I’m a competitive guy. Sort of. I like to be right. I like to win. I hope I’m a gracious winner. I get excited when I perform well, and I like to tell people about it. But I hope it doesn’t come off too much as bragging. I think there’s a difference between being proud of doing well and being boastful. I know I don’t always ride that line well. I try to make sure I recognize all of the luck and privilege that go into success, along with the hard work.
I like to think I’m a decent loser. For things like grants and papers, well, I know that my work isn’t always the best work, or the most important. Sometimes I try to wedge my work into funding opportunities that it’s not right for, and thus it’s unsurprising when I don’t get funded. For things like sports, well, I’m not gifted. I lose most of the time, and I’m used to it. And it’s ok.
So when I say competitive, often what I really mean is ambitious. With running, for example: I will never win a race. Never one, not in my whole life. It’s doubtful I’ll ever finish in the top half of a half-marathon field. But I’m still ambitious. I want to do better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today. I like progress. But that progress isn’t inevitable. Not even with hard work. In fact, it is eventually impossible. I will age, I may be injured. One day I’ll run my fastest race and that will be the fastest ever.
And I’m ok with that too. I always used to think the participation medal was kind of bullshit. But boy do I treasure the three finisher medals I have from my half-marathons. I suppose as long as the real winners are given a better award, it’s ok to reward us with something to hang on the wall.
There are a lot of maxims about competition as metaphors for life. And I’m glad that some people find inspiration in them. “It’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you get back up.” “I’ve failed over and over, that’s why I’ve succeeded.” I have in the past found such sentiments inspiring. These days, not so much. Sometimes for me, staying down is the right thing to do. Sometimes for me, failing over and over means it’s time to quit and find something else to do.
I’m moving away from framing life as a matter of winning and losing. I don’t want my self-image to be predicated on successes over which I often have little control. I’m trying to frame my life around experiences. Things I’ve tried, successfully or not. People I know. Places I’ve explored. Successes and failures and all of that. I’m here. I try to do the things that allow me to feel like I’m doing right by the opportunities I’ve been given. I try to do the things that allow me to keep doing things.
I look around this world and I see marvelous things. And I see miserable things. And I’ve participated in both. Such is life, for me. I don’t need to win at life. I don’t want to play life as a sport, or a game. I just want to be here for a while.