Winning and Losing Is Everywhere
Most of us grow up in this world in a culture where the idea of winning and losing is omnipresent. Movies often celebrate the victory of the good over the evil. We cheer for our teams in sports when they win. We strive to get better grades in school and outsmart each other. We aim to get admitted to the best universities and find jobs in the best companies to one-up our peers.
Add to this the constant stream of news and media which only seems to focus on big wins or failure. No wonder most of us grow up believing that winning is what we should aim for, and that is what will give us true joy and happiness.
We are so obsessed with winning that we try to see everything in our lives as a game that we have to win. So our career becomes a game, which restaurant we go to dinner becomes a game, which schools our kids go to becomes a game, how big a house to buy becomes a game, and so on.
We take great pleasure and stoke our egos whenever we outsmart our peers in such “games” of everyday life. Winning in friends and family circles could mean having the latest gadgets, drinking the most beers, or some other weird definition of a “game“. But no matter how you see it, winning and losing is everywhere.
How Much Can You Win Anyways? And Is It All Worth It?
Winning is rare though because if everyone is playing games in different areas of life, there can be only so many winners. And even those who “win” the big games of life, happiness often remains elusive. I have seen people win big in sports, career, or friends and yet end up feeling empty, meaningless, and drained.
Have you ever felt something similar? Like you feel nothing after you get what you have been working towards all this while. If I reflect on my life I can certainly see some such empty victories. Acing an exam in my high school, nailing a job interview, getting promoted ahead of others, buying a house, finishing many an important work project are some which come to mind. Even though I might have celebrated after each of these “victories“, it never led to long term happiness or joy.
What Causes Real Joy and Satisfaction?
Yet there are moments in my life when I have felt true joy and a deep sense of satisfaction, irrespective of whether I have found victory in the end or not. There have been moments when I have felt completely exhausted and confused, and yet, felt surprisingly alive and content. For example – the 2.5 years I spent working on my startup SaleRaja was immensely satisfying despite it not being a commercial success. Similarly, I still remember the hard work I did during the first few years of my working career in 99acres as immensely joyful despite there being a mix of failures and successes.
In the last 5 years, I have spent countless hours roaming the streets of Amsterdam photographing the city without any intention of achieving an objective or a goal. These long hours of walking have given me tremendous joy and satisfaction as I learned a lot, despite it being physically painful on many occasions. I will never forget the 2 hours I walked in Amsterdam in -8 degree Celcius weather in Feb 2018. Despite the tremendous discomfort of the bone-chilling cold, I still look at the photos I took that day with pride and joy.
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”
― Thomas Paine
If Winning Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then What Does?
Over the years, I have realized that it is never just winning that makes us happy. It is always overcoming obstacles while going through a period of struggle or discomfort which leaves us feeling joyful and satisfied. Research has also shown that we are at our most blissful state when we are up against a difficult challenge.
When we push our boundaries and focus completely on learning from setbacks encountered, we get into a state of “flow“. Being in this state enhances our ability to focus, and is characterized by the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. In other words, we enjoy the most when we are swept away and lose track of time while working on a hard challenge.
If you reflect back on your life and think of moments where you grew dramatically, either in one specific skill or as a person, you will recognize that the growth came out of a situation where you overcame something challenging. It would be a period where you got a bit roughed up and took a few blows, but yet persisted and eventually made it through.
And when you came out on the other side, you were a different / better person. You grew not just in your abilities or skills, but also in your confidence and wisdom. If you have had such an experience you know what living to its fullest really means.
It’s Not What You Get. It’s What You Become
I must add that the joy or the bliss of the state of flow comes not from the challenge of winning, but from the challenge of doing what is hard but at the same time worthwhile. So stop tackling challenges that are too easy. Pick up a project or a game which you are excited about, and one which will be challenging for you. Then work hard and push yourself to the limits of your abilities.
You might feel frustrated, tired, and confused at times, and yet you will notice being completely alive. The end result is immaterial to this joy I am talking about. It is more about playing and loving the process that brings us joy.
The best outcome of success when you go through a dignified struggle is never what you get out of it. The best outcome of going through such a challenge is what you become out of it. The medal, the bonus, and the adrenaline rush at the podium often go away in a fleeting moment. But your enhanced skills, abilities, and confidence will stay with you for the rest of your lives. And not just that, it will get compounded as you play more big games in the future.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
― George Bernard Shaw
This is Why We Admire The Underdogs
Going after a hard but meaningful goal, even with struggles on the way, is the reason we admire people who have gone through difficult challenges and overcome them in their personal or professional lives. It is the reason we rejoice when we see our favorite player or team come from behind and win a game. It is the reason we root for those who get knocks on their flesh and bones in sports and still carry on.
It is the reason we remember those players who have had short careers but were full of challenges and who came out bruised on the other side. It is the reason we cheer and cry for firefighters and police officers who die on the job rescuing or saving someone else.
So What Can You Do?
If you are playing too safe or lacking meaning and joy in your life, you know what to do. Your big game is out there waiting for you. You just need to embrace the challenge and go after a problem that would be worth dedicating your time and effort. It might not be easy, it might even be scary and challenging, but the process of overcoming those challenges is exactly what will make it worthwhile and leave you with true joy and fascination. It is never too late to start playing.
I will end with a question.
What in your life is “on hold”? What have you been waiting for?