Thursday, May 5, 2022


I am not competitive. Not the least bit.

Why would you suppose this is? Docility? Low testosterone? Complacency?

No. It's because I try my best.

To a few readers, that made sense. But let me draw the connection for those who don't immediately understand.

I do my very best, and let the chips fall. It's a simple maxim, and I like simple maxims. But here's the problem with this one - a problem I struggled with for 50 years: sometimes the chips fall and you still don't win. Sometimes the chips fall and you don't win even though you did something terrific while everyone else just dicked around.

Such scenarios are not merely "disappointing". Psychologists say that if a lab rat is randomly rewarded or punished for the same behavior, the rat will lose its hair, age prematurely, and go insane. So if you ever find yourself caught in a system where reward and punishment are doled out with bafflingly randomness, you have three options:
1. Lose your hair and go insane.

2. Armor your ego and develope a snarling self-confidence that "they" are wrong idiots and you hate them and don't care about them at all and you didn't want to go to the prom anyway.

3. Meditate, a lot, until whatever happens makes you giggle.
If #3 sounds a bit like drugs, alcohol, and other familiar escape hatches, that's only a superficial similarity. Those routes scramble you so you can't think, and blind you from seeing. With meditation, you see and think clearly, but reframe it all from a lofty enough height that it just doesn't matter.

Here's the missing chunk: don't just let the chips fall, but don't even hang around for the tally. Once you’ve done your thing, act like a movie star walking away from a burning building. Not superior, and not disenchanted. Just already on to the next thing.
I've gone extreme. I entirely eschew Skinner Boxes. I don't grab at trinkets. I don't seek wins or validation or kudos. I've been through all that, experiencing both profusion and scarcity, and am no longer opted-in to the process (see this important posting). But given that the world is nothing but Skinner boxes, what's left if you reject all that?

Doing your best. Always doing your best. That's what's left when the smoke clears and the insanity subsides. That's the solid ground.

Do you know that jaded feeling when people have too much candy or sex, or so many possessions that they need a bigger house? Human beings are famous for becoming inured. Take that recognition one step further, and you'll notice that the prizes - the finger traps and waffle parties and YOUR BIRTHDAY - are hilariously chintzy to begin with. Yet we keep striving, driven mad by the desire for the same sad, crappy prizes. We never learn!

The only thing that never gets old; never gets dull; never ceases to satisfy; is the satisfaction of a job well done (or, at least, a full effort given). The satisfaction of trying your best and letting the chips fall.

Competitive people have an aversion to trying hard, so they require motivation. They need provocation. They need some shiny shitty trinket to grab for. That's why they're competitive. Competitive people take a detour from Doing The Thing by watching themselves as they do the thing. People who simply do the thing, devotedly, have no use for trinkets or other red herrings. They don't watch themselves on a big screen in their mind’s eye. They just work. Like maniacs.

Most people are remarkably disinterested in the thing they've devoted themselves to doing. It's all just props for the pose; an excuse to compete for the crappy trinkets which are their one true love. They live their lives pining for yet more Skinner boxes, playing video games to the 16,000th tediously repetitive level in order to add the blue sapphire to their on-screen meaningless abstract trophy case.

They're expending energy and pumping emotion and imagining themselves to be trying their best, as an abstract simulation - almost a parody - of people who really do try their best. But it's all about the meaningless abstract trophy case. It’s all about the greater flaunting. All about them.  A whole other framing!

Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing.

If you truly want to sing, it doesn't matter how other people sing, or how people view your singing. Just sing! Do the thing you say you want to do! Give it all you've got....without framing yourself as "The Hero Who Gives it all S/He's Got". Skip that detour. Just sing, and walk away non-chalantly. The chips may or may not flow your way, but the chips are just stupid chips.

Confession: I can be passive-competitive. Just as one can be aggressive without being aggressive, one can be competitive without being competitive. I make hay with the line, falsely attributed to Sun Tzu, that “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by." I know how to wait.

Napoleon said "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." I would add that human beings are constantly making mistakes. Again, all you need to do is wait.

We human beings are so flawed that if you just wait, your competitors (even if you're not competing, that doesn't mean phalanxes of people aren't competing with you!) will inevitably hoist themselves by their own petards.

You don't need to stop in order to wait. Keep on going, but pause your assessment. Action continues, expectation suspends. That's how I beat the golden adonis Ricky in a ping pong tournament when I was literally the worst player. As I recounted here:
When Ricky's shots, humming with topspin, sizzled toward my side of the table, I'd simply return them. Clunk. Right down the middle of the table. Nothing fancy. No english. No pace. Just a big, dumb, clunking return - volley after volley, point after point. And Ricky, sensing my strategy, began tightening up, returning my cloddish volleys with increasingly hostile smashes....some of which missed. Meanwhile, none of mine missed. Clunk. Right down the middle. Clunk. Clunk.

I won, of course. And, of course, he refused to shake my hand. Poor guy. I may, to this day, be the worst thing that ever happened to him; the sole blot on Ricky's otherwise immaculately golden life record. Here's to you, Ricky, and the botoxed pilates teacher with whom I visualize you sipping overly buttery Chardonnay in your Malibu hot tub. Remember me by my sound: "Clunk".
This was me that summer. Fearsome, no?

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