Saturday, July 20, 2013

Exploring My Need to Win

I recall feeling virtuous, even brilliant, back in my college days, playing whist and pinochle with "the big boys," older boys who had learned to play cards in the service and were returned, going to college on the GI bill. I was proud of myself, holding my own with them, drinking and playing cards long into the night, studies forgotten, every cell in my brain focused on winning, counting and remembering what cards had been played.

In graduate school, I recall playing bridge and later duplicate bridge with the same drive to win, the same steady focus of my attention on the cards and reading subtle nuances of my opponents' facial expression. It was all about winning. I needed to win, and win I mostly did.

This eight-year obsession with cards ended as I developed work-place friends who weren't interested in playing. But the need to win stayed with me, and is still with me, as I discovered in the past few weeks.

A friend called, saying she and her sister wanted me to join them for a card game, "Hand & Foot," a version of Canasta. Mostly a game of luck, winning based on the cards you are dealt and draw, it seems to be played as a social thing, something to do, background "music" to a gathering, time to be and talk with friends, while pleasantly engaged in a light-hearted game; at least that's how it seems to be with them.

We played that first time, and I won. Yay! Fun, I thought, this is quite fun. The next time, my luck was down and I didn't do so well. I heard myself complaining whining about my cards, getting grumpier, not enjoying myself as much as the first time. And the third time we played, a couple of days ago, my luck was horrible. I lost miserably, my score only about a third of the winner's score.

Even KNOWING my face and comments showed my displeasure with every card I drew, with every hand I lost, and with every time the scores were read aloud (after each hand), I couldn't stop myself from exuding negativity. Near the end of the last hand it was inevitable that my friend was the hands-down winner. I put my cards down and declared the game over, she the winner. Nope. Wasn't to be. They play to the end, they told me, and count the points. It's only a game, they said, and we finish the game no matter what.

Why? I didn't understand why they wanted to keep playing or add up the scores when the outcome, the winner, was already known. I guess the answer is that winning isn't the objective of the play for them. What is the objective? I should ask them.

I've been thinking about it a lot, recalling opportunities to play games, such as Trivial Pursuits, which I won't play, EVER, because I know I'm no good at remembering facts and would not win, recalling other times when I was a "poor sport," embarrassing myself as I just did with my friends, recalling getting angry and tearful playing board games as a child whenever luck failed me, recalling how gleeful and smart-ass I can be when winning.

What does this tell me about my life, this compulsion to win, to win or not to play at all? What opportunities have I lost by choosing to not play for fear of losing? How can I retrain myself to be a better sport, to let go of winning, playing more light-heartedly? How did I get this way? Why am I such a poor sport about not winning (and sometimes an equally poor sport about winning)?

I am looking far back in my childhood for clues of understanding. I remember being about 4 or 5 years old at a family gathering with grandma, grandpa, and several of the great aunts and uncles. One of the uncles did magic tricks and staged competitions for me, my 2nd cousin, and my brother. He'd give us each a balloon, telling us to blow it up until it popped, offering a new and shiny fifty cent piece (a lot of money in the 1940s) to whichever of us first popped their balloon. Being afraid of the noise and the explosion of the popping balloon, I couldn't do it. Every time there was a family gathering, we played this same game; every time I lost, didn't get the much-desired coin.

That's my earliest memory of a game. I see a vague picture of the two boys, my brother and cousin, huddled together admiring the coin, my uncle beaming at them, maybe a few other relatives standing around to watch the game, smiling at them. Did I feel abandoned, ignored, worthless? Did my immature brain decide then and there to never play a game unless I could win? Did resentment begin to build, resentment that I still carry to a card game with friends, resentment about not being a winner, and therefore not important, not worthwhile, nearly invisible?

Here is the bigger question: Do I see LIFE as a game that must be won? Do I miss life opportunities for fear I won't win? Am I a poor sport when I can't be in control, when life deals me a "bad hand?" Do I cast a cloud of resentment over myself and others whenever I'm in a no-win situation? Do I fear the invisibility of players who do not stand on the winning platform?

I continue to ponder, trying to understand, trying to change.


  1. That's an awful lot of questions that I can't relate to. I'm a play it out kind of person. We play Eucher. Terry must win, but never denies an opportunity for fear of losing. I don't know what that says about you...a fear of being inferior?It certainly can't be that. You have such wonderful skills. It can be hard trying to figure ourselves and our motives out.

    I wouldn't dwell on shoulda's to much. Don't be so hard on yourself.
    xx, Carol

  2. I've been rolling this post around in my head for a couple of days, hesitating to spout off, like some kind of know it all! Oh well, I'll just share what I've been up to.. and if it helps, it's worth it. :-)

    For several months I've been participating in an online teaching seminar called Rediscovery of the Heart. Bottomline, it's about learning what is at the ROOT of all we see, think, say, do... etc. Uses a lot of latest scientific research, along with ancient wisdoms. Very indepth.

    I've been searching all my life to the kind of answers you wrote about here. And much of it helped. But... didn't seem to get to the ROOT, and there was relapse, struggle, missing answers, etc etc.

    This seminar teaches that all our experiences in life are stored in our memory, in our Heart, in images. That all subsequent events are interpreted based upon those previously stored images. And if we have negative events stored in our Heart, with wrong conclusions (ie: my Father left when I was small, THEREFORE I must not be loveable) then the future events will be colored with that wrong conclusion, and we won't usually even be aware of why we feel that way now.

    As with your memory of the game and the coin, it is not the event itself, but the THEREFORE that you as a little girl, gave to it; the meaning you got from it, that has stuck with you, buried deep in your Heart ever since.

    I'm doing a horrible job of summarizing months of teachings! Please bear with me...

    My point: for a long time I had a memory that I've tried to heal; tried to forgive; tried to "reframe"; tried to understand; tried to analyze, etc etc. All OUTER bandaids that only helped on the surface. The pain from the memory lingered, whenever the memory/image got triggered.

    Then, I learned that our memories are always NOW. In our Heart, they exist NOW. Try closing your eyes and remembering something scary, and your heart rate will increase, and you will physiologically and emotionally re-experience it NOW. (ever been bit by a spider? I have, and even thinking of it will increase MY heartbeat!)

    And we were taught in this seminar we can go back to that image/memory, and apply light, love, truth... and while not changing the FACTS of the event, we CAN change our "experience", and the conclusions from it, the "therefore" part.

    I did that with the painful memory of me and my Dad. And the pain finally was healed, the image changed in my imagination, and I could have compassion on him, and see that if he could have, he would have been able to handle it better.

    This is not some hippie dippie woo woo stuff... it was a very real and emotional healing for me. And I felt free from the pain of the memory, and a tenderness for my Dad and compassion took it's place. He is gone now, so I could not have reconciliation in real life. But this has been very real for me, like closure.

    One thing he said to me in anger back then, when I was so young, as he was throwing a huge glass ashtray at me, was "Who do you think you are?!!" And it affected my sense of worth ever since. That is GONE now, and I feel acknowledged, whole, accepted, and loved. It's so remarkable and wonderful... there are no words.

    Sorry to be so longwinded, but I wanted to say, those questions you asked ARE important, and it IS important to heal those images/memories that are stored in your Heart. It may take time, but it is so worth it.

    I'm not into "recruitment" or stuff like that, so I'll just say if you want to know more and even join the seminar, feel free to email me. But NO NO NO pressure. My motive is not to recruit, but to share something wonderful that happened to me, in hopes it would encourage YOU.

  3. Wow, Loretta! What an awesome strong comment. I've done similar training and reached similar happy results.

    Robin, you are one of the finest people I know. You're so honest about yourself.

    I am also quite competitive. I do play and work at things I don't win at, but I very much like to win when I do play games. I also want to be "as good as" others - or better - at things like exercise and stamina (and sainthood, in general).

    Matt and I have learned to play with our game rules. They're all made up, anyway, why not make our own? I started this years ago with 2 teen-aged nieces staying with me for the summer. One was highly literate and knew a lot of words (like us). The other one had difficulty reading and spelling and didn't know a lot of words. We played Scrabble all summer. Our primary rule change was that we could all use the dictionary to look up words that fit the letters we had. By the end of the summer, she was reading voluntarily and knew at least 100 new words - and so did we!

    Now we have another rule: we can use Hawaiian words and the Hawaiian dictionary. This helps us expand our vocabulary. The winner gets to cook dinner the next night. ;)

    I expect being competitive and wanting to always "win" is a form of control - which is usually fear-based. Even someone like you, who has more personality, beauty, talent and artistic ability in her little toenail than most folks do in their town, can be afraid.

    "Fear is the little maker" - a (possible misquote) from "Dune". Fear makes up stories.

    love you, sister


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