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Aim to Lose

That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning.

Richard Bach

Everyone always wants to win.  I’m not sure if it’s just a natural human thing to want to win, or if it’s bred into us through our parents, school, the work force and society as a whole, but in any case it’s true.  We all want to win.

So when we do something, we aim to win.  If you’re playing a game of Tennis, most of us are playing to win.  We play to win in most other matters as well.  We aim to win in a relationship, we aim to win with our health, we aim to win when it comes to our jobs and money.  We aim to win at pretty much anything.  We even aim to win in our friendships; we aim to be the best.
It’s good, to aim to win.  It makes you try harder and expect success, something I think is very important when it comes to life.  You need to expect yourself to ‘win’– that is, to succeed in order to do so.  Those who think they will fail most often will.  It’s a type of self-fulfilling prophecy that way.

But I’m getting off point.  I’m talking about aiming to win and aiming to lose.

Aiming to win is good, but there’s a problem with winning that most of us don’t realize. It’s that winning is usually synonymous with stagnation.  If you win in a match of Tennis, you’re clearly better than your opponent.  You don’t need to improve, because what you’re doing is better than what your opponent is doing.  There’s no need for improvement because you already won.

But, in Tennis, sometimes you lose.  Sometimes you go up against someone with more experience, more passion, more of a drive to win and they beat you.  Sometimes they blow you out of the water right after you did the same to someone else.  It can be a big wake up call.  Usually when you lose, and especially when you lose badly it brings your attention to the faults in your game– the mistakes that you’re making.  It makes you realize that there’s room for improvement and that if you want to win you’re going to need to take the steps in order to make those improvements.

Now imagine, if you will, if you won every game of Tennis you ever played.  Imagine that no matter who challenged you at Tennis, you knew without a doubt that you would win.  That it wasn’t even a question you were going to win– it wasn’t a competition.  When someone asked you if you wanted to play Tennis, in your mind that translated to: ‘Would you like to beat me in Tennis?’

How long would you play Tennis for, realistically?  You would have fun beating people at first, but when you realized that literally no one on the planet would cause you to lose, would you keep playing?  Probably not.  You wouldn’t try to be better at Tennis either, because there was no need.  You already win all the time so why would you bother improving?  To win by a bigger margin?  No, probably not.

And even if that did motivate you, eventually you would become so good that you wouldn’t let your opponents get a point in and you would reach the same stagnation point that I’m talking about.

My point is that by winning all the time, you really lose.  You fail to improve because you don’t need to.

I used Tennis as an example because it’s easy, but the truth is that this winning and losing formula applies to practically everything in life.  Almost everything can be broken down to winning or losing.

And, as I said, we all aim to win.  It’s good to aim to win sometimes.  Unfortunately we eventually start to expect to win, and (Here’s the important bit.) we get upset when we lose.  We’re all taught from a very early age that losing is bad.  Think of the term ‘loser’.  You call people you don’t respect, those who you think are not up to snuff with you or even society ‘losers’ or ‘failures’.  It just has a negative connotation to it.

But losing is good.  It makes you grow and learn.  It forces you to deal with your inadequacies and grow from your failures.  If you never failed, you’d never improve.  If you never lost, you wouldn’t know what to improve in order to win, or to get better.

Taking the metaphor from Tennis, let’s bring it to something more important like space exploration.  Space exploration is not invested in very highly because those who make the investments don’t usually see very much return on those investments.  In short, they lose every time they invest.  As such, they avoid losing because they think that losing is bad.

But when you really sit down and think about it, there is potentially an infinite bank of knowledge to be discovered by exploring the cosmos and devoting our resources to that.  Couple that with the fact that several leading experts think that we are very rapidly destroying the planet we’re on, and you realize that in very short order (In terms of the life of the planet, anyway.) the human race is going to have to abandon the Earth and find another place to live.  And the only way we’re going to manage that is if we invest a whole lot of money into space exploration and the technology to do so, so that when the time comes we’re prepared to do what is necessary.

Except we don’t.  We want to avoid losing so we don’t improve or investigate.  We just leave the forum of space exploration altogether and put our dollars where they’ll win.

Bringing it back to a personal level, people do this all the time.  If you’re in a relationship that is having problems because of something that you’re doing, you may not want to accept that fact that you’re failing (Or, put another way, losing.) and so instead of addressing these problems you leave the relationship, blame the other person and go about your merry way, never changing or improving at all.

Billions of people have spent their entire life this way, and it’s a waste.  We get maybe a hundred years to live out, which is astronomically tiny when compared with the whole of time.  And in that time it’s up to us to make the most of what we do and who we are.

And how do you improve?  You lose.  Because every time you lose, you learn something that helps you improve.  You become better.  Every time you lose, you win.

So aim to lose.  You’ll be all the better for it.

2 Responses to “Aim to Lose”

  1. [...] you now have the experience to do better next time. That experience only comes from losing. (See: Aim to Lose | Implicate Evolution) You attain a better life through persistence, not through being a prodigy and succeeding at [...]

  2. Nicole Wray says:

    I listened to J.K. Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard the other day & this part stuck out:

    ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’

    • Tom says:

      That’s a great quote. Failure is such a huge sticking point for me, and for most others. We’re taught so vehemently to avoid failure that it becomes terrifying whenever you’re faced with it. I always appreciate when those in the public light take the time to speak on the benefits of failure– the necessity of it in order to succeed. I think it’s one of the most valuable lessons that can be learned.

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