress and disappointment.
A competitive nature can be a great asset but it can also be a liability, particularly when one finds himself turning everyday life into a contest. Some things you just can’t win, or can you? Here are six examples where reframing what “winning” means keeps things in perspective.
Why you can’t win: No matter how many cars you whip around, how many lanes you zigzag through, how many bumpers you ride and slowpokes you flip off, there’s no checkered flag waiting for you at the end of your commute. You’re just going to work (or the store or to pick up your kids), just like the rest of us. Why are you risking your life and endangering mine by driving like a maniac? Do you get to work and raise your arms and scream, “Hooray! I won driving today”?
How you can win: Relax. Enjoy the drive. Listen to some music and decompress. Wave that person over who is trying to merge: one extra car length isn’t the difference between “late” and “on time.” You’ll get where you’re going much more relaxed, and you’ll save a little gas by easing off the pedal.
Why you can’t win: Picking a significant other based on his or her looks, celebrity, money, connections, etc. may be thrilling in the short term. You might be the envy of your friends and feel like you’ve won dating, but eventually the superficial stuff wears thin and then where will you be?
How you can win: Get past all that silliness. Find a partner with whom you share common interests and goals, someone with whom you enjoy speaking. You’re looking for a best friend, not a trophy.
Why you can’t win: “What’s your baby doing? My Caleb is 11 months now, and he’s working on his first novel.” New parents are the worst about this, mostly I think because we’re concerned about our child’s development. Why isn’t my kid crawling yet when that kid over there is walking? Why can’t Tommy talk yet and Suzie over there is playing Charlie Rose with her stuffed animals? The answer is simple: kids develop at different speeds.
How you can win: Accept the fact that little Timmy won’t someday be crawling to a corporate meeting in his three piece suit. He’ll walk when he’s ready. Enjoy your kids for who they are, not how they measure up to others.
Why you can’t win: Have you ever taken a promotion because you thought you were supposed to rather than because you wanted to? We’re all supposed to be climbing the ladder all the time, right? If you aren’t climbing you’re failing.
But what if you really like your job? Are you failing because you’re finally in the spot you’ve always wanted to be and you don’t want to move up anymore?
And what if you feel compelled to keep climbing? Virtually all organizations are shaped like a pyramid. Where are you going to go when you’re finally at the top?
How you can win: Be honest with yourself. What are your goals, not the goals that you think you’re supposed to have? What do you enjoy doing? Win by finding the job that satisfies you, not the title that outranks your buddies.
Why you can’t win: This may be the most pressing problem of our era, as it contributes to so many other significant problems. A recent Oxfam report asserts that 85 people on the planet hold as much wealth as half of the Earth’s population. That is a staggering statistic, and should be all the evidence that you need that you’ll never win the money game, even if you’re a member of the much-maligned one percent.
But even down here in the trenches where most of us live, chasing money is a losing proposition. Going into debt to keep up with the Joneses has never made anybody happy.
How you can win: How much do you need? The answer is different for everyone, but be honest with yourself. Figure it out, target it, and be happy when you get there.
6. A Super Bowl/Oscar/Olympic Gold Medal:
Why you can’t win: Look, you might. Those rags to riches stories are what keep us coming back. I love underdog stories, I really do, but the overwhelming majority of us will never win Olympic gold. It’s simple math.
And it’s a little bit of genetics, too. No matter how hard I train, I’ll never be an elite athlete. If my focus is solely on the gold, I’m setting myself up for bitterness and disappointment.
How you can win: Do you enjoy running, cycling, acting, whatever? Go do it. Enjoy it for the sake of enjoying it. Enter a 5k. Compete against your time from your last 5k. Get involved in a local theater company. Follow your passions because they’re your passions. That’s the real reward.
Life is not a competition. When you work, find satisfaction in what you’re doing. When you play, enjoy the game. Stretch yourself but set realistic, meaningful goals. Stop comparing yourself to others, and you can win most everything. Except driving. Seriously, get off my bumper.