The Need to Win

February 10, 2010by

I mentioned in an article on the film Lemonade some of the effects pressure to perform can have on one’s work. Teaching on Taoism recently, I noticed in one of the poems of Chuang Tzu a nice spin on this notion within the image of competition for a prize.

The need to win

When an archer is shooting for fun
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind.

His skill has not changed,
But the prize divides him.
He cares
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.


In one’s work there are typically several things one might win or lose. To what extent does the awareness of a prize actually determine, in a counterproductive kind of way, one’s capacity to perform?

I think the principle at play here is most simply stated as a distinction between means and ends: The desire for glory brings you no closer to it, but if you take one step at a time in the direction you’re being called, it just might find you. As an example, listen to the way Ryan Lobo described his own work in the talk he gave at TEDIndia:

In my life when I tried to achieve things like success or recognition, they eluded me. Paradoxically, when I let go of these objectives and worked from a place of compassion and purpose, looking for excellence rather than the results of it, everything arrived on its own; including fulfillment.

Has this been true for you?