The Joy of Doing: Beyond Winning and Losing

In a world fixated on winning and losing, let us rethink the true meaning of success and the importance of the journey over the destination

Young woman playing tennis | Winning Losing concept

Several years ago, I ran into this girl from my neighborhood right after she got her HSC results. She looked like she lost a dollar and found a dime. Thinking she must’ve flunked or something, I cautiously asked her what’s up. She was a bit hesitant at first but spilled the beans eventually. Brace yourself for this one – she felt awkward facing her math teacher because she’d only snagged a “mere” 98 out of 100 in her math paper. A “paltry” 98! I was thinking, “With grades like that, people should be throwing confetti, not glum faces.” Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In another instance, a prominent doctor told me that he just discharged a 15-year-old girl, who was admitted on the previous day, because she had apparently consumed rat poison. Why? She had failed in her 10th Standard [CBSE] exams. Sounds familiar?

Every year, a bunch of students across India decides to take matters into their own hands because they didn’t hit the grade they were gunning for. It’s such a widespread issue that even a CNN report once referred to India as being “obsessed with numbers.”

Pressure is All-Pervasive

And it’s not just students. Whether you’re a working pro, a sports nut, an artist, or a writer, everyone’s got their own set of pressures. Sometimes the target to “win” is set by someone else, but other times, it’s the good ol’ self-imposed pressure to be numero uno. Girls starving themselves to stay runway-ready, boys popping steroids to build a body like Schwarzenegger – it’s a circus out there. Everyone’s either pushing or being pushed to outdo someone they might not even know!

This relentless drive to be on top at any cost creates a ton of anxiety. Everyone’s hustling, yes. But here’s the kicker – nobody’s arriving. Why? Because nobody’s got the time or inclination to stop and ponder what life’s really about.

We Only Produce Outcomes

Now, let’s talk about outcomes. All performance measures are relative. Absolute measurement of performance is like finding a unicorn. If measures are relative, how can results be absolute? So, instead of obsessing over winning or losing, failing or succeeding, why not think about goals as desired outcomes? When you shift your focus from winning to doing, you often end up with better results.

Take sports, for example. In a tennis match between a big-shot player and an underdog, the underdog steps onto the court with zero expectations. Why? Because winning isn’t even on the underdog’s radar. She plays her natural game, surprises everyone (including herself) by winning the first set. Suddenly, winning becomes a thing. But what happens next? You guessed it – she loses.

From Striving to Arriving

Striving doesn’t guarantee the outcome you’re gunning for, but it sure guarantees stress. If you’re fixated on winning, it’s tough to concentrate on the task at hand. I am not telling you to toss your goals out the window and become a wandering soul. What I am saying is that focusing on doing tasks well, and enjoying the process, beats the heck out of the constant competition and success race. When you embrace this mindset, you’ll notice your anxiety to win morph into a healthy concern for the greater good.

When we strive, no matter how much we achieve, we always want more – so we never arrive. Striving is all about the future, while doing is about soaking up the present. Strivers are always thinking they’ll be happy, successful, fulfilled when they land that job, get that house, and so on. On the flip side, folks who live in the moment succeed every day. Success isn’t about some future outcome for them; it’s about how well they live now, how brilliantly they do what they’re meant to do.

So, it’s vital to understand that success isn’t a prize you get from a job. Success is what you bring to your job or career.

Related » What Is Meant By True Success

No One Ever Loses

And remember, benchmarks are just guidelines. If your actions don’t align with what you or others have marked as success, it doesn’t mean you failed. There’s no pass or fail, win or lose. It’s all about the outcomes. If you’re not thrilled with the result, make a mental note to do better next time. Thinking in terms of failure only breeds stress, immobilizes you, and keeps you from trying again.

In simpler terms, put the horse before the cart, not the cart before the horse. That’s what the joy of doing, not just winning, is all about. Cheers to that!

A version of this article was originally published in December 2006 issue of Complete Wellbeing magazine (Print Edition)

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Manoj Khatri
Manoj Khatri has spent the last two decades learning, teaching and writing about wellbeing and mindful living. He has contributed over 1500 articles for several newspapers and magazines including The Times of India, The Economic Times, The Statesman, Mid-Day, Bombay Times, Femina, and more. He is a counseling therapist and the author of What a thought!, a critically acclaimed best-selling book on self-transformation. An award-winning editor, Manoj runs Complete Wellbeing and believes that "peace begins with me".


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