The need to win

It’s rare to find prose as beautiful and as profound at the same time as this excerpt from the book The Way of Chuang Tzu.

“When an archer is shooting for nothing, he has all his skill. If he shoots for a brass buckle, he is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold, he goes blind or sees two targets – He is out of his mind.
His skill has not changed, But the prize divides him.
He cares, he thinks more of winning than of shooting – And the need to win drains him of power.”

Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

Most people spend a majority of their lives thinking about claiming that proverbial “pot of gold” by way of a better paying job, better-paying clients, a career promotion, more business, more business, or investing into a venture-backed unicorn-in-the-making. Our primary focus is material possessions and the improved social status instead of showing up as a professional with the passion, knowledge, skills, to deliver on the expectations while staying curious and humble enough to learn from the experience.

I’m not opposed to the idea of having material possessions. Not at all. I think it can’t become a primary focus because the moment it becomes, your work as a professional suffers, no matter how seasoned you are or how great you think you are with your craft.

The archer is akin to a professional in our day and age. And just like the archer, we can’t afford to think of the pot of gold or winning (whatever that means to you) than shooting or doing the work in our context. Because doing that drains us the power to do the work we’re so good at. And delivering second-class work isn’t what professionals do.

Let go of this need to win, and you’ll be amazed to see the pot of gold (a.k.a., success) following you. Do the opposite, and you’re doomed for sure.

You’ve been warned.

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