Winners and Losers
January 7, 2011 6:33 PM   Subscribe

Is it me, or this article, that's full of crap?

I read an article about "Winners vs Losers". It's got a list of points about the differences between people who achieve and people who don't. I've heard these soundbites a lot of times before and they've always struck me as confusing and contradictory, so I wrote up a fast list of questions and posted them up in reply.

The short version of what I asked is that there are hundreds of sites that say, for example, that you shouldn't quit at something just because it's hard, and the same sites will tell you that you shouldn't waste time flogging a dead horse, but that I've no idea how to tell the difference between those two situations.

For example, I go climbing every weekend. I don't like it, I don't like the people I go with, and I don't have any plans to take it any further than it is. But I don't really like anything at all, and I can't figure out what I should be doing with my time and I usually end up sitting around and staring into space if I don't go. So if I go climbing even when I don't like it, is that fighting apathy, or is that surrendering to apathy?

If anyone wants to read the full article it's here, and as of this writing my comment's the only one there. The article plus my reply is very TL:DR, so apologies in advance.

So is there a 'right way' to go about things? I can easily dismiss the article as being just a bunch of rhetoric, but I really am a 'loser' - 25, still with parents, no hobbies (except the climbing), no job, no job prospects, not the slightest idea how to change all that, and no idea what 'change' actually is or what it entails.

So yeah, I guess my question boils down to "What is the right way to live?" Or "Where did you get your ideals?" So, you know, nothing huge or anything.
posted by Fen to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think you are reading way too much in to what is kind of a crappy blog post. That said, if you aren't satisfied with your life, you should probably start doing something differently. There are far more options than simply climbing or staring at a wall.
posted by Lobster Garden at 6:37 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think there's one right answer. I was in a conversation once with my boss, and he said "once you driven along a ways and haven't found what you're looking for, shouldn't you admit you're lost and turn around so you can start over?" But I answered that this had happened to me just last week - I thought I was lost, but before turning around, let me just go to the next light before I turn around, and lo and behold there was the thing I needed. So who was right?
posted by CathyG at 6:41 PM on January 7, 2011

People that view the world in terms of "winners" and "losers" are losers who think they're winners.

Were you happy at some point in your life? If so, what made you happy?
posted by lukemeister at 6:47 PM on January 7, 2011 [10 favorites]

I thought it was link spam, so no don't take that blog at all seriously. You will get contradictory advice, frequently. One thing that blog takes advantage of is the skewed perception of 'win'. Google the idea of windfall psychology. Life is complicated, it includes "all of the above" and a bunch more that will surprise you (how's that for a platitude!) Hang in there, hit the library, try a bunch of different things. Fail, fail a bunch of times. Try to do it different each time (learn, ba ding). I read a strong criticism of non-american companies wanting to get some of the internet entrepreneurial biz that boosts places like Silicon Valley, but failure was not allowed. Here, folks fail a bunch of times, a few hit insane, a lot just have a good steady income.
posted by sammyo at 6:53 PM on January 7, 2011

The article is full of crap. It is at a website called, which exists so that two random assclowns can sell their self-published books about success.

Now seriously. Think about that. Is it really likely that people with a strong insight into success would be selling vaguely coherent self-published books about it on a crappily formatted website? No.

There is actual useful research out there about habits of mind that tend to be conducive to success for many people. The E. M. Kauffmann Foundation, for instance, has commissioned boatloads of research on the psychology and sociology of entrepreneurship.

You sound like you might be depressed, at least from my armchair. The "I don't really like anything or care about anything" place is often a place of depression. Something to think about.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:55 PM on January 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

Why are you climbing if you don't like it and you don't like the people? Do you really feel that you have a moral obligation to continue?
Losing is quitting on something that needs to be done. You don't need to be a climber, it's supposed to be fun. Try other stuff. If it sucks, keep moving on.

Also, there is no right way to live. You just have to find what makes you happy and go with it...
posted by zephyr_words at 7:02 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
- Benjamin Franklin

I am not implying that you are crazy. However, please go out and try something new.
posted by axismundi at 7:03 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I consciously or unconsciously separate life's opportunities into four quadrants, keeping in mind that these opportunities can easily migrate from one quadrant to another.

1. Things you like and are good at.
2. Things you like but are not good at (yet).
3. Things you don't like (or don't know you like) and are not good at (or never will be).
4. Things you don't like but are good at.

No matter where an activity falls, it's still worth trying or doing in some capacity. But I find myself to be most excited when I am in quadrant 2 because there's enjoyment and challenge at the same time. Not to say quadrant 1 isn't great too.

Your climbing sounds like something stuck in quadrant 3 and it sounds like you've given it a sufficient chance. If you've done something a few times and see no hope of that thing moving to quadrant 2 or 1, then it's time to try something else. You can set your own parameters for this decision but for me it's somewhere between trying 2 or 3 times without noticeable improvement in fun or skill.

Also, I have some things that have gone from quadrant 1 to quadrant 4. Over time your interests can just change.
posted by thorny at 7:05 PM on January 7, 2011 [6 favorites]

Our culture seems to place a high value on sticking with something, sometimes just for the sake of sticking with it.

A few years ago, I learned to be a quitter. I had joined and organization and every time it came time to go to their meetings, I was filled with dread and it started bringing down the rest of my week. When I finally admitted that it wasn't what I wanted and quit, it was like a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders and I could take the time to find some time for other things that I did enjoy.

So what's the way to live life? Don't be a afraid to try new things, but also, don't be afraid to decide that some of these new things aren't for you.
posted by advicepig at 7:11 PM on January 7, 2011

I recommend the book _Mindset_ for learning more about attitudes that promote or detract from being successful. Carol Dweck has conducted extensive research about mindset that I think illuminates some aspects of your questions about admirable persistence vs. dead horse flogging. Her website introduces the topic.
posted by TrarNoir at 7:20 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If there's something you're doing that's hard, but there's reasons to stick with it (example: quitting smoking), that's what they're talking about not giving up. If the ONLY thing you like about climbing is that it gets you out of the house, and you seem to have definitely given it "the old college try"-- then freaking quit it and do some other activity to get you out of the house!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:27 PM on January 7, 2011

>>I really am a 'loser' - 25, still with parents, no hobbies (except the climbing), no job, no job prospects, not the slightest idea how to change all that, and no idea what 'change' actually is or what it entails

I'm pretty sure that trying to pidgeonhole everything in life as winning or losing isn't the right way to go about things. There's a really big group of people between those two extremes, and the best word for them is "normal."

You sound like you don't much like your life as it is going. Work is probably the tool you want to start changing it. Because it provides money. And money is the tool most of us need to change where we live and what we do with our time.

It doesn't need to be a Career, it doesn't need to be exciting or glamorous. It doesn't need to be an eye-popping salary, and it doesn't even need to be full time. It just needs to be a place you're willing to go and do what is emanded of you in order to start building towards a more likeable tomorrow.

Maybe what makes you happy in life is rock climbing. That wouldn't make you a loser. It does make it harder to find a job that incorporates your passion. But while you're plotting and dreaming of moving to an area where you can be a rock climbing guide for a living, find something to do with your time that will help bring that dream closer: Get a job. Costruction, for example, can do *amazing* things for physical strength, stamina, and tolerance of weather conditions.

"Job" is not a purgatory young people are sentenced to before they die. It's a means to any number of ends. *ANY* job improves your options over joblessness, by virtue of the fact that they come with some form of income. And all jobs change you. A good one will help you to grow in confidence as you learn new skills and take on new experiences. (Yes, even jobs that involve flpping a burger on a gas grill to the sound of cranky customers squawking in your ear.) Bad ones help you learn where your limits are, and what you will and will not accept in life. And in most cases, having a job helps with feelinings of social isolation as well, since, whether it's with co-workers or clients, most jobs involve talking and interacting with other people on a regular basis.

I think what I'm trying to say is, be less concerned with the 'right' way, and more about moving forward. And at your age, in the circumstances you describe, it sounds like work would be the most obvious way to start things moving again. These questions of "Winner vs Loser"? They're red herrings that get in the way of trying to live our lives. Eventually you'll decide for yourself who the winners & losers are, and it may just have nothing to do with income and influence.
posted by Ys at 7:52 PM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I've been in your position a few years ago (aside from the rock climbing thing): had to move back home 6 months after graduating college, long bout of unemployment, didn't like my major and didn't really know what I was going to do with my life. I felt like such a loser myself it was hard to get out of bed somedays, I felt like I hit bottom.

But then I realized that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying different things and seeing what worked and what didn't. I already moved home, right? And I did fall down a few times and get down in spirits, but these things oddly led me to the things that did work for me.

I now have a job I like and am house-hunting, and I'm glad I was in place where I could figure that out without detrimental consequences like huge debts, losing a house, or worrying taking care of others. Because that's the stuff that forces people to settle permanently.

Even if all you find right now is a cashier job and it sucks (been there, done that), you'll still have money, it temporarily gets your mind of your existential conundrum, and it lights the fire to find something better. It's a blessing in disguise in the long run.
posted by deinemutti at 8:56 PM on January 7, 2011

The article is not very well-written, but it repeats one good truism, and that's framing a situation goes a long way toward defining it. "They believe that they are just ‘along for the ride’ in life, and they hope for the best."

The framing of "I have no control, I'm just along for the ride," absolves you of responsibility of the outcome, which leads you to not take responsibility for the outcome.

So, it's not a great article ...

BUT ...

but I really am a 'loser'

Look at you there. Framing your current situation in a negative way. "I really am a loser," as if there was some objective winning vs. losing measurement, and since you "really are" a loser, you're absolved the responsibility of making yourself into a winner.

Not a great article. But it sure does peg you more or less correctly, huh?

As the article says, "The real key is how you handle your current situation – how you play the cards that life deals you."

Let's frame it differently...

25, still with parents, no hobbies (except the climbing), no job, no job prospects

Young. Rock-climber -- so, you're healthy. No rent. A support structure with your parents. No expensive hobbies. No job? Well, you must be getting free money somewhere, right? Otherwise, how do you eat? How do you pay for the Internet connection? No job, so it must be free.

Jesus H. Christ. You're in a great situation! You could try anything! And fail at it! And you'd still be living at home, with the free rent, food and the support structure. Amazing.

People would KILL to be in your shoes.

Fucking eh! Go join the Coast Guard and learn how to rescue people for a living. Go work at a ski resort. Learn a language. Help someone to read English. Do some goddam push-ups. What, you're afraid of getting too tired? For what? It's not like you have a job to go to in the morning, right?

It's an amazing time for you to be alive.

There. That's framing a situation to set yourself up for success.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:02 PM on January 7, 2011 [9 favorites]

Okay, here it is. Here's the gospel truth about success and what it means to be successful and how you achieve things. That is, the secret to life, the universe and everything:

It is worthwhile to try something and fail, over and over, and then eventually succeed. Anyone who has been successful at something has done this, whether or not they realize it. This is a true fact. It's not just a true fact, it is the nature of the universe. This is, fundamentally, what the universe is doing every second. The universe doesn't care when it fails, it just does the same thing over and over again and sometimes one thing happens and sometimes another thing happens. In fact, it's really just action versus inaction, as far as I can tell, but even inaction is a kind of action.

It is worthwhile to make a choice about what you spend your time doing. Otherwise you are doing what other people think you should be doing, and that will make you miserable. This doesn't mean you should always every moment be doing what you want; that is impossible. But you should spend a significant amount of time thinking about and doing the thing you want to do. What that "significant" amount of time is is something you need to figure out through trial and error. By the way, this isn't selfishness; this is called "not wasting your time being miserable." You are useless to everyone when you're miserable.

It is worthwhile to do something that you are passionate about doing. Sometimes it will make you swear when you fuck it up, but you'll know you like it because you don't stop thinking about it and you have a itch to do it. This could be ukelele playing, or starting businesses, or saving the environment, or learning a language, or being an awesome sexual partner. Do not get distracted by how society thinks of the thing that you are driven by; unless it is something evil like serial killing it's okay because it's the thing that works for you. Do not belittle it or compare it to other things; this is the path to failure and depression. Understand that doing what you love to do is fine because you love to do it. This is the way. It is the only way. And remember that sometimes you will hate it but you have to slog through that. If it is the thing you love you won't hate it for long; and if you do hate it for long is not the thing you love.

It is worthwhile to forget about the idea of BIG successes or making it BIG in the view of society and focusing on small day to day, even moment by moment successes. Even those people who thought they were working to achieve something BIG did it by focusing on what they were doing at that moment. Maybe the idea of achieving something BIG may have been in the back of their head, but they were achieving a specific, small thing at that moment. Their BIG success was the accumulation of millions of these small things, done consistently, over and over. This may be the biggest "secret" and the hardest thing to implement but it is also the thing that will guarantee your success—in the conventional sense—more than any other.

It is worthwhile to forget about the idea of winning, unless your "thing" is, say, a competitive sport or a business where the meat of your achievement is related somehow to competition; and even then you have to be comfortable enough with failure that you pick your ass off the ground over, and over, and over when you inevitably fail ten-thousand times on your way to maybe once being the winner. And in the end you are always competing with yourself anyways.

It is worthwhile to accept that sometimes this thing will change, or sometimes there will be multiple things you feel this way about, or sometimes none. Be patient with yourself and keep moving, keep thinking, keep searching. This is the thing itself; the biggest (non-)secret is that the search itself is the thing.

And of course it is especially worthwhile to remember we are all together trying to figure this out and we should treat each other with compassion, and remember we are all trying to figure this shit out every moment of every day, and it's hard. Be nice. Also, those other humans you're on the planet with? They can and will help you if you help them. Bonus!

This is not magical. This is common sense. This is the stuff of all those dumb-ass fucking Nike ads and every goddamn "business intelligence" best-seller out there, but there are really no secrets to this and it doesn't warrant a book or movie or $19.99 PDF or even a 30-second ad. This has not changed since the dawn of time! But people are lazy, impatient, and failure hurts. That's all there is to it.
posted by dubitable at 9:14 PM on January 7, 2011 [13 favorites]

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