Winning used to mean everything to me.
I was brought up in a household where if I wasn’t the best in my class, I wasn’t anything. I went to school with kids who would literally tear one another’s faces off over a football score.
I live in a country that was so big on ‘winning’ that it enslaved half the world.
The creative industry I work in is reminiscent of Game of Thrones for all the backstabbing, politics, sycophants and uneasy alliances it’s filled with. From all of that I take this very important lesson:
Winning is overrated, and isn’t half as important or beneficial as you think.
Let me tell you, when all I cared about was winning, I was not fun to be around.
All I did was worry about where I ranked next to other people, how every little thing I did would benefit my career, and what people were saying behind my back (even if there was nothing to talk about on account of me being literally the most fucking boring person ever).
I cried a lot, I lashed out a lot and anything that could’ve made me happy – awesome friends, a loving boyfriend, good health, a secure job – paled in comparison to this need to be the best. But here’s the thing:
Competition as you know it is a lie.
It’s a false, ever-hungry god that turns you into a shell of what you could’ve been, what you could’ve had. To me, that’s the height of tragedy. That’s why I’m looking for another way to shape the life I want, and if I can help you do the same? All’s the better.
First, let’s look at why the modern concept of competition is a steaming pile of horseshit…
Common myths about competition
MYTH #1 – It’s about crushing your rivals
Actually, champ, it’s not. ‘Competition’ is derived from the Late Latin word ‘competere’ , which means “to strive in common”. In classical Latin it means “to strive together,”
Are you detecting a theme? That’s right. The emphasis is on cooperation, and working together towards a mutually beneficial goal.
It was only when the French got hold of the word sometime in the 14th Century (compere) that the word took on the spiteful, backstabbing connotation we know and love today. Because that’s what the French do (I’m kidding. But only partially because British).
Here’s the thing about focusing on your rivals and how you’re going to take them down – it never ends. As soon as you surpass one person, another pops up who seems to be doing better than you, and another, and another, and another until you’re so burnt out from focusing on other people’s successes that you have no time or energy for your own.
Is this really how you envisioned your life? Sitting there with those green eyes wheeling to and fro, stomach bloated with bile at all that displeases you? Seething at endless reminders that you’ll never, ever truly be Number One?
And you won’t, by the way. Someone younger, better, hotter, more connected and possibly more talented than you will always show up eventually. When that happens, you better be able to look to the other aspects of your life for purpose, or at least be aware that someone right now is looking at you with exactly that shade of green in their eyes.
What to do: Make peace with where you are, where you’re headed and what you need to do in between these two milestones to make it happen.
MYTH #2 – Kind people finish last
Out of all of the myths out there, this one really grinds my gears.
Sadly, in much of the creative industry, I do see this alarming belief that you have to be an asshole diva to have a successful, meaningful career. You have to throw people shade, form up cliques like a bunch of neurotic highschoolers and have Twitter spats on the daily. You have to undercut people, froth-lipped and laughing all the way, #badbitch.
You can’t be kind, because kind people get used. Kind people are stupid. Kind people look weak. Kind people finish last.
You can’t give people your time, your courtesy, your advice, because fuck other people. Other people are the enemy!!! Death to the other people, especially the ones that fucking terrify me, which is EVERYBODY!!
Now, notice I didn’t say nice people finish last.
Why’s that you ask? Easy. Because anyone can be nice.
Even the most toxic, treacherous, narcissistic, out-for-themselves, bullying pile of rectal ooze can be nice from time to time. Even they tend to know that smiling at the right time and making the right ‘I’m-totally-not-bored-of-your-mouth-words-and-mentally-undoing-your-kneecaps-with-a-corkscrew’ noises every minute or so is worth it.
To put it bluntly, there are a LOT of shitty but successful people who get away with murder because they’ve mastered the smoke-and-mirrors art of niceness (also because they play on people’s fears of being ostracised, but that’s another blogpost).
So what makes a kind person, and why do they end up winning in the end?
Well, a kind person, whether they know it or not, tends to live by the mantra that ‘the rising tide lifts all ships’, which ties in neatly to the original definition of competition I spoke about earlier.
The kind person knows that by supporting their peers, helping them succeed, and putting that urge to be the best at all costs aside, that everybody benefits, including them.
The kind person does the right thing whether the world is watching or not. The kind person makes anonymous donations to charities, hands in a mobile phone they found in the Burger King toilets and reports the racist dickhead on the train but doesn’t instantly rush to social media and tell the world about it.
The kind person genuinely celebrates the successes of others and knows that expressing love and encouragement to those around them will always come back, one way or another. The kind person knows that winning is just a small, small fraction of a worthwhile life.
Does the kind person get jealous? Sad? Angry? Feel inadequate? You darn tootin’ they do. They’re still flawed, enjoys-a-good-shit-on-a-Sunday-morning humans, after all. What they don’t do is let all that crap govern their lives, and if they mess up, they put things right.
Basically, the kind person wins in the end because assholes can’t help but drain every drop of goodness out of their life. Eventually they’re left all alone, without a true friend in the world and rightly so. No amount of Twitter followers can defeat karma, matey.
Meanwhile, the kind person, who’s enjoyed a life of meaningful friendships, warmth, honest connections over beers and campfires, selfless love, good deeds, making people happy, being a devoted parent, watching people flourish and feeling ecstatic to know they were part of it, finds themselves paid back tenfold with love, solid friendships, joy, happy memories, a solid support network, and a life they can be proud of.
How do I know? Because I’ve seen it happen time and time again.
MYTH #3 – If I just destroy anyone who stands in my way, I’ll finally be happy
If you’ve just nodded your head while reading that sentence, with no sense of fucking irony, I….well, I don’t even know what to say to you. I think you may actually be one of the saddest people on this planet, and I honestly don’t mean that as an insult. I mean that as a wake-up call that you need help fast, my friend.
I know people who reached the top of their game sometime in their 20s or 30s, often with a whole festering pile of bodies and hearts behind them. All they were about was winning, being the best, and destroying anyone who dared to aspire to those lofty heights. They sneered, insulted, bullied and smear campaigned their way through life, all the while their face and words growing meaner and meaner.
Fast forward a decade or two, and what do you think those people have now?
Money? A fair whack, yes.
They also have a legion of enemies that laugh at their every stumble, simpering yes-men, people who will never fucking work with them again on account of them being a nightmare, constant fear of being abandoned, broken relationships, health problems, a constant gnawing anxiety in their gut, a pitiful need for attention and a future plagued with loneliness, pathetic reminiscing of good old days and a neglected family who secretly hate them and can’t wait to shove them in the first, barely functioning nursing home they see.
This doesn’t have to be your future. There is a different way, a better way, and the only way you can truly become the best version of yourself…
Make yourself your own competition
Now, I know this is the territory of cheesy fitness accounts on Instagram, but hear me out:
Truly brilliant people know this.
Truly brilliant, talented, successful, happy people who feel that sense of pride we all long for will push all this petty competition bullshit aside and live by this mantra.
How do you live by it, you ask? Well, you’ll always find the answer when you look at the person you were yesterday and how you could’ve done things better. As for the person you striving to become, why not the person you want to be in ten years’ time?
There’s a famous anecdote from Matthew McConaughey when he won the Oscar for Best Actor a couple of years ago. It’s a sweet story and when I read it, everything began to make sense to me:
“I had a very important person in my life come to me and say ‘who’s your hero?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, I gotta think about that. Give me a couple of weeks.’
I come back two weeks later, this person comes up and says ‘who’s your hero?’ I said, ‘I thought about it. You know who it is? It’s me in 10 years.’ So I turned 25. Ten years later, that same person comes to me and says, ‘So, are you a hero?’ And I was like, ‘not even close. No, no, no.’ She said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because my hero’s me at 35.’
So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero’s always 10 years away. I’m never gonna be my hero. I’m not gonna attain that. I know I’m not, and that’s just fine with me because that keeps me with somebody to keep on chasing.
So how do you make a hero out of your future self? It’s easy:
Write down everything you want your future self to have. Here are some examples based on my own ‘future me list’
- I want to have written an entire book series
- I want to have a successful blog
- I want to drink two litres of water a day
- I want to be a loving, caring partner
- I want to be really organised
Notice that none of these goals come at the detriment of someone else (e.g. I want to be more famous than ____________) There are two reasons for that:
It takes your power away: Going back to the competition myths, if you’re fixated on someone else’s trajectory, you’re not working on your own.
You can’t control what other people do. Ever: You might be head over heels in love with someone right now, and you (bless your heart) may write a goal like ‘I’m going to look so hot and be so successful that Hotty McHotface is definitely going to love me.
- What if Hotty McHotface marries someone else?
- What if Hotty McHotface dies?
- What if Hotty McHotface joins a monastery or convent or finds a deeper meaning to life through relief work and doesn’t have time for your on-point selfies (#blessed)?
- What if Hotty McHotface (gasp) did what your dumb ass should’ve been doing all along and made themselves their own competition?
How do I know that I’ll actually improve in 10 years?
Easy – go read your Facebook posts from 10 years ago. If they made you cringe all the way into your small intestine, then you’ve improved, so stop whinging and GET TO WORK.
- Go away and come up with three of your future self goals: Take each goal and think about what you could do each year, each six months, each quarter, each month, each week, each day to improve. Example:
10 year goal: I want to be a published author (don’t get caught up on self/trad pub at this stage, just focus on having your work out there one way or another)
1 year goal: I want to have a complete, competent manuscript I can show to beta readers without wanting to skin myself alive
Six month goal: I want to have written the first draft of a novel
Quarterly goal: I want to be over halfway through the first draft of a novel
Monthly goal: I’ve figured out the premise/hook/stake of my book and I want to have written 30,000 words of the first draft of my novel
And so on and so on.
- Decide on the daily task (in this case, ‘I write 1,000 words a day) and track your progress.
- Don’t worry if you slip up. Remember, you’re not doing this to impress anyone else but yourself.
- Reward yourself for small victories: Did you smash that wordcount? I think that deserves a few episodes of your favourite show. Did you bite the bullet and send your manuscript to betareaders? Go get yourself a pedicure, eat a good burger, or go play with your friend’s puppy (because you have friends on account of NOT BEING A MASSIVE T***. See how this works?)