Not Winning
A Sensible Alternative to Obstinate Success


Outside of sports, games shows and the Academy Awards, people who call them themselves winners are predominantly deluded. No doubt, winning can be positive and exhilarating.  Losing can be fucked.  But let’s step outside of score-keeping and be honest.  First of all losing isn’t necessarily the opposite of winning. To be sure, winning is a plus on some scale. Looking at it from the tail end:  I don’t want to lose my life.  But winning my life is nonsense. The opposite of winning may simply be taking the day off. 

Secondly, as a great thinker who I don’t know the name of once said,  “The only thing worse than total defeat is total victory.”  I can vouch for that from experience.  Total victory leads to arrogance and an ugly withdrawal.  Take the Lakers for example.

Winners say that in order to win, you need be determined, prepared and focused.  That requires a narrow field of vision. The test for success — big deep life-altering spiritual success — is how well you do at what you’re unprepared for.  Charles Bukowski said it best, “What matter most is how well you walk through the fire.”

Since winning isn’t that important, it isn’t something we should want in regards to all things all the time.  Winning can be redundant and ultimately self-defeating.  For a person with his head screwed on properly, it’s easy to grow tired of winning.

That’s why we need a sensible alternative to obstinate success.  Rather than thinking about winning, we might consider being pleased with the world around us — quite content just to be.  That kind of satisfaction takes a good deal of effort. You might cheer your good fortune.  As in, it’s great that I don’t have cancer.  Or, I’m glad I have all my teeth.  One might even say you could strive to be content.  And if you’re successful at that you are, by definition, a winner.  But that defeats the idea of not winning, God damn it.  And winning really isn’t everything. 

Not being interested in winning doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have goals and avoid competition.  Goals keep us honest and competition, for all it’s cheerleading, is often a form of collaboration.  But you don’t need to always have an opponent.   Personally, I have no idea what or who my competition is and if I were to find out, I might have no desire to defeat them.  So what’s the point?  Who am I beating?  No one I care about.

We should aspire to excellence. Winning is so commonplace.  It requires a finish line and point totals.  Here, in the world of hard facts, it’s self-evident that, so far, a finish line and a scoreboard don’t exist.  You might conjure them up, so you can feel guilty or claim victory.  But believe me, they don’t exist.

As a result, we can’t really win being the best at something.  Copernicus didn’t do the victory dance.  On the other, look at Donald Trump.  By all standard measurements of goals and competition — make believe finish lines and point totals — Trump is a winner. And yet, it’s painfully apparent Donald Trump is desperately lost.

In response, Trump might say that I’m a loser.  And that may very well be right.  This much, however, I know:  It would be hard to convince Donald Trump that he’s not a winner.  He believes in winning like believing in god.  And who among us, in this great democracy,  would want him to loose his faith? 

Our faith, however, can be something different.  From now on, instead of obsessing about winning, let’s simply treat each other right.  Forget about victories.  They’re so indiscreet.  We can all simply be so good at we do, that we can spoil ourselves with brilliance, generosity and fair-handedness.  Everybody likes to be spoiled.  Even a winner.  And if that sounds like pie in the sky idealism, keep this in mind: quitters may never win and winners may never quit, but isn’t there something else they’d rather be doing?

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast May 20, 2011

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


Broadcasting Fridays at 8:50 am from KUCI 88.9 fm Orange County, California