To play any sport well, you must want to win. At a minimum, you must care about playing well. But even the most competitive, dedicated athletes lose from time to time. The healthiest response?
“It’s only a game.”
On one level, sport is a showcase for much that is important about being human: commitment to excellence, training hard to achieve a goal, teamwork, intelligence, and so on. A champion team can boost the morale of a whole city, and a perennial loser can give the entire population an inferiority complex. I should know: I lived in greater Boston when the Curse of the Bambino was finally broken.
On another level, sport is just a way to have some fun and it doesn’t matter who wins. On yet another level, it’ some guys trying to whack a ball with a stick and it’s absolutely pointless. When we say, “It’s only a game,” we’re adjusting our view to regard one of these other levels instead of the level where everything is so darn important.
I think it’s helpful to be able to live like that in all areas.
Sometimes the everyday level where most of our dedication is focused doesn’t work out so well and there’s nothing we can do about it. At those times, it can be healthy to adjust your level.
Some people go up a level to “Everything happens for a reason.” or “This is all part of God’s plan.”
Others go down a level to “This is just how the molecules bump sometimes.”
For me, going down a level works better. Invoking the metaphysical just prompts more questions and more anxiety as I try to figure out what that mysterious reason could be, or why God’s very best plan (what other kind would he have?) had to include this particular element. Other people are by nature less troubled by these questions and for them going up a level works best.
Either way, we’re saying life is only a game: either a training ground for the Great Beyond or a curious and playful phenomenon that emerges from the laws of physics.
If we live every waking moment thinking life is only a game and therefore unimportant, we won’t play well and we won’t be happy. On the other hand, if we can never adopt that perspective, life can be pretty hard.
So, enjoy the game when you can. When you can’t … it’s only a game.