Life’s not a competition.
Life’s not a competition?
“That’s loser talk,” my not-so-much younger self would’ve said. I’m a lifelong athlete who used to throw a tantrum when I lost at Monopoly.
And didn’t Darwin say it’s “survival of the fittest”?
It doesn’t mean being better than anyone or scoring more goals. It’s putting on the best performance I can given my situation so that when my show’s over I feel like I had a blast, others are grateful for it, and my performance continues to echo and inspire.
That way, when the Grim Reaper eventually calls my number to pull me out of the game of life, he’ll give me a high-five and tell me, “Nice job.”
Good things started happening as I started accepting the realization that life isn’t a competition. Now, I’m healthier, wealthier, and more fulfilled than ever.
You could say I’m on a winning streak.
And since life’s not a competition, I have no problem sharing with you my can’t-lose strategies and wishing you, “Good game.”
The Can’t-Lose Strategies to Win at Life
1. Play Games You Can’t Lose
The more authentic you are, the less competition you’re going to have.Naval Ravikant, Naval Podcast
Winning at life is inevitable if I compete in areas where I’m the only one. Business folk call this The Blue Ocean Strategy. But it applies just as well in life.
Easier said than done. The challenge has been first, understanding my unique “jagged profiles” of strengths, weaknesses, interests, and values, then, second, finding where it fits.
What’s easier, I’ve found, is knowing when I’m in the wrong spot.
Because I lose.
If you lose your job, relationship, or your mind, or you feel lost, you’re in the wrong place playing the wrong game.
The right games are those you can’t lose.
Score Fewer Goals
“When you sign up to run a marathon, you don’t want a taxi to take you to the finish line.”Derek Sivers, Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
Goals help set a direction. That’s good. And scoring goals feels fantastic. Yay.
But what do you do after you score?
Shoot for another goal? Then shoot for another and another until I fail, give up, or run out of time?
That doesn’t sound like winning at life.
I prefer this alternative:
- Pick a goal. “I want to run a marathon.”
- Think of the systems, values, and skills needed to reach it. “I need to join a running group, get a coach to improve my stride, and value my long-term health over short-term rewards.”
- Forget the goal and do step two for the fun of it. “I’ve come to love getting outside and going for runs and how my body feels afterward.”
Do what you want to do, not what you want the results of. Odds are you’ll score by accident. Either that or, like me, you’ll stumble into playing different games you’d hadn’t previously considered.
The best way I’ve found to set and pursue the right goals “for the fun of it” has been having a personal mission statement.
Shoot for What You Can’t Beat People At
I’ve learned that values, not goals, are the best way to set my direction and keep score in life.
Avoid competitive values.
Shooting for values that are measured relative to others like popularity, image, power, acceptance, and respect is a loser move.
Nobody can win forever if they keep score that way.
Shoot for values you don’t need to beat anyone to attain.
Here are some values recommended by Abraham Maslow, the famed hierarchy of needs creator who dedicated his life to figuring out how to achieve “self-actualization” and “transcendence”:
- Perfection. Struggle to master.
- Justice. Make it right.
- Simplicity. Get to the essence of things.
- Truth. Stay open-minded and curious.
- Uniqueness. Be your best possible self.
- Playfulness. You can’t win at life without playing.
Pick one or two
Given my blog is called The Unconventional Route, you can probably guess which value I’m shooting toward.
Suck It Up and Keep Swinging
The game of life is like playing golf on a par infinity hole.
Given your circumstances, you try to pick the right club from your bag, aim as best you can, and swing.
Once the ball’s in the air, it’s out of our control. If a sudden gust of wind carries your otherwise perfect shot into a bunker, boohoo. If a crocodile emerges from the water hazard and sits on your ball, too bad for you.
Whatever happens, I have to suck it up and play the ball as it lies.
Moaning, “Why did this happen?” doesn’t help. All I can do ask myself, “What can I do about it?” Then pick a club and keep swinging.
Not everything’s our fault, but everything’s our responsibility.
Beat Competition with Cooperation
We can accomplish more by teaming up to take on bigger challenges and helping each other find and fix our weaknesses.
But don’t we need competition for motivation?
Nah. Using competition for motivation is like swinging a bat at a beehive and running for it in order to get exercise. It’s dangerous and gets you going for the wrong reasons.
More rewarding (and less dangerous) motivation comes from finding a calling that ignites a “rage to master” under my ass.
For me, that comes from writing to try to convince other people to break from the ruts of their routines and get on their own unconventional routes. I don’t need to compete with anyone at it, never need external motivation to do it, and am always eager to collaborate with fellow creators who have similar missions.
Attract Respect Rather Than Chase It
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”Lao Tzu
Since living like I can’t lose, it’s mattered less what other people think of me and how they’re doing in their game. My mistakes aren’t embarrassing, but useful lessons, and my social anxiety has faded.
This has freed up the energy to be more creative, explore further, and take more risks.
And I’ve noticed a funny thing start to happen as I’ve kept at it. People recognize and respect what I’m doing. This respect is what others who view life as a competition so anxiously chase after. But it comes naturally to those who don’t fight over it.
I’m not saying to completely stop giving a crap about what other people think of you. Only psychopaths have zero social anxiety.
Just worry a lot less.
Focus most of that worry on the one person we tend to give the cold shoulder…
Only Impress One Person
“A healthy feeling of inferiority is not something that comes from comparing oneself to others, but from one’s comparison with one’s self.”Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, The Courage to Be Disliked
To win at life without competing, the one person I’m most concerned with impressing is myself:
Not my present self.
Current Me is too easy to please with ice cream, beer, and bikini pictures on Instagram.
Not my past self.
The problem with the Pinterest wisdom saying, “My only competition is the person I was yesterday,” is that when our win streaks inevitably end, we risk falling down a deep spiral into Loserville.
My future self.
If what I’m doing will make my future self say, “Way to go, Past Me,” I know I’ve done well.
Try this thought exercise:
Imagine you had an Instagram account followed by 1000 future yous from all moments in the future between now and your death. What could you do and then post about to get the most likes?
Play the Long Game
“The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.”Fritjof Nansen
Our most pernicious adversary in the game of life is impatience.
Competing with impatience is slow and boring. It feels better to get quick and easy wins elsewhere. But every time I settle for simple victories, I fall farther behind in the bigger battle for something substantial.
To overcome impatience, I’m doing two things:
First, stop worrying about where I’m at.
As David Epstein writes in his book, Range, “You probably don’t even know where exactly you’re going, so feeling behind doesn’t help.”
Second, worrying about my legacy.
What’s yours? You can edit the story as you go, but you only get one story to tell. Take your time to make it a good one.
The Can’t-Lose Mindset to Win at Life
- Play your own game and make it something you want to do, not what you want the results of.
- Cooperate when possible and forget about the spectators.
- The only person you need to impress is your future self.
- Play the long game to leave a legacy, aiming for values.
- And keep swinging regardless of your situation.
Accept that life’s not a competition, follow these can’t-lose strategies, and you’ll have a great chance of getting a high-five from Death. That’s winning at life.
Thanks to Francisco, Luis, and Blair for their input!