Life as a Bad Loser

life as a bad loser

I just lost.

Like they tell you to do all through middle school, I’m going to try to get something positive out of the experience. I’m going to write about it, and if you read it, fine. I’m going to think away all the negative emotions, right? I’m going to come out the other side a better person. Whatever.

I’ve always been bad at losing. I cried profusely when my uncle beat me at chess at age seven. My father refused to play Risk with me after our first game threw me into a tantrum … at age ten. I don’t think we’ve played since. Mom used to throw games in my favor so I wouldn’t get angry, and my sister can attest to my jealous winning wrath. I took one too many cards in Mille Bornes (a card game about racing across France) and hid it up under the table so nobody would know. I still lost about as much as I won, but it gave me that little thrill while we were playing. I’ve grown out of cheating to win, but the drive to be at the top hasn’t left; I just know how to dress it up a little better now.

This has actually served me well. A lifetime (fine, only twenty years) of competing against anyone I could justify has driven me to achieve some great things. I’ll spare you the list of my achievements and skip to the good part: when you burn to win, and burn up if you don’t, your incentives for trying hard and pushing the limit are fairly egocentric. Put simply, I want to win because it’s going to make me feel good.

No, Joel, you’re lying to them. Try again.

I want to win because then I won’t feel bad.

And that’s a problem.

As it turns out, it’s a problem in pretty much every arena of life. I can smile and say I’m happy for my friends until my face looks like the Joker and my voice is hoarse; I still won’t mean it, and my eyes will still betray me. If I win all the blue ribbons I can in my dances, I’ll still wonder where I would have placed if I’d been dancing one level up.

I want to win at gardening. I want to win at learning Swahili. I want to win at growing bonsai trees. Have I ever done that? Hell, no. It would take too long, and I could be winning thousands of other things in the meantime. Obviously I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but hyperbole or no, this is an accurate depiction of how I experience everyday life.

Wouldn’t it be better if I you could just get over the whole winning thing, Joel? Then you could just dance for the art of it, learn for the knowledge of it, and compete for the … what of it?

Yeah, probably. Am I going to change? Yeah, probably not.

Or at least not on a timescale you’re likely to notice. The seeds of change are there, and acknowledging their existence (yet again) is the first step towards growth.

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