Only one thing is more important than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience

John M. Templeton
Worldwide Laws of Life
Today can be a day filled with opportunities for you to express yourself, expand yourself, and experience the world around you. A lot of people talk about life. Some love it. Some disparage it.  And a few realize that life can be what you make it because they have learned from past experiences. Lessons learned from these experiences have often contributed greatly toward seeing the possibilities in what some people call “the game of life.” When we’ve “been there” and “done that,” we can have as good of an idea of what we don’t want as what we do want. Experience is certainly an excellent teacher!A lot of emphasis is placed on winning in today’s world. We’ve been taught that everyone loves a winner and, as the former baseball manager Leo Durocher put it, “Nice guys finish last.” In professional sports, winning is everything. In business, often striving for the top rung of the ladder can be a constant goal. Nations compete with other nations to win control of markets.  Companies spend millions of advertising dollars to help win over the consumer. The saying “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” may seem to some to be a worn shibboleth, judged by current competitive standards. However, there is great wisdom in the Chinese proverb, “Those who play the game do not see as clearly as those who watch.”

While the experience of winning can be a good thing, placing an inflated value on being first can be destructive. There is often a mistaken assumption that you can be a better and happier person if you often come in first. But the fact is, many who hold the top seat in their sphere of expertise prove to be unhappy and insecure on a personal level. What does coming in first actually mean? It simply means you outperformed someone else on a given day. Your next performance could be completely different, as new and eager talented competitors zealously vie for your position. You can be certain that the position on the top rung seldom goes unchallenged. If your self esteem rides on your ability to outmaneuver, outwit, or outsmart someone else, you might have a great deal riding on a very shaky foundation. Approached in this way, competition can become a weapon used to destroy those who threaten to depose your vulnerable empire.

Now, the experience of competition can be a positive force in our lives. In fact, it can be a necessary part of the continuing progress, improvements, and vigor of our social and economic development. On a personal level, competing with another in sports or business can provide you with an opportunity to sharpen and expand your skills. In addition, it often brings into focus those areas that need further development. You can gather a tremendous amount of experience and useful information quickly either by engaging in competition or observing others competing.

The problem lies not in competition but in our attitude toward whatever we’re doing. So often we tend to measure ourselves and our self‑worth by how well we do against our opponents. If we lose the game, we may believe we’re losers. If we come in second, we could feel we’re second‑rate. It’s important to remember that productive competition with another can serve as a yardstick that measures our performance, not our value as a person.

Mao Zedong, chairman of the People’s Republic of China, commented, “If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. . . . If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in the revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.” We can learn from the experiences in the game of life, and we can also learn from not learning from experiences when life gives us another opportunity!

If you sincerely work toward making each performance a little better than the last one—and if you find your sense of life steadily expanding and improving because you are building on your experiences—you can emerge as a winner in more ways than one.