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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