Why the Easy Win is the Worst Win

Joe Eames
Joe Eames
Jan 31 · 5 min read

Easy success sounds so good. It’s almost seductive. Whether that’s handily winning a sports game or automatically getting that promotion, a romantic relationship that immediately goes perfectly or buying some random stock and having it go up 200% within a month. These and many other situations are easy successes. They call to us. We hope for them. Pray for them. Long for them and seek them out. It’s the “get rich quick” scheme. The winning lottery ticket. It’s life on easy street. Why wouldn’t you want that?

Why indeed…

But maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason or two as to why the easy win, the easy success, is not truly what you need, even if you may think you want it.

Let’s consider a simple case: A chess game against a challenging opponent. Over and over you have been beaten. Your opponent bests you time and again. You want the win. You crave the win. You know how sweet victory would be against this opponent.

In this situation, what’s the worst thing that could happen? To be handed a win. Your opponent forfeits, or throws the game and purposely plays poorly so that you can win. What’s the result? Did you get what you sought to achieve?

Now consider the alternative. You work, you study, you practice, and then one day you play that opponent and you win. You out-thought, out-maneuvered, and out-played that challenging opponent. Which of the two above situations brings you what you wanted? Only the latter. The easy win, strangely enough, robs you of the actual victory.

Let’s consider the classic easy win: the lottery. Let’s imagine you win a tidy sum of money in a lottery. Life is suddenly good. You have the money you want. You can spend it on the things you want, enjoy life, travel, possibly give charitable donations. But what happens when that money is spent? What’s your game plan? You got where you were through sheer luck. Is your follow-up strategy to turn back to the lottery? Consider this: If you won a lot of money in the lottery, what would be one of the most foolish things you could do with that money?.. Spend it all on more lottery tickets!

That easy lottery win, strangely enough, delivered very little.

What’s the true difference between the easy success and the hard-earned one? The easy success might change your circumstances, but the earned success brings about real inner change.

Let me tell you a personal story.

Years ago, I started ng-conf along with four of my friends. It was the first large-scale Angular conference ever. Things fell into place in a way that’s nearly unbelievable. The Angular team agreed to support it. Twitter went crazy over the idea. Speakers sent in submissions by the hundreds, and most amazingly of all was that when we put tickets on sale, we sold out in TEN SECONDS! Yes, that’s right. We sold almost 500 tickets in ten seconds. It was the easiest win of my life.

For several years this was the pattern. Each year was a sell-out with little effort on our part. Each year we put on events that I’m incredibly proud of. I truly believe it’s the best conference in tech. Even when we doubled our size it was the same. Instant sell-out.

But then last year, something strange happened. We didn’t quite sell out. We did sell 99% of our tickets, but we didn’t sell the last few. We had no idea why, and worse, we had no idea what to do about it. The cost of the easy win finally made itself known. Because we hadn’t worked hard to get ng-conf to the level we had reached, we had no idea what to do when the success wasn’t coming automatically anymore. The sales had always come to us; we never had to work hard for them.

We’re only a few months away from the 2020 edition of ng-conf and we won’t sell out again. We are now doing the work we should have been doing when we first decided to do a conference…figuring out how to get customers in the door. We never had to do this before. And let me honestly say that it is nerve-wracking. To realize that you don’t actually know what you’re doing.

This is the curse of the easy win. We didn’t earn it. So when something doesn’t go perfectly, we don’t know the right moves to fix the problem. We have to now earn that knowledge.

Let’s break down all the things that the easy win takes away from you:

First, the satisfaction of the win. A win handed to you is always far more hollow than one you have to struggle for. As humans, we rarely value what we’re given, only what we earn.

Second, control. An unearned win happens despite our effort. We didn’t influence the outcome. So we don’t have control. The realization that we can’t repeat our success can be a difficult reality to face.

Third, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Earning a win brings hard-earned knowledge and insight. The easy success doesn’t give us this.

Fourth, the ability to replicate our efforts. There’s no strategy for luck. Which would you rather have: a year’s income of a senior developer or the skill of a senior developer? Money can be lost or spent. But in-demand skills cannot be taken away.

Finally, the ability to solve problems. Relationships are a good example here. The first parts of committed relationships are often easy. This is often referred to as the “Honeymoon Phase”. But inevitably, difficulties happen. No two people can go without conflict of some kind. Whether it’s acknowledged or not, it will happen. If you have to work on a relationship, you can increase your confidence that you can work through future problems, and that creates security. But if you haven’t earned the smooth sailing by surviving the storm, then any random wave, big or small, might capsize your ship.

What is given by luck can easily be lost by misfortune.

So next time you see what appears to be an easy win or next time you experience one, accept it for what it is. A pleasant bit of fortune. But never stop working to earn your successes. If you keep at it, the successes will come and they’ll be far sweeter than anything simply given to you.

Happy Coding!

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Joe Eames

Written by

Joe Eames

Mormon, Christian, Father, CEO of Thinkster.io, Organizer of @ngconf, @frameworksummit, React Conf. Front end developer, and Software Craftsmanship Evangelist.

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