For the entire month of June I’m planning on writing a series of blog-a-day posts based on a set series of open-ended questions to myself. This is one of those posts.
June 27th // Something You Want To Win
I did a quick Google search prior to putting fingers-to-keyboard on this post — largely to get a reminder of what I think I might have meant by “to win” when I drafted these questions over a month ago — and the net result of that search was a scattered mess of three similar, but distinct, categories: “winning at sports” or “winning at gambling” or “winning friends and influencing people.” And this — while it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it occupies the highest tiers of the collective of indexed online information on said topic — seems strange to me.
It probably seems strange because, largely, I am not a very competitive person and the whole idea of winning has not been something that has filled my methods or motivations in getting through life. In fact, when I thought of something worth “winning,” and then typed it into Google, I was more than a little frustrated that no one had managed to convince the search engine of the value of such a thing. No one seemed to have spun up that whole idea of winning into a discussion topic less tangible than the obvious ‘pick-my-name,’ ‘pick-my-numbers,’ ‘first-through-the-gate’ ideas of winning that show up so prevalent in Google — particularly as it relates to “quick fix methods” for the same. I’d rather have seen instead an elevation my search results to a thing conceptually broader in that definition, more like the idea of winning as simply beating-the-odds-against-all-odds for the sake of the win… that kind of discussion.
Does that make sense? If not, let me paraphrase: the societal obsession (at least according to Google) towards winning cash, sports, or social status doesn’t really float-my-boat on it’s own, but the idea of working hard to beat seemingly insurmountable odds playing against you in completing a task or achieving a success — whatever form that task might take — kinda does.
I mean, I’m interested in beating odds… and not just mathematically, but philosophically, too. And by that I mean, I’m interested in winning at something — at being a winner at something — but, given that I don’t really gamble (winning-money-against-stats), watch competitive sports (group-winning-by-association), or seek fame, political stature, or other notoriety (winning-friends-through-social-means) I’m kinda stuck with figuring out what I want to do that’s actually worth winning AND would make this post even slightly relatable to someone reading it.
And that makes me a little stuck. Why? Because I feel a lot like I risk a whole bunch of made-for-tv-movie cliche looking over my life and considering all the little things that (a) require some serious odds-beating, and (b) are worthy of philosophical reflection and introspection. That list, as you might guess, reaches into the realm of topics in in running, parenting, spousing, working, being healthy, and general contribution to society sort of topics. And would you even call that “winning” or would you just call it being a whole person with simple goals and human aspirations? I mean, while an argument could be made for “beating the odds” with respect to some far off marathon-running goal, or “beating the odds” by staying healthy for as long as possible, or “beating the odds” around the modern statistics of parenting and strong family relationships, are these really equatable to winning, per se? Or are we just talking general success?
Maybe it really does come down to odds. And it comes down to whether those odds are good, bad, or even measurable? And if you measure those odds, where is the line between likely and unlikely. Perhaps then here’s a good example to illustrate, and something that I wouldn’t mind winning at: A marathon. But how to define “win?” My odds of winning, say, the Boston Marathon (given that I’m a moderate-to-slow paced runner in my thirties with an ankle problem who has never actually run a marathon) are probably quite low… and probably insurmountable. My odds of winning any given local marathon, say the Intact Marathon in August, are still quite low, but not as insurmountable as Boston might be. My odds of winning my age category in the Intact Marathon are still low, but a little better than the previous two scenarios. And, we could work through all manner of lesser (but still worthy) achievements until we get to a basic finish: my odds of winning against just myself — having never done a full marathon and plain old cross the line at any old 42.2K race — are ok, but still not even really leaning towards a certainty at this point, if only because it isn’t — though it is — on my radar.
But here’s the thing about odds: those odds are (technically) much improved over the odds of the same measures from, say, four years back, when I was not running. And those odds of today might be completely different again four years from now — better or worse, depending on my life’s progress in general. So, then, maybe I’m wrong and it has nothing to do with beating odds, particularly if those odds are sketchy and ever-changing. (And if you come from a deterministic perspective, odds are entirely moot, anyhow. But I won’t go there.) Should that give me hope of someday being a winner of this (or any other) random marker of glory, achievement or practiced skill? And, what is winning defined as then for a guy like me for who winning is a sideline sport? Unexpected wins? Out of the blue success? Windfalls of cash and prizes for which I didn’t even realize I was competing? Or simply meeting my little goals.
Google couldn’t tell me much about that, no matter how many times I twisted the idea of winning into something less than the so-called normal. According to that particular measure of society’s worth, I’m not winning at anything, be it football, poker, class president, or the lotto. But I think winning might be a little deeper than that. And I do suspect that most average folks would side with me, despite the Google evidence. FTW!