There is a saying that comes from the Tao Te Ching 2500 years ago that says that when you gain you also lose and when you lose you also gain.
The concept is that there are pros and cons to everything. So when you win, there are still cons. When you lose, there are still benefits. Sometimes people say you win when you lose and lose when you win. Either way of saying it, it comes down to the same idea.
Besides the general insight gained from this, I think that looking at the world systematically we can gain even more insight. When we look at complex systems and start to gain a fuller understanding of the interconnecting parts, we can start to see that winning is still just a part of the system and there are other elements that are impacted.
Imagine you are training for the Olympics. Your whole life is consumed with the dream of standing there holding the gold metal. Every morning you wake up with that motivation to get started and every night you imagine what it will feel to win.
Let’s say you accomplish your goal. You won the gold. Most people assume that everything should now be better. We should be happy and full of pride.
So is there anything that could be considered a con? We can easily list the benefits but the cons seem more difficult.
What about the fact that the driver throughout your life, the purpose for everything you do, is suddenly gone. You don’t wake up with that incredible motivation. You don’t go to sleep dreaming about what it will be like. You have accomplished your goal and won but still there is a part that becomes lost.
Now that you won, people will start to treat you differently. Sometimes that will be a positive thing because people will probably show you more respect and admiration than before. But if you aren’t careful this can go to your head and cause you to do things you normally wouldn’t.
Also some people will suddenly treat you negatively due to jealousy. Some people will act nice around you but act differently when you aren’t around. Some people will try to get close to you for the money or feelings they gain by being your friend.
While winning the gold was probably much more good than bad, there are certainly elements of both. Some things are better, some things are worse.
That is the wisdom behind the Tao Te Ching and the concept that you lose when you gain.
But what about winning when you lose? Can you actually gain from losing?
Most successful people can point to a specific failure or set of failures as the reason they accomplished so much. They felt a devastating loss and that propelled them towards an elevated work ethic and attitude that nothing will stand in the way of success.
So even when you lose, there are benefits. Many times this only applies if you actively set out to see the positives in a bad situation and turn around a failure to help you learn and grow.
But regardless, there are benefits to losing. You can gain something positive from a failure or loss.
The effect that this has had on my life is one of increased calm. Knowing that there is benefit in losing and consequences to winning puts everything in perspective. There is good in bad and bad in good. Therefore it isn’t about reaching some destination that will provide happiness. It is about living in a content, happy state while still constantly looking to improve and get better.
Suddenly the calmness turns into confidently working hard. It isn’t as much as sacrifice and hating the work, it becomes about enjoying the difficulties and effort that it takes to improve. Because if you can capture this mindset you will keep working hard and getting better while still understanding that winning isn’t some perfect ending. It is really just more of a milestone that you will reach and then keep going past.