How Being Competitive Relates to Writing


 It's no secret that I'm a sore loser. 

Just ask Jordan how I handled losing to him the other night while we played Wii Sports Resort. Wakeboarding. Archery. Bowling. Canoeing. Sword fighting. Ping Pong. I lost at all of them, and I did not handle it well. 

(And before you get all, "You play tennis! You should be good at ping pong," let me stop you right there. They aren't the same at all.)

I hate losing probably more than I hate anything else in life (except maybe robots and dead bodies). Sometimes I choose to not even start something I know I will lose. This is first of all because I hate losing but also because I'm probably in a situation where I don't want to make a fool of myself once the inevitable happens (the inevitable being me losing).

This insane competitiveness annoys other people. I know my family and friends will readily testify to this fact. But the truth is, it annoys me too. I wish I weren't so competitive. I wish I could just take things in stride, laugh it off, rid myself of this terrible character flaw; but I can't. And it's so annoying.

I often wonder why I have such a strong reaction to losing when other people have such a mild one--even none at all, depending on who you are. I have a few theories, but mostly I think it's because that's part of my super Type A, firstborn daughter, born-into-a-family-obsessed-with-sports personality. However, I recently read something that spun my theory in a new direction. 

The following line is from a friend's blog post concerning the purpose of editors and writing and how you should receive constructive criticism from your editor about your book. Here's what she said: "You are not your book." 

By this, I think she meant that when an editor gives a critique, it's not personal; it's not meant to say, "You suck as a person." How I read this is that you don't have to get so wrapped up in your book that you aren't able to see or accept anything negative about it because for some reason you think this means there is something negative about you.

Criticism doesn't mean you should stop writing; it doesn't mean you can do nothing right and that you should just pack yourself in a box and mail yourself to Antarctica. It just means that your book has flaws and that even though you can put your heart and soul into something, that doesn't mean it's going to be perfect. 

Basically, it means you have some work to do. But even then, it isn't going to be perfect, because there is no perfect book. What authors (at least the ones I've encountered) so often fail to realize is that their worth as a person is not measured by how well or poorly they write. (Their worth as a writer is measured by how well or poorly they write, but that's not the point I'm trying to make.) Their ability to love and be loved is not measured by the fact that they wrote a book and whether or not the book was good.

And that's where my insight about my annoying competitiveness comes in. 

I often feel like I have to be perfect. I should be able to just "get" something, and if I don't, well then I'll just give up. But there is no perfect book, and there is no perfect person. (Yes, Jesus, okay? But that's also not what I'm talking about right now.)

I feel like losing makes me a lesser person, that it makes me weak, vulnerable, not good enough. I say to an author, "You are not your book." But that concept applies to my life as well.

I am not my athlete achievements. 
I am not my grades. 
I am not my writing abilities. 
I am not my job. 
I am not my church. 
I am not my family.

There's no one thing that makes me me--it's a myriad of likes and dislikes, of goals and pursuits and bucket lists. It's friends and hobbies. And it's games won and lost.

Losing doesn't make me less of a person; it doesn't make me stupid or lame or worthless. 
It just means I'm not perfect. 
It just means I have stuff to work on.

But my ability to love and be loved and live is not measured by whether I won or even whether I played well. It's measured by the fact that I did it at all, that I tried, that I didn't give up, that I started when I could have just said forget it. 

I said earlier that your worth as a person is not dependent on the fact that you wrote a book and whether it was well written. Your worth as a writer is dependent on this fact, however, just as my worth as a tennis player is dependent on how many balls I hit out and how many times I can ace someone on my serve. But what I so often forget is that being a good tennis player doesn't make me a better person. I could be a fantastic tennis player and be this biggest jerk on the planet. 

I get upset when I lose, but I have a new theory as to why: 

It's because I'm basing my person--myself--on winning and losing, and I need to stop.
I am not my wins and losses. 

I may suck at wakeboarding and canoeing and ping pong and bowling and archery and sword fighting, but in the end I'm still just me. And right now I need more practice in order to stop sucking at Wii Sports Resort.
Nancy E said...

I suck at wake boarding but pretty good at ping pong! Just jumping around your blog -- you are a good writer too! :) check out my other blog -- :)