The problem of always winning

Growing up, I remember spending every Saturday without fail at my grandparents. We would all go out, with my Mum and Nan consulting on clothing and the like, and when we got back, we would play all manner of games, draughts, buckaroo, Sorry, Snakes and Ladders.. and many more I have likely long since forgotten. It provided me with a host of good memories and a life time love for board games. There was only one problem with this, they always let me win.

At the time, this was amazing, I was quite clearly the luckiest girl on earth, every game, I am a winner! This instilled an amazing sense of optimism, but at the same time created an expectation. When I played board games with other people, this became a contention. I was no longer naturally winning, this created uproar and confusion. I had to start dealing with losing too.

What probably kept me going through this transition was likely two things. First was my utter love for games and second was my Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave suddenly brought a host of new games into my life – Monopoly, Risk and one of my utter devotions, Scrabble. So the process of learning these infinitely more complex games counterbalanced me losing more often. And this helped. A bit.

I mean I knew that people both won and lost and that this was okay. Intellectually I understood this variable, but emotionally, not so much. I remember congratulating opponents on their win then excusing myself to go hide and cry. I felt terrible, I had lost the game, I had failed. This sense of failure I really closely identified with. I likened what should have been an entertaining diversion with a catastrophic event. Losing at a game and linking that to self-worth was not healthy.

And then I became older and suddenly losing at games became okay. I had learnt to distance myself from my unrealistic expectation of always winning, to enjoying games for the sheer sake of playing them. I enjoyed the process without being dependent on the outcome.

I still play board games now (when I can find willing participants!), and now my loves have extended to cards, mancala, Trivial Pursuit and very much still Scrabble. However, it is the playing I love, the social interaction, the tactile appreciation and the intellectual reasoning that accompanies strategy and knowledge-based games. It is nice to win sometimes, but I don’t hold onto those feelings as something that endorses my self-worth. For me losing was an excellent skill to acquire, it increased my strength to take risks. When losing felt terrible, it mirrored how terrible I felt about any loss, any misadventure could spell danger. Now I am less afraid.

Map Point. Where does my self-worth come from?


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