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Success is not a zero-sum game - Blog of Much Holding

Success is not a zero-sum game

I lost a friend recently… no, they didn’t pass away; they just (very subtly) decided to no longer be my friend. They did this by “unfollowing” me on Twitter and ceasing all other communications with me. I reached out to them, and they never responded. I looked back at some of my last correspondences with that person, wondering if I had said or done anything to offend. And then I realized what had happened.

I was successful.

It was the last conversation I had, where the person said they were busy and I responded “Me, too!” I then rattled off all the personal and work projects I was doing – writing a new book, speaking at an upcoming conference, starting on a new design project, and becoming a featured writer on a popular website (Trekmovie.com). Apparently, that wasn’t well received – my friend “shut down” on me.

My wife said it sounded like I was “bragging” and my response was, no… I was just genuinely excited about the opportunities that I had in my life. She replied, directly, “You know, when a lot of people are unhappy and having a rough time… the last thing they want to hear is how successful you or someone else are.”

My wife’s a lot smarter than me.

My friend is smart, passionate, and competitive… and also, frankly, someone who has a sense of entitlement. They are entitled to success, fame and happiness, because… well, they just ARE. In my life I’ve found that when people like that don’t get what they think they are entitled to, well… they are jealous of friends who have that modicum of success. I think that’s what happened here.

This type of attitude is understandable – I am far from a perfect person, and I have been jealous myself on more than one occasion. But as I’ve gotten older and gained more emotional maturity, I learned to do something many people like my friend may never learn: To be happy for other people’s success.

Success is a not a zero-sum game – just because I or a friend has success doesn’t mean that that’s “taking away” from someone else’s good fortune. There’s not a limited “success bucket” that is being drawn down whenever someone gets a better job or meets a celebrity or goes on a cool trip… even in hard economic times, opportunities are out there for the taking.

But here’s the hard part: You have to work for it – success will not just “appear,” like winning a lottery. The Beatles performed hundreds of times before they were “The Beatles.” Bryan Cranston is one of the biggest stars on TV right now, but for years he scrambled for any role he could get. And so on.

I wish my friend well, but I’m still saddened that person decided to close themselves off from knowing and being part of my life – I’ve done a lot over the years to encourage and support them, and I WANT them to succeed… I want them to be happy, to enjoy their lives and achieve their dreams. I’ve gotten a fair share of success in my own life, and I’m happy. And I appreciate it. A lot.

I want them – and, really, everyone – to have that same happiness, too.

This is Pollyanna, signing off.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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