We love competition. There is something so human about measuring a win. Life, we perceive, is about two kinds of people – winners and losers. What does it mean to win? How do I make sure I’m on the winning side of life?
Everything about life points toward winning. Politics, sports, social dynamics. We can’t help but measure ourselves.
It might seem like a good idea to stop trying to win. But that is a bit like asking a fish to breathe with lungs. For better and worse, the desire to win is a part of what it means to be human. The problem is not with this desire. The problem is our poor understanding of what it means to win.
The wisdom of the world is insistent about winning. It says that winning is about being better than others. Having more stuff. Being more liked or at least more recognized. We measure winning by money, fame, and power.
We have created these podiums so that we can measure our progress in life. We can measure our value, our usefulness. Our worth. It makes a lot of sense practically. It is like a race where everyone knows the rules. The winners are the ones who figure it out the best.
The biggest flaw in this is found with the victors. Wealth and fame and power don’t really seem like a prize. Divorces, addictions, and an ironic sense of loneliness accompany these pursuits. How can we call it winning if the medal is a poison?
But all of this is the simplest and easiest way to measure success. Am I better than someone else? Do I have more money? A better title? More followers or name recognition? These things are easy to count. They also make an enemy out of one another, even the ones we love the most (sometimes especially them). We need an antagonist. The success of others knocks us down a wrung.
And so, we ruin relationships in the pursuit of more stuff. We believe, deep down, it is worth it to win. We will compromise character to get ahead. We will work enough hours to estrange our relationships if it means winning. The end justifies the means.
A Better Way
There is another way to measure success. There is a part of all of us that knows it and sense it. The only problem is it is harder. Messier. More mysterious.
Winning at life is not about what we accumulate. It is about who we are. No good father says about his son, I hope he has a helicopter when he grows up. We want to be loving husbands, wise discerners, compassionate members of community.
This longing in us is clear in society. We try to dress up commercial success to look like character success. We try to blur the line separating the two in order to silence the chilling suggestion that life is really about our character rather than our stuff.
Winning at life is about developing character and exercising our choices. Our vision should be centered around the purpose of character. Our dreams should be about expressing our character. We win by learning and becoming the truest and best version of ourselves.
In order to win, we have to let go of our bad definitions of success. It will derail us. It sets us on a trajectory that, inevitably, will diverge from the truth. The truth of who we are. The truth of what we want. And the truth about what it means to win.