Gaining Control Over Your Life Requires Being Willing to Lose

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Everyone wants a sense of control over their life. Everyone wants a sense of identity; to know who they really are. We all want to feel like life isn’t just tossing us around like we are helpless to make a difference. But with all these things we want so deeply, we also want to win. The overwhelming desire to come out on top in a moment robs us from the ability to be proud of the life we built.

Winning is Easy; It Only Costs Your Soul… and a Testicle

We all praise the virtues of honesty, integrity, and authenticity from the outside. But from the inside, when we are in the moment, these virtues feel more like naivety, gullibility, and vulnerability. Just ask Lance Armstrong.

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If you don’t know yet, (first, welcome out of your coma), Lance Armstrong was once known as the world’s greatest cyclists, winning seven Tour de France titles, until he exposed for doping in 2012. Up until this point, Lance was an icon of perseverance, determination, and “winning.” Now, he has lost almost his entire fan base and has never really been accepted back into the public spotlight.

Lance Armstrong has done several interviews since then, and I recommend listening to this one on Freakonomics. He talks about how he WANTED to be honest, authentic, and clean, but then realized that “everyone was doping” and he was foolish and naive for trying to compete without doing it as well. His story is the perfect example of how the desire to win is a direct conflict with our desire to have agency over our lives.

Today, Lance is a victim of winning. He lost all control over his life, his identity, and his legacy. Of course, this is just one story. It is easy to find a litany of athletes, politicians, and public figures who end their lives with their entire legacy in the trash from decisions to get what they can in the moment. Even if you don’t get caught, the price of winning dominates your life and carries personal consequences like losing relationships, personal health, debt, and your soul.

When It Feels Like Losing

The downside of using Lance Armstrong as an example is that while most people understand it, few relate to it. Not many of us are dealing with the temptations of winning on a global scale. The desire to win and come out on top is something we all have every day, just downsized our own daily situations.

Some deal with the temptation to “win” when it comes to sexual conquest, they want to feel like they are more desired and active than their peers. Others want to appear the most desirable, working to dress and look better than everyone else.

On social media, we often compete to “win” at life in general, always trying to look like we are the happiest and have our shit together more than anyone else #blessed. For others, showing up at work in the nicest car, newest iPhone, and the coolest car is what it means to be king of the hill.

Yes, it hurts our ego and our sense of value when we fall behind in whatever race we chose to enter. But the race itself becomes our master, and all our possible choices vanish away in our constant efforts to get as far ahead as possible.

Being Willing to Lose Means You Have a Choice

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. — African Proverb

Helping others succeed often feels like we are deferring our own success, and working with integrity often feels like we are being taken advantage of. Participating in an honest trade often feels like we are leaving money on the table. Being genuine and authentic in our relationships can feel like we are making ourselves vulnerable for others to hurt us.

Life is full of moments that give us a chance to prove who we are, build a reputation, form relationships, and establish a place for ourselves into a larger community — winning means we have a chance to be on top, to be the one who gets what others don’t, and to feel exceptional, but it also often means leaving others behind, hurting people, and taking more than we need so others must go without.

When choices come our way, they give us a chance to know who we are, what we value, and what we think is truly important. If we look at every choice from a perspective of winning, we never really have a choice. Only those who can walk away, feel some pain, or lose in a moment have a clear mind to chose who they are.

If we aren’t willing to feel hurt, cheated, or humiliated from time to time, then we can’t practice being the best of ourselves. If we treat people based on who they are, then they control our actions. When we treat people based on who we are, or who we want to be, then we are taking control over our identity.

Lose a Moment to Win a Lifetime

I’m not saying we should give up on everything, rather than by being willing to lose at any time we can win at the things that matter to us most. If we value family, then maybe we don’t have to climb the career ladder as fast as we think we do. If we value kindness, then it’s OK to get taken advantage of from time to time. If we value honesty, then we can expect to be exploited.

In the end, if you only practice virtues when they help you win, you don’t have any virtues. If you value something until it hurts you, then you value nothing. If winning is what matters most, then nothing matters to you at all. If losing is not an option, then you are nothing but a slave to the world around you.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? — Matthew 16:26