Success is a 0 sum game

Success is a 0 sum game. In simple terms, for you to be successful in a certain area someone else has to be less successful. For example, Getting admission at Harvard is a 0 sum game. 

Here is what I mean by that. At any given time, there are only finite opportunities that life can offer you to be successful. And those finite opportunities only lead to a finite number of spots you can hold by the virtue of your talent, dedication and hard work. 

When I say it is a 0 sum game, I obviously consider the objective measures of success. By all means, a self-made millionaire is a successful person. By all means, Usain Bolt is a successful athlete because he is the fastest runner. I know people have a strong preference to measure success in intangible terms but I will come to that later.

Objective success is visible. Objective success has tangible goals and tangible goals lead to tangible efforts in that direction. A wannabe millionaire, with a certain financial goal in mind, will try to work towards that goal. An athlete who benchmarks the success of Bolt will take steps towards that goal. But the sad part remains that objective success is a 0 sum game. There will be only so many millionaires in a given geography. There can be only “one” Bolt on the planet at any given time.

But here is the good part, there is always a defined position and someone fitting will always take it. That gives you hope. Aim for the stars, you fail you might get the moon.

Now coming to measuring success with intangible variables. Here is where success becomes subjective. You find meaning in things that cannot be measured by money or fame. That makes sense because we have finite resources. To live in harmony we have to make peace with what we have and what we achieve. We have a booming industry around this coping mechanism; self-help books, motivational speakers, etc.  Hence, measuring success with intangible variables is nothing but a mechanism to cope with limited opportunities and the fact that success is a 0 sum game.

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