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Winners Vs Losers – You Can’t “Win” Life

Posted by Fred Tracy September 20th, 2011 35 Comments

Karma - League of Legends

Note: This is the third installment in my series about how life is not a video game. Here are the links to part 1part 2, and part 4.

As a kid I can remember spending many summers with one of my mom’s friends. She had a big house and her grandkids would come over every summer to hang out with me. One particular summer we had a video game that everyone would sit around and play.

Now, I wasn’t quite as skillful back then as I am now. Because we were all different ages, we all possessed different game-playing abilities. And so that corresponded to our characters being different levels in the game. Being one of the youngest, I ended up with one of the lowest level characters, meaning they were technically “winning” at the game.

However, the child version of me would have none of this. I can remember nefariously staying up late when everyone else was asleep just to get a few levels ahead of everyone else. Everyone would wake up the next morning and find my character once again at the top of the pack. I can believe that I beamed with pride.

I actually did this so much that it  prompted one of them (who was jealous, no doubt) to say, “You really can’t stand to not be the best at something, can you?”

And at least back then, the answer was no. I absolutely had to be the best. My young, fragile ego simply could not handle being anything but the best at that stupid video game. Worse yet, I carried that “winning” mentality to real life (hey Charlie Sheen).

Like most people around me, I viewed everything is a competition. I thought I  had to win at all costs, and if I didn’t, then I was nothing. furthermore, this carried over to my activities. What was the point of doing anything if I couldn’t beat someone at it?

Of course, as it turns out, this is a pretty absurd notion. And this is just one more way in which life is not exactly a video game.

Competition Is Central to Video Games

Here is a key truth: competition is inherent in most video games. And while you could feasibly play a competitive game like Call of Duty in a purely cooperative way, there wouldn’t actually be any point. The entire goal of your first person shooter existence is to annihilate all of your enemies in the most gory and entertaining way possible. Even if you’re playing a team game – and let’s be honest, people still don’t cooperate in those – you’re still competing against the other team.

In fact, the only game I’ve ever played where there wasn’t any competition, even against NPCs, was a Barney the Dinosaur game I got for my Sega Genesis when I was little kid. It had four “action-packed” levels in which the goal was to make Barney blow as many kisses to as many cute furry animals as possible. In other words – laaaaaaaaame.

Part of the reason why the game sucked was because there wasn’t any tension. There was nothing to do or achieve, unless pacifying pixilated critters with dinosaur kisses ranks high on your to-do list.

On the other hand, part of the reason why life sucks (for some) is because it’s ALL tension. Many people know nothing but achieving and doing, and this is due simply to their misguided belief systems.

Let me explain.

Winning and Losing Is Just a Mindset

First of all, you can’t have winning without losing and vice versa. It’s one of those duality things where one relies on the other. If you believe there are “winners” then there necessarily are “losers.” And for the most part, there are almost always more losers than winners.

This paradigm is destructive because if you aren’t winning, or even bi-winning, then you’re losing. Living by the Talladega Nights quote “If you ain’t first, you’re last” makes for a neurotic, lonely existence.

The truth is that no one wants to be a loser. And if this is your reality, then anytime you aren’t explicitly winning, you default to loserdom.

Your entire life becomes one big competition to reinforce your sense of (fabled) awesomeness. There is no real joy or cooperation, there is only beating others. Not only is this self-serving and self-destructive, but it’s just plain not effective.

As I mentioned in a Twitter update, “Competition is a good way to beat other people, but cooperation is a better way to actually get things done.”

So what’s the alternative?

There is No Finish Line

I’m not suggesting that we stop playing competitive games. I suspect that I’ll be pwning n00bz for many years to come. And I’m not really even saying that we should stop competing in real life. What I am saying is that we should not take it so seriously.

Because the truth is, there is no finish line in life. There are literally an infinite number of paths you can take that will lead to an infinite number of destinations. One is not necessarily “better” than the other, and one does not necessarily make you more of a “winner” either. It’s all in your head.

Instead of competing with others, I recommend competing only with yourself. And even then, it’s only a kind of token competition. You’re just seeing where you came from and comparing that to where you’re going in order to develop yourself more fully.

Rather than a destructive competitive pattern creating winners and losers, this paradigm simply creates better versions of people with increased capabilities and joy.

The ability to grow meaningfully without creating negative competition (as opposed to the fun kind) seems to be a uniquely human phenomenon.

Enjoy it. Savor it. Live it.

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35 Responses so far.

  1. David says:

    Good stuff bro. This video game analogy is working well. You are definitely describing “detachment involvement” in this post. I agree that we shouldn’t stop competing or trying, but that doesn’t mean we need to take it seriously.

    There is a big misconception that you have to take something seriously or you aren’t trying hard enough. That’s BS. You can try super hard and then at the end of the day (or in the moment), remember that winning and losing is an illusion.

    • Fred Tracy says:

      Absolutely. it’s a weird vibe to get used to, but I think it’s one of the best things we can do. To be actively involved in life without taking it too seriously is a godsend.

      And when you mentioned trying super hard it reminded me of something. I really like the idea of “working consistently” as opposed to “working hard”. It makes so much more sense to simply put in an effort each day to do something instead of struggling to get it done all at once. I think I’m going to write an article about that soon.

  2. Fred, I noticed there’s an error in the excerpt, HTML is appearing where it shouldn’t be..

  3. Jo says:

    A winning post!

  4. Baker says:

    It truly goes back to the saying and the law of return. What you give out comes back. We live in an energy based universe, what we send out we get back. Nicely done post here. =)

  5. Hi Fred,

    I believe that competition is good for everyone because it brings out the best in us. If everything in this world is not a competition, than many people would not be able to showcase their true abilities. The world will not be able to enjoy all the best from people.

    Having said that, competition if taken to the extreme, can backfire. You are absolutely right when you mention that a me-win-you-lose mentality is not the way to go. This kind of philosophy is a very lacking mentality when in fact you and I know that there is more than enough in the world to go around.

    Like you I advocate a belief of competing with oneself. To always seek that personal best rather than to beat the other person. This reminds me of a success quote which I live by: “Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal.” by Earl Nightingale. As long as we are progressing steady towards our worthy goals, we are achieving our personal best, and that my friend is success.


    • Fred Tracy says:

      Awesome comment. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Competition, like anything else really, has its good aspects and its bad aspects. And much like anything else again, we take it too seriously it tends to turn sour.

      Competing against oneself is such a great tool. It’s one of the best ways to create real progress in our lives. Plus, we avoid landing ourselves square in Compare Country, as someone recently put it. Personally, I hate that place. Awful country.

  6. Hey Fred,
    Great post on the concept of winning and losing. I am a huge NFL fan and I enjoy watching Football on Sunday’s.

    Now I don’t gamble or have anything real at stake but I enjoy it none the less. I enjoy competition but I don’t have the “win at all costs” attitude.

    I agree that cooperation is the future of mankinds existence.

    • Fred Tracy says:

      I don’t watch much football, but staying true to my nerd roots, I sometimes watch e-sports like Starcraft II. I absolutely love the competition there, because (at least to me) it really isn’t a big deal who wins.

      Granted, it’s probably a big deal to progamers who are trying to win huge cash prizes, but that’s their reality. I don’t feel bad for getting at least some amusement from their struggles, although that sounds faintly sinister.

      Ah well. :)

  7. I really like what you are doing with this series. Often video games are seen in a negative light, so it was refreshing to see you pull the positive lessons that can be learned.

    As a kid I was pretty similar in regards to how competitive I was. If there was a pizza and my ninja turtle needed it more than the others, you bet I’d get upset when Donatelllo would steal it for himself.


    • Fred Tracy says:

      Totally. I have a friend who absolutely hates video games and considers them a huge waste time. Actually, come to think of it, I’m going to get her to post on this series.

      As much as I love TMNT, your last sentence totally confused me! :P

  8. Not all video games are competitive. Take Tetris (one of my favorites. I’m not into the whole shoot, kill, maim, rob, slap them bitches sort of thang) for example. It was wildly popular and you basically competed with yourself. But many people see life the way some see video games: if there’s no drama, it’s lame. So that’s what they create in their lives: drama. And tons of it.

    You’ve made such excellent points, Fred, and I agree with all of them. Except the premise that they prove that life is NOT like a video game. I still see the similarities: The need for drama, taking it way too seriously (some people just love to play, while others consider everything life and death), the need for competition (or turning everything into a competition…). How are they different again? ;)

    Loving this series!


    • Fred Tracy says:

      For the record, I have played competitive Tetris.

      Also, I hope you didn’t just explain what Tetris is to me with the assumption that I was one of the uninitiated fools. I started with an Atari practically before I was walking. ;)

      Oh jeez, There really is no pleasing you – lol! Okay, it’s not my fault that some people make life into the video game. But that’s their fault – and life isn’t really like that!

      Life is not a video game! Say it three times with me.

      Hahaha, I hope you’ll write about intuitive genetics and such soon. God, that sounds like you need a PhD to even comprehend it…

      • Oh hahaha, Fred. I wasn’t explaining Tetris to you. I was simply pointing out that it wasn’t competitive, but people liked it anyway. Of course, I should’ve counted on the fact that some gamers would come up with a way to compete against each other. But just competing for points isn’t really the same… were you shoving game pieces in each other’s way? ;)

        Intuitive genetics??? Jesus. I wouldn’t even know where to start…

        • Fred Tracy says:

          Lol, no, but that sounds awesome. I’d love to play hardcore wrestling-style Tetris!

          Yeah, scratch the intuitive genetics idea. It gives me the willies just to think of it.

  9. Ronnie says:

    Love it, Fred. Good stuff. I’m digging this series of posts because I can totally relate to video games and competition, lol. Been a Halo fan since its inception (don’t laugh).

    • Fred Tracy says:

      Oh god.. Halo.

      I mean, Halo is cool, when you’re like.. 13.

      It’s all about Call of Duty now, man. ;)

      Haha take it easy!

  10. Adrienne says:

    Great post Fred,

    I’ve never been a video game person or a competitive person for that matter but I will agree with Jimmy on this one.

    I think at times competitions are good for helping people strive to be better. Some people need that to keep the juices flowing and make them feel worthy. But too much of that can turn nasty if your ego is always in the way.

    I don’t look at things as a competition because I do believe that there is enough to go around for everyone. Okay so if I was playing the lottery, that might be a different story, but you get my point.

    Life is just about being the best you can be. In the end, you are the only one who has to be happy with the outcome. If you are doing it just to please someone else then you are in this for the wrong reasons.

    • Fred Tracy says:

      Hey Adrienne, thanks for stopping by.

      Haha yeah, I absolutely agree – in all cases but, as you said, the lottery. I’d totally compete for that one. ;)

      And there is never any reason to be too concerned about other people’s opinions. After all, at the end of the day, the only person we really have to live with is ourselves. And because of the very nature of our species, no one is going to care as much about our lives as we do.

      I think a healthy self-interest and a fun five with competition is absolutely essential to being a functioning, cooperating human being. It’s a balancing act, really.

      Take it easy.

  11. Jayne Kopp says:

    Phwew, what a fantastic post! I love it. I loved the way you used the Law of Polarity. ie; winning vs. losing. kinda like up. vs. down.

    I also enjoyed the Talledega Nights (spelling?) – my other half and my son are Nascar fans. We have had that DVD play more than once or twice.

    Most of all though I love that there is no finish line. Truth is there isn’t. We do need to do the best we can, but we need to enjoy.

    competing and striving is great but it should be something we like doing, not something we have an obsession with.

    It’s a tough go sometimes. I’m not much for competing with others, but I am one for pushing myself a little more than what might be right.

    I wrote a post a while back on the sunscreen essay. It can be found on my blog. Its so awesome Fred, if you get the chance to read it, just do the search thingy.

    Thanks ever so much for a powerful read.



    • Fred Tracy says:

      I will definitely check that out.

      I know what you mean about competing with yourself a little too hard. I’ve been known to give myself a swift kick in the ass from time to time, although I’m much nicer to me these days.

      I jokingly tell friends that I’m “working” when I’m doing my website stuff (although I suppose you could classify it as that, but it’s fun!) and I always say my boss (me) is being a total jerk and won’t let me coming out until I finish an article. Which is true, or at least it would be if I were schizophrenic.

      Thanks for all the nice words, and I actually just saw that movie recently. It’s hilarious!

  12. I totally agree with you…This mindset applies a lot in professional sports. Often times athletes get very competitive (but to the point where it’s not healthy for the human mind). This is how people get dissatisfied in life.

    Your philosophy reminds me of Zappos CEO. I was watching an interview on YouTube and he mentioned how he built his company without paying too much attention to the competition. He was just paying attention to being the best everyday and everything fell in place.

    Hope you are having a great weekend..


    • Fred Tracy says:

      Absolutely, Nabil. It’s okay to have a little competition, but if we pay too much attention to it we go crazy. And besides, when just starting out in a field, before looking at all the successful people around us we may get incredibly discouraged. Of course, that may also encourage us instead, but that’s providing that we don’t take competing with them very seriously.

      We should just do our best day by day, as the CEO mentioned.

      I’m having a wonderful weekend. Same to you.

  13. Sol says:

    You might say life is not a video game.
    You may see it’s not about the destination, but the journey.
    You may also say, if so inclined, that we are mainly competing with ourselves.

    Still, we won’t stop climbing the imaginary ladder of success for some time. Happiness equals coloured paper, or so some say.

    • Fred Tracy says:

      Maybe to the uninitiated.

      I do agree that imaginary happiness is augmented by colored paper.

      But real, authentic, never ending happiness has no prerequisites. Colored paper may come and go – as will other things – but the changes we make in our very consciousness are permanent and life-changing.

      Sol, your comment was quite unique. I like it. It’s the kind of stuff that starts good debates.

  14. Lena says:

    Neale Donald Walsh quote from his latest “God Wants You To Know” newsletter: “If you think you have nothing to lose, you win. If you think you have something to win, you lose…Don’t do things for personal benefit. And don’t do things
    to avoid personal damage. Do things to feel personal
    authenticity. Then your life will make sense, no matter what is going on around you.” Thought you might like that, Fred.

    I recently gained an understanding that my primary motivation for doing my work was to help people see who they truly are. No matter if you are winning or loosing, you can always be in the process of realizing who you are.

    • Fred Tracy says:

      This is true, Lena. And I did enjoy that quote.

      Winning and losing are just two sides of the same coin. They’re part of a duality of silliness. Living by that code is just foolishness.

      That’s awesome that you’re finding your purpose. That’s something that is so important to do. Without it, all the money in the world or all the fame in the world is simply meaningless.

      Take care.

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