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Why Sometimes It’s Good to Be a Loser

I love the word loser. I enjoy playing with it, feeling into it, and feeling my own gut reaction to the idea of allowing myself to be one. Some of the time.

Our culture is obsessed with winning.

At school we learn that we have to compete to get what we want. Many of us grow up internalizing this idea and subtly infusing it into our relationships, friendships, career, and even spiritual path.

If this is strong in us, there can be a pervading sense of alienation, disconnectedness, or even mistrust that we carry around.

In my early days as a Buddhist monk, I remember being almost shocked when I began to see that in the quietude of my mind, in this harmless, benevolent environment, I was secretly measuring myself and others according to how “spiritual” we were.

And I was trying to be the best. I was doing many things, some of them ridiculous in hindsight, to be seen as “better than.”

The flip-side of this was that I never felt good enough. Our fixation with winning is an attempt to cover up this feeling of being somehow deficient.

A couple of years ago, I met an old friend, who asked me what I was doing these days. I replied, somewhat mischievously, “Being a bit of a loser.”

His expression was telling. He looked confused. Then he looked sad for me. Then he asked, “You’re joking right?”

“Well, kind of…”

Obviously being a loser can mean all kinds of things, and most of them aren’t states to be desired! But I find it fun to explore this in a Buddhist context, where winning and losing are seen as just different sides of the same coin.

They never ultimately satisfy; nor can they ever ultimately degrade one’s value.

So where does one find value?

That is the question I have found very useful to take into the heart in meditation, in daily life, and in relationships. In doing so, I come across a whole lot of forces, some of them quite strong, suggesting that my ultimate value lies in:

  • Approval. Check
  • My bank balance. Check.
  • An idealized view of being a “spiritual person.” Check.

The list actually goes on and splits into smaller bits, like those graphic representations of mathematical equations. It is the never-ending spin of the self-seeking mind. And its hunger is never satiated.

It’s the force in the heart that is disguised as “that which will make me happy,” but is actually “that which makes life a problem.”

It is a subtle kind of problem—the insidious, weaselly kind, that just cuddles up to you and promises to give you a good time. And then you end up face down in “me” and “why I don’t measure up?”

So, coming back to a very simple place in my heart, I like to ask myself: Can you be OK with being a bit of a loser?

It’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, but it holds a clear mirror up to the part of the heart that’s always looking for the next thing, scheming about a future, and generating worlds of a nebulous “them” who are cheering me on, or muttering their disapproval.

In other words, delusion!

Allowing the heart to lose a little, let go a little, and not give a hoot a little can go a long way in releasing from these forces of worry, driven-ness, and self-aversion.

The other day, Tory Syracuse’s article on the benefits of wasting time really touched me, beginning with the pithy quote from Socrates: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

Indeed, when I have become obsessed with the winning mind, the force of busyness is one of the first to arrive. It rises up like a long lost friend, and offers to carry me to the promised land. And in getting sucked into it’s energy, I lose contact with the preciousness of real peace in the heart.

I lose humility, contentment, and gratitude for the simple things.

Of course there is also the kind of busy-ness that arises out of joy, love, and creativity, rather than compulsion and wrongness. This is a very enjoyable state. In my experience the difference between this and the busy-ness that comes from fear is that we can put it down when we want to.

That other type of busyness is a choice rather than an unconscious obligation.

When we allow ourselves the space to be a bit of a loser, our life can open up in surprising ways. Releasing the pressure of pushing and driving opens up a space in the heart that is present, available, and sensitive.

We taste the richness of being alive. We feel our feet on the ground. We remember that we can trust in the truth that we are valuable just by being. We feel this value in presence every time we release from intentions projected outside ourselves in another person, in time, or in an ideal of “who I should be.”

We have released from selling ourselves out to delusion—and this release, curiously, feels like winning.

Photo by angsbacka

About Peter Fernando

Peter Fernando is a mindfulness and meditation teacher. After graduating from university, he spent 9 years engaged in intensive mindfulness practice, living in Buddhist monasteries. He runs the online course A Month of Mindfulness and is the author of Unconditionally Valuable a booklet available on Amazon.com.

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  • Aghniadi

    Such a right enlightenment at such a right moment. I happened to recently experience the same thing, of measuring how ‘spiritual’ people are. I, myself, am not Buddhist, but I completely agree on the point of delusion and that the winning is based on that. Really inspiring piece.

  • Anonymous

    This is great, thank you

  • Geordiep8

    What a fantastic article. It made me breathe a sigh of relief and reminded me that its ok not to look busy. As a stay at home mum I am busy, but it doesn’t look like I am on the outside. I struggle with this sometimes as I think I should be achieving a million things at once. Today I will achieve nothing and just be. Thanks for your well-written and insightful article.

  • Robert

    Perfectly said and presented!
    Thank-you so much for sharing.

  • Coming from a different country it was funny to hear the word “loser” so many times. It was easily the first insult to be mentioned at a fight, between two americans. Curiously “loser” is considered offensive and it’s usually measured by material goods one person has. Usually the one who judges is the one disturbed with issues, some deep insecurities to be resolved and the constant need to put itself above others. You could be a winner or a loser even at the same time. It all depends on the point of view.
    I’ve allowed me to be less hard on myself sometimes, which may be classified as a loser. If one day I hear that from anybody I will not get upset or disappointed on myself. To be a winner is to know where you stand in life and where you want to go, always appreciating the simple things. There is much more than being a winner or a loser. Starting with finding yourself.

  • Excellent post. Fear of being a ‘loser’ can be extremely constrictive preventing us from reaching out into the unknown and experiencing the depth of life. In reality, the ‘winning’ which we often prize so much is unstable, fleeting and shallow. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  • This is great, thank you! I love the idea of letting go of the pressure to be perfect – as rich as you can be, successful, thin, popular, etc. I think this fixation must start when we’re in middle school coming into our own and learning how to relate to people and also developing the standards in which we ‘rate’ ourselves. Toxic!

  • zero

    when I see what defines a winner in our culture, or cool, etc. The possibility of being percieved as a loser means much less to me than it once did. It is about the source of the perception, someone who would define someone else as a loser probably is one already and is simply looking for a way to feel better about it. Whereas someone who isnt probably doesnt see it in others.

  • LittleGreen

    Thanks for this – I’ve been trying to set up as a freelancer and getting loads of knockbacks but today I’m just going to give myself a break and say, “Sod it, living in my parents’ box room isn’t exactly the end of the world – and it’s better than being in an office job I hate…” Today I might just lie on the grass for a bit and just be. I’m working myself into a frenzy trying not to look like a loser to my friends and it’s driving me into a deep depression. I am me. I am a free spirit and I’m applying ridiculous standards to myself that are inappropriate.

  • Dwaun Marshall

    Being a winner is overrated and by the time you would win, you would probably fall out from exhaustion.