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How I Ended Up Non-Ambitious

"In fact, don’t compete against other people at all."

When I was a kid I was in a similar place. My parents wanted me to play Little League and I did and I was just terrible. I wasn't a very athletic kid and I always felt like a miserable failure every time I stunk up the field.

Later I found other things to do and one of them is chess. I love chess but I'm not very good at it either. Maybe average if one is feeling generous. I'm terrible at memorization so I have no opening book. I get my butt handed to me on a regular basis. This time, however, being destroyed doesn't have the same effect on me.

What's the difference? My self-image is no longer tied up in winning so losing is no longer ego-crushing. I do still compete, though. I've just adjusted my parameters a bit.

I still compete, however. I compete with myself, or my previous self, to be more specific. This is much more rewarding, allows me to have goals of increasing difficulty and doesn't make me feel like a loser. In fact, I learn more from the post-disaster post-mortem than when I win. I win in either case.

I don't think it's about competing or not competing. I think it's about what you're trying to get out of competing. If you're trying to win because it's necessary to please your parents or coach or some external thing (ie, "I must be the BEST!") then you pay a steep price for losing. Your joy for winning is mostly relief for not disappointing--where's the fun in that? By adjusting your goals within your competing you can compete and has a positive experience win or lose.

"Even better, do things that aren’t that hard in an absolute sense, so that you don’t risk failing."

I'd offer a different perspective on this. There's nothing wrong with failing! Sure, you don't want to pick goals that are ridiculously outside of your current abilities but biting off more than you can chew can teach you amazing things.

I was a super-genius kid. Computers was my thing and I started at 11. This was in 1975 when you didn't have a computer in every bathroom. I started programming for real (ie, for real-life things one can get paid for) at 14, wrote a 4GL at 20 and built a company around it writing enterprise-wide applications. One was featured at a symposium at the Smithsonian. A lot of the things I tried blew up in my face but, like chess, I learned the most from having my butt handed to me. When I tried the next thing I my toolbox was much larger than it had been before. It wasn't "I failed." It was, "Well, that didn't work and here's why . . ."

BUT . . . this only works if you actually WANT the goal. This is important--do you "want" it or do you "think" you want it? If you want it then there's no penalty if you fail. Okay, it does suck but we get over it. Figure out where you went wrong and you've learned from it and you're more likely to succeed the next time. It may take a few shots but you'll get there. If you "think" you want it (ie, you want it because you want approval or other ancillary thing) then the first time you fail you're a loser.

It's not about keeping goals small so that you don't fail. It's about picking goals for which you are passionate about so that failure isn't losing. Failure is now a bump in the road--expect it, mine it and move on.

It sounds like you think you're minimizing failure. I'm not sure this is a good plan. A better one might be to minimize the emotional blow failure can do to you. Sure, avoiding failure is one way to do this. Another is to realize the benefits of bombing horribly (trust me, I've left some amazing craters!) and see it as part of the process.

Oh, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a nurse if it's what you genuinely want to do. Satisfying someone else's estimation of your potential is a recipe for a miserable life. Finding what brings out your own joy and doing it is deceptively simple and works. If it floats your boat then just do it and be happy. Please yourself first, grow into who you want to be and then you'll have joy to share with others. It took me 40 years to figure that out. I wish I'd figured that out decades ago.