One of the most profound turning points in my life was the moment that I gave myself the permission to lose. Please do not confuse this with apathy or a lack of ambition. It’s more of an upfront decision to roll with the punches, coupled with a focused vision on what is worth pursuing. Let me explain.
By nature (or maybe nurture) I am a very task-oriented person. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. I want to be the best in every area of my life be it work, ministry, family, or simply recreation. I can’t simply play a video game, I have to be able to play it on a competitive level. I can’t just work in my area of expertise, I feel the need to develop a comprehensive understanding of all technology. I also want to be able to play instruments, fluently speak other languages, read a long list of books, etc, etc, etc. Being task-oriented, I cannot start one of these and just let it go. I have to finish it or it weighs on my mind. I also cannot stop everything else in life for that one task, so I spin up tasks in multiple areas. All of this combined, over time, becomes a huge drain on my mental and physical energy. Not only that, I begin to feel like a failure in each of these areas when I fall short of expertise in all of them. At this point you’re probably feeling stressed just from reading this. Imagine waking up and feeling the burden to accomplish all these tasks while still feeling the sting of not accomplishing them the day before. Living that way just isn’t sustainable.
Then one day I was praying during my devotional time and the thought occurred to me, what if I choose to lose? I’m not a quitter, so the idea of giving up on anything was repulsive. However, as I thought about it I began to realize that by pursuing this laundry list of interests I was already leading myself to failure in those things that matter most to me. Just as our parents always told us, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”. We are all dealt a finite amount of time and energy. By choosing to involve myself in everything I’d taken away the option to truly invest myself in anything. It occurred to me that in order to win the right battles, sometimes you have to lose the wrong ones.
From that point I began to ask myself what I was really after in life, and I started to set aside those things that didn’t contribute toward those goals. This has lead to a laser focus in my life that I did not have before. At work I focused on strengthening my skill in database technology. To do that I had to let myself lose in the areas of Linux, programming, web development, and others. I don’t need to be a leading expert in every technical field to do my job well and have a fulfilling career. I also decided to lay off on video games and learning the guitar so that I could focus on learning Spanish. Ministry to the Hispanic community is a driving passion in my life and it became clear to me that these other hobbies were eating up the time and mental energy that I needed to devote to Spanish and Bible study.
I want to be careful not to portray the wrong idea. I’m all for challenging yourself in new areas and having diverse interests. It’s all too easy to get into a rut, which leads to other issues. There will be a day when I pick up the guitar again or study programming in C#, but today is not that day. If I master Spanish and therefore complete a critical piece of a primary goal, then I’ll move on to music. The point is to be aware of what you’re going after in life and to make sure you’re not sabotaging those goals by splitting yourself in too many directions at once.
There is another facet of giving yourself permission to lose that has more to do with humility. Sometimes we become overly aggressive/competitive in our desire to be the best. Or, even worse, we don’t even jump in because we’re too afraid that we’ll do badly. Giving yourself permission to lose up front frees you to both enter the activity and enjoy honing your skill in it, regardless of what the people around you do. Decide up front that even if you look like an idiot you’re going to do it anyway. And once you move past there and begin to develop some skill (and you will), do it in humility. Make your goal to be the best you can, not better than others. And help develop others along the way, even if that means they become better than you.
Get out there in life, stay focused on what is important, and enjoy giving it 100%. Set yourself up to win in what’s important by giving yourself permission to lose.