Losing is how we become winners
Most of us want financial success, a beautiful wife (or husband) with a Phd in lovemaking and a couple of kids that either win a pulitzer prize or cure cancer. But what if we got all that? Could we ever really appreciate it? More importantly, would it make us the kind of happy we think it would?
Six months ago I had an amazing girlfriend. Fantastic in bed, financially successful, and deeply unhappy with life. And unhappy enough with me to dump me rather ambiguously, via text, a week before Christmas. She had it all but couldn’t find anything approaching happiness.
Just under three years ago I was in a completely different relationship. She was a teacher, an amazing mom and willing to give me everything she had. I threw it all away because I couldn’t find my happiness.
Now, here I sit all alone in a two bedroom apartment. Right on the Hudson River. I watch geese with their broods of young swimming by every day. Hawks and eagles fly over. I have less than I’ve ever had.
Over the last ten years I’ve lost:
- My wife, to the ugliest, most soul sucking disease I’ve ever encountered (ALS).
- All four of my kids, to adulthood and their own hopes and dreams.
- Two homes.
- Two pretty high potential relationships.
- More material possessions than I care to think about.
- All of my former fantasies about what life was supposed to be about.
It’s like I’ve won the lottery. The universe took everything that I didn’t need any longer and showed me what was important.
I write here because in writing I’ve found a bottomless well of creativity and life satisfaction. Maybe a few people find what I write to be helpful, or interesting, or even just a way to pass the time. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but I’d be lying. I value my readers more than I can ever express. Without an audience I really have no reason to write.
Part of me thinks I’ve uncovered some secret to life and that I should pass it along. But it’s kind of abstract and hard to convey. So I keep trying, hoping someday to find the words that resonate with you. Tomorrow I may find the words that resonate with another person. In this way a whole world can be changed. I mean look around, the world we live in is in dire need of changing. We just haven’t figured out what we change it into yet.
One of the most valuable exercises in thought I’ve ever experienced came via that unhappy woman I wrote about above. She asked me how having everything I needed would change my life. I’ve been trying to find a satisfactory answer to that question ever since.
If you have no unmet needs, what do you do for life satisfaction? I find it in being creative. Writing, taking photos, experiencing nature. Witnessing the grandeur of creation. And trying to give that feeling to other people. I think somewhere in there is a higher expression of success than anything our consumer culture can achieve. Because I’ve lost, or shed, many of the trappings of our culture and I truly believe I’m more successful for it. I know there’s more contentment in my life right now than there has been in the last several years.
I didn’t choose to lose my wife. And I’m nothing but thrilled that my kids seem to be successfully navigating their lives without much input from me. But the homes and material possessions? Yea, no big loss there. I’m better off without all that. The girlfriends? They gave me perspective I didn’t have before. And love I needed at the time. The combination of all those losses gave me a new outlook on life that I couldn’t have bought with all the money in the world.
In the end the only valid definition of success any of us have is the one we personally create for ourselves.
Thank you for reading.