One of my previous managers gave me this quote: “The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare” (Juma Ikangaa). I fully agree with that statement, along with another aphorism that is similar to it: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” But what if “winning” is not necessarily the objective, and depending on the circumstance, the “winning”, “do or die” mentality can do more harm than good? What if instead we replace the “will to win” with “the will to finish”?
I know that there are a lot of people out there who are motivated by competition (myself included). Competition can be helpful when it comes to feats of strength or actual arenas where skill is matched with skill, and for the most part, a specific “winner” can be chosen from the pack.
However, in most life matters, the true competition is not against another person, but against myself. I can see how another person is doing in their weight loss goal, and see if they are outpacing me. I can see how far along another person is on their word counts, or how many books they have published. I can see who among my peers are beating their sales goals. I can learn from them, be inspired by them, and seek to emulate them. But, the real measure of success and progress should be, and is, against myself: how am I progressing toward my (fitness/writing/business/fill-in-the-blank) goals?
Writing, for me, boils down to me sitting down in front of my keyboard (or Moleskine), and that’s it. I learn through my struggles and find people* who are supportive and engaging to carry me through the “woe is me” times. (For the record, those times have been fewer and farther in between; go me!) It really make no sense to compare myself with another writer. Besides, another writer’s success does not diminish my own potential for success; neither are their failures my failures.
The only true failure in these real life matters is not finishing, especially because the only real competitors are me and myself (and sometimes, I). I had my own starting point and my own goals. Anyone is welcome to observe me, jeer me, or cheer me, as I plod along, but know that my race, my journey is my own competition of one.
Ursula Le Guin said: “It is good to have an end to journey towards, but is the journey that matters in the end.” At the end of the day, the truly remarkable people are not remarkable because they won. They are remarkable because they attained their goal (despite whatever obstacles were in their way). They finished and arrived at their specific milestone, and then continued on their path. They understood that “it is the journey not the arrival that matters.”
And, one day I will find myself at the “finish” of one writing journey, only to prepare myself another one. Can’t wait.