We humans have a habit of idolising people we see who appear to be doing well for themselves. We not only mentally apply make-up to our limited, lopsided view of them, we also add very nice filters. But the closer we get to these people, the frailer they become, the more human they seem. It doesn’t mean we will admire them any less; we just understand them better. And so while fans see gods and immaculate icons, friends see souls that gravitate towards good and evil, minds that remember and forget, persons with virtues and flaws just as any other.
While from afar, admirers see the glories and success stories reported by the dailies, others who are closer witness not only the labours behind them but the many times the labours were in vain. And, indeed, there is never a perfect story of triumph. Life is not configured to be a yes man to our wishes. It is its own boss — sometimes it nods in approval, sometimes it gestures in disapproval, sometimes for a good reason, and other times for none at all.
I have seen a good number of people who think I never lose when it comes to writing competitions. For them, it is one win after the other — an unending, uninterrupted chain. When there is a call for submissions and I am asked if I intend to participate, an affirmative response often triggers defeatist utterances like “oh, you will definitely win,” “there is no point in me participating again,” “please leave it to us to the upcoming ones” and so on.
I have also witnessed moments of disbelief where someone who is aware I threw my hats in for a contest finds it difficult to accept I did not win. They either think I lie or rationalise the loss on my behalf. Having this in mind, I was glad when recently a friend suggested I confirm my win/loss ratio, after he asked and I didn’t know. “What if they ask during an interview?” he asked.
It is a good thing I have a folder on my personal computer containing all the articles I have ever worked on from 2012. All I need do was open, go through my entries one by one and record whether they ended up as victories or otherwise. And so, out of curiosity, I conducted this census, expecting nothing in particular.
For the sake of accuracy, I used three classifications: “won”, “lost” and “unsure.” The first includes competitions I had won since I became an undergraduate. It does not include those I participated in as a high schooler. It also includes victories from extemporaneous competitions — ones where candidates are gathered in a hall and there and then are given a topic to write on. The second category includes competitions whose organisers announced the names of winners and mine was not part. And the final category is for competitions which I suspect never reached the stage of announcement of winners, let alone conferment of awards. In other words, I do not know for certain how they turned out or how they could have.
In all, I have sent out entries for forty (40) writing competitions; and I still await the results of four (4). Of the other thirty-six (36), I have won fourteen (14), I have lost fourteen (14) and the ones unsure are eight (8) in number. Of my fourteen victories, eight were grand prizes. And interestingly, of the fourteen losses, five are from this year alone, some happening in so close a succession that I was pushed into taking a sip or two from the wineglass of philosophy.
I suppose it is, relatively, a feat to be proud of. Nonetheless, there are also lessons to learn. For every essay competition that I won, there was an equal — or even greater — proportion of loss. This only means even the best of us aren’t as perfect as they are thought to be. It doesn’t matter how far they have come. It is never as rosy as it seems, even for a rose. If you look more carefully, you will find the formidable army of thorns sitting comfortably around just as prefects in a secondary school or cultists on a university campus. It is how things are meant to be. And if not, at least it is how they are.
If I may reproduce here a statement I once posted on Facebook, vitamins of wins and proteins of pain combine to make life’s balanced diet. As a believer in stoic philosophy, I think I take losses quite well. When my friend asked about it, I told him I simply move on after each one. But sometimes you move on as an energetic cheetah; other times you move on, limping, as a wounded dog. I know those days will come; but they occasionally come when you least expect or desire — you badly need the money, the surge of excitement or the scope is so restricted that you reckon you may not be so good, but you also can’t be that bad.
Sometimes I handle losses from writing competitions by writing even more — about them, my thoughts, hurt and fears. I have realised it has a sublime therapeutic effect. Victories are good, no doubt. But losses have a way of not only preparing us for life but of humbling us. They deflate our shoulder pads and remind us of our humanness. However, it is not really about the losses, but how we react to them. Do we reject them outright and prefer to blame the judges for their short-sightedness or discrimination? Or do we listen to what they have to say, embracing them as hurdles screwed permanently atop the running track of life?
So, ladies and gentlemen, I have lost too, many times. But, no, I haven’t lost too many times. No amount of loss is ever enough to stop us in our tracks, to blind us from the sunny horizon of hope, to deprive us of the one thing that keeps us going — a burning desire for fulfilment.