Human beings are a competitive bunch. We want to be HASHTAG WINNING at life. We want to be the BEST and the RICHEST and the BEST LOOKING and WIN EVERY ARGUMENT and have the CUTEST ANIMALS AS PETS HAVE YOU EVEN SEEN FLUFFY I MEAN JUST LOOK AT HER.
We want to win so badly, in fact, that we spend a lot of time trying to win at things that won’t actually bring us happiness even if we were to win.
We stay in jobs we don’t like chasing a raise. We try to win arguments even if it means destroying a relationship. Some people take up creative pursuits because they think it will bring them riches and fame even though they don’t even like writing that much in the first place.
I’ve seen people work themselves to the bone, getting promotion after promotion, only to wake up one day and see that their life was in tatters and the carrot they were chasing wasn’t something they even really wanted. I’ve seen people get multi-book deals only to realize, after the euphoria of the deal wears off (as it inevitably does), that they didn’t even really like writing that much.
They got so caught up in winning for winning’s sake they didn’t even realize they were playing the wrong game.
No doubt, winning is fun! Accomplishments make life worth living. And, apologies to the Notorious B.I.G. (RIP), but having mo’ money is easier than having less.
But the joy of winning is fleeting, and there are lots of pursuits you can throw yourself into. The job you’re in is not the only one that will offer a promotion as a carrot. Your side project isn’t the only hobby you can have.
So how do you know you’re in the wrong game? You know it when you’re busy playing the “if only” game:
If only I get a raise, then I’ll be happy.
If only I get a promotion, then I’ll be happy.
If only I could get a little more work experience, then I’ll go get the job I want to have and then I’ll be happy.
If only my significant other would agree to marry me, then I’ll be happy.
If only I could get an agent, then I’ll be happy.
The game you’re meant to be playing will make you happy even if you don’t win it. You’ll genuinely be in it for the love of the game.
And then, after a ton of hard work, when you are hashtag winning at the game you are meant to be playing, victory is very sweet indeed.
Footnote: I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! More info here. And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: The Trickster by Zacharie Noterman
JOHN T. SHEA says
Speak for yourself! I NEVER want to win arguments! That's complete nonsense! Oh, wait…
But seriously, a very good post. And the sweetest victory of all would be to be happy for no particular reason, so that any other victory would be a bonus rather than a necessity.
You've seen people get multi book deals, only to realize they didn't even like to write?!?! You're kidding me.
Terin Miller says
I met you several years ago at the San Miguel Writers’ Conference. You impressed me then, and now you do so even more. Like you, I believe true success eludes those who chase it. For 40 years, I had “a day job”. I did not dislike teaching but I would have rather been writing and painting. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for my years at the college because I met thousands of wonderful people. And the pension I earned allows me write and paint every day for the rest of my life. Hopefully I will have 40 more years (I’ll only be 104 and my aunt painted until she was 100) But if I don’t have that long, I’ll still feel fortunate to now be doing what I love.
Interesting post, Nathan, that I think is true in many ways. Why is that, I wonder? I mean, why do human beings need to be best or first? Often, the real win is when we allow the other person to feel good about themselves – even at our own expense. In spiritual terms this is known as crucifying the ego and is said to indicate a state of awareness that not only brings peace and happiness but is a step up the evolutionary ladder.
I'm only quoting what I've read here. I don't claim to be such a person. But it's something to keep in mind. 🙂
JOHN T. SHEA says
Excuse a bit of Gestalt, but I have to be careful of competition between parts of my own personality, and I'd say I'm far from alone in that. My inner critic condemns my inner writer for laziness but then condemns whatever he writes! Inner critics love setting up double binds and no-win situations.
I am not a competitive person. Not even with myself. I just want to hang out with my kid and husband and my dog and also eat good food and sometimes go cool places and get to do that through writing. And I like writing.
Kasper Eagan says
It's an interesting post, Nathan, but my opinion is this: every living person should have a dream. And having a dream(whatever it is) don't mean that you should reach it by all means. But if you really strived to reach it, at the end of the road you may say "At least I've tried". I think that's the point of "playing the game".
I know a bunch of people who like to play board games, but they upset too easily and become moody if they're not winning. Winning is nice, but if you're not having fun, what's the point? I've won games where I didn't have fun at all, but other than that, I don't remember the details. Yet, I have fond memories of having fun playing games that I didn't win. My kids are little, so I always tell them that the most important part of playing a game is having fun. You're right. Not only is it a good rule for how you spend your free time, it is also a good rule for life.