Actually, It Is Whether You Win or Lose

If you set out to discover how people feel about the issue of competition, you will find yourself walking knee-deep in philosophical, psychological, neo-political and even religious opinion. You will find it a rather polarizing issue.

On one extreme are people who feel like competition is bad because there are winners and losers and no one should ever be made to feel like a loser. Ever.

On the other extreme are the survival-of-the-fittest crowd who view life as containing two distinct groups of people…carnivores and their lunch.

We actually live somewhere in the middle.

Even the bearded Cuban communist Fidel Castro weighed in on it, “I find capitalism repugnant. It is filthy, it is gross, it is alienating…because it causes war, hypocrisy and competition.”

I would take him more serious if his country had more modern cars than 1957 Chevys burning leaded gas. But they can’t drive very far anyway in Cuba so it probably doesn’t matter.

Competition is controversial but regardless how you feel about it, competing is a significant part of life, so we probably need to address it.

And today, I am going to use Sunday School lessons for children to make a point about it.

Seriously?  The issue of competition compares to Sunday School stories?

I think it does.

The need to compete is like the rough-edged part of the Bible story that we don’t tell young children. We shield them from it as long as we can. Or at least until they are ready for it.

Bible lessons for young children are always the good, inspiring and simple to understand parts of the Bible. Adults know that life is not always good, inspiring and simple, but you still don’t want to give meat to someone with no teeth. Keep the food soft and easy to handle.

David the shepherd boy killed the evil giant Goliath with a simple slingshot and a smooth stone. A great inspiring story. But we probably stop at the point that he then chopped off Goliath’s head and held it up for all to admire.

At what age is David’s relationship with Bathsheba appropriate to discuss?

Noah obeyed God and saved his family and all the animals. The baby tigers are so cute and cuddly. But at what age is it right to expose children to God’s wrath as he obliterated a sinful population with a flood?

We can shield children from the pain of defeat or rejection for only so long, but at some point, we all compete for something and either win or lose. The first time you applied for a job and got it, you were very happy and maybe thanked God for an answer to prayer. But another person was praying for that same job and lost. The answer to their prayer was not so positive. They need to struggle with thanking God amidst trials.

The first time losing happens to anyone, life just got complicated and confusing.

I dislike competition, but I know it is good for me. Competition pushes me beyond my self-imposed limits.

I have often recommended to aspiring authors they attend a book fair if they can. If you want to see an example of publishing competition in all facets, a commercial book fair is the perfect place.

Bookstores and libraries are quiet. They are more like book museums than attention-seeking venues. In a commercial book fair, the environment is noisy, confusing and borderline overwhelming.  Authors who think the world of books is like the library and bookstore are stunned by the craziness of a book fair.

The publishing marketplace is a lot more like book fairs than bookstores.

As an author, you are competing for the attention of everyone, not in a vacuum, but as if you are trying to get their attention while someone is vacuuming. It is difficult and tiring.

If you still think your book still stands out from the competition after attending a book fair, then you should keep pressing forward. If you are intimidated by the competition for attention, then you might need to reevaluate your desire to be a published author.

You write, re-write and re-write again. Then someone says, “It is not good enough yet,” and you go back to work. Push, push and push some more. Relentless effort is what it takes.

You compete and you lose a number of times before you finally win once, then lose some more before you win again. Run the race so as to win. Compete. Never give up.

Competition is everywhere. We do it every day. It invades every part of our lives.

Now stop.

Stop right here and take a deep breath.

Count to ten slowly.

None of this has any application or implication to your acceptance by God. You are saved by grace. Accepted by grace. Forgiven by grace. You didn’t earn it. You didn’t compete for it. You didn’t win it. You can’t boast, brag or take credit for it.

 And you absolutely cannot lose it. Ever.

 Can you learn spiritual lessons through the process of writing and re-writing? Yes.

 Can God use the process of competing to mold you into a humble person more like Christ? Absolutely.

 Will he use what you wrote? Yes.

 You’ve already won the greatest prize when God adopted you into his family. Since that issue is taken care of, you are free to enjoy the competitive publishing process because it is not a life and death struggle, even though sometimes it feels like it.

16 Responses to Actually, It Is Whether You Win or Lose

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton September 29, 2015 at 4:17 am #

    Hi Dan,

    I know everybody won’t agree with this, but putting your kids in sports is good training for life. Like Sunday school, many T-ball and soccer leagues start out without keeping score. It’s a gentle beginning.

    As you get older, you keep score. One reason I think this is important is so our children can learn about winning and losing from their parents. Of course, the parents need to be mature enough to counsel the children. Parents need to be able to show unconditional love like God shows us love.

    You’re right. Nothing is more important than God’s love.

    Great post!

  2. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 29, 2015 at 5:24 am #

    There’s something that goes hand-in-hand with competition…or it should.

    Sportsmanship.

    I got fed to the teeth with the law-of-the-jungle types; big words, big attitudes and spoiled children inside. They are like trophy hunters; let’s shoot the dangerous game as long as we have a professional hunter ready to protect our precious skins.

    Sportsmanship is part of being a gentleman, with the goals of kindness, honour, and fair play. Many people think it’s outdated.

    Well, then so am I. Rather be obsolete with honour bright, anyway.

  3. Avatar
    Lynne September 29, 2015 at 5:56 am #

    “As an author, you are competing for the attention of everyone, not in a vacuum, but as if you are trying to get their attention while someone is vacuuming.” Best. Quote. Ever.

  4. Avatar
    Linda Riggs Mayfield September 29, 2015 at 6:31 am #

    Dan,
    Is the agent’s pile of things to read the playing field for the competition? It feels like that, right now. And if it is, I’m thinking writers might play, and play, and play, and never see the score in the game, or know who won and lost–the spectators just start trickling out of the stands, then the players start leaving the field, and finally you figure out for yourself that the game is over. That’s what I’m getting from the caveats like, “If you haven’t heard from us in 60-90 days, we aren’t interested.” I’d rather know that I lost the game because I couldn’t throw long enough passes, so I could practice that, than finally head for the locker room still wondering if any of the spectators had even seen me play, or if anyone was actually keeping score. Apparently I’m learning a new way to play the game, or a new game altogether. There’s a learning curve.

    • Dan Balow
      Dan Balow September 29, 2015 at 6:44 am #

      You pretty much summarized the issue, but I think this goes far beyond publishing. We are inundated with so much communication that many people simply don’t respond because they are overwhelmed.

      Agents and publishers cannot give concrete or helpful reasons for declining something because we all run out of ways to say, “It really didn’t grab me.”

      This is all mostly subjective and personal with everyone involved. Not nearly as business-like or scientific as anyone thinks.

      Frustrating? Yes.

    • Avatar
      Linda Riggs Mayfield September 29, 2015 at 7:20 am #

      Thanks, Dan. I understand the subjectivity piece. I’d still happily receive “It really didn’t grab me,” over perpetually wondering if the overwhelmed agent or publisher with the ever-growing reading pile had ever even seen my proposal. Since it doesn’t work that way, the learning curve includes not only patience, but tolerance for ambiguity, and that’s seeming to be the harder of the two, right now. 🙂

  5. Avatar
    Christine Henderson September 29, 2015 at 6:35 am #

    Though I would prefer an easier road to being published, I definitely agree with your statement, “Competition pushes me beyond my self-imposed limits. I’ve been striving with that in my children’s stories.

    More importantly, thank you for the reminder that we don’t have to compete for God’s love. What a blessing that is!

  6. Avatar
    Diana Harkness September 29, 2015 at 6:42 am #

    Competition is healthy. When I was aspiring to enter law school at the Ohio State University, I competed on practice exams until I could repetitively obtain scores that would get me into Harvard. If we aim high, even if we miss, we will end up better than if we never aim, compete, aspire (or whichever descriptive term you prefer) at all. When I write I aim for Marilynne Robinson and C.S. Lewis, and Ann Patchett and Frederick Buechner andothers. I will be happy if I only write better than I think I can and bring glory to God as I do. And if I do kill the giant with a singles stone (or have a huge hit with my first novel), I will chop off the head (or accept my Pulitzer) and celebrate!.

  7. Avatar
    Alice Thomas September 29, 2015 at 6:45 am #

    Excellent article, Dan. Thank you!

  8. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka September 29, 2015 at 6:50 am #

    Can I admit I laughed out loud at your line about being one of two things—the carnivore or the lunch? Loved it. Thank goodness there is a middle ground.

    in reading your post, I was reminded of my son’s football game over the weekend. The refs called our team out for the smallest of infractions while ignoring the injuries our boys incurred by the other team, and throwing flags and giving penalties. It was a very unfairly called game, and I was steamed. Our boys learned that life isn’t always fair. The question is, how will they respond in the midst of, and after, the unfairness?

    And that’s a question all of us need to ask. God never promises us life will be fair, in sports, or in publishing. For me, I’m learning to keep my eyes on the Lord and carry on with what He’s called me to do. He’s teaching me character lessons through the disappointments and drawing me closer to Himself. And really, that’s the best thing that can happen.

    GREAT post today, Dan.

  9. Avatar
    Jay Payleitner September 29, 2015 at 7:21 am #

    Can competition make you a better person? I can answer that question with one word: “Awana.”

  10. Avatar
    Jennie Bishop September 29, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Oh, thank you for this. 🙂

  11. Avatar
    Teresa Pesce September 29, 2015 at 8:23 am #

    Truth can hurt. Lies hurt more. Thank you for a big heaping bowl of truth! Kinda like a big steaming plate of kale. Not our first choice, but really really really good for us!

  12. Avatar
    Carol Ashby September 29, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    The reality may be surprising to nonparticipants, but scientific research is a body-contact team sport. It is a quest for truth about the physical world, but it is also a race between research teams to see who can get the breakthrough first. You can spend months working on a research project only to find you’ve been scooped when the first report of the answer you’re seeking appears in the new issue of your favorite physics journal. Knowing that can happen can push researchers to routinely work 60-to-80-hour weeks in a hot field. (That’s not as bad as it sounds because it really is fun work…like being paid to play as a pro athlete or like writing until 2 a.m. when you’re in the flow with your novel.) Engineering research and development are the same. The US patent formerly went to the first to invent and now goes to the first inventors to report the invention. Coming in second doesn’t get you anything.

    It seems to me that there are very strong parallels in publishing. The difference I hope to find in Christian publishing is our attitude toward others’ success when we are still waiting for our own. Andrew touched the closest secular analogy – sportsmanship. I think of it as following Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:15 to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I saw it over and over with my kids’ Christian school track team where the losers hugged and congratulated the winners of their heats. I’m going to pour my energy into running the race to win, but I don’t want the victory so much that I would trip someone in the final few yards to get it.

  13. Avatar
    Sarah Bennett September 29, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    “I would take him more serious if his country had more modern cars than 1957 Chevys burning leaded gas. But they can’t drive very far anyway in Cuba so it probably doesn’t matter.” I laughed much too hard at these lines!

    Thanks for grabbing the bull by the horns with this topic, Dan. I love the straightforward approach. As Linda said, I prefer the “Thanks but no thanks approach,” so it is refreshing to hear someone inside an agency lay it out.

    Then you bookend it with God’s message of eternal hope. Your blog touched me deeply. Thank you!

  14. Avatar
    rochellino September 29, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

    Dan, you are masterful! Many of us might be quite challenged to broach this subject with such creative aplomb.

    Your refined humor lubricated what could otherwise be quite a screechy jolt (insert scratchy record sound here) transitioning from your initial hook into such a sincere and powerful close. Your “take away” will not be quickly forgotten. Your point is quite salient.

    Kudo’s!

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