The Loser

Magpie and Wheel play cards in the great room. Rain pelts the windows.

“Sensei,” asks Magpie, “you know how when we study Zen we sometimes have insights?”

“If we’re doing it right, yes,” answers Wheel.

“Did you ever have that kind of insight before you began studying here?”

“Sure. It’s different, though.”

“How so?”

“Well,” begins Wheel, “you don’t have the context to recognize it for what it is. And you don’t know … what to do with it, if that makes sense.”

“Example?” asks Magpie.

The master furrows his brow and thinks.

“I read a blog by Venkatesh Rao once.”

“Is he a Zen master?”

“Management consultant. He says there are three types of people in business. The first he calls sociopaths. Entrepreneurs, execs – leadership, basically. The second type he calls clueless. They’re middle managers who have skills the sociopaths can use. At the bottom are losers. They don’t care about the company or ‘career.’ They just need the check to live. They seek meaning in families and friends and hobbies and community activities.”

“Which were you, Sensei?” Magpie asks.

Wheel shuffles the cards.

“Many clueless aspire to be sociopaths, but there’s a glass ceiling. When I read Rao, I recognized myself. I always wanted to be a vice president or a chief marketing officer, but I wasn’t one of them. Only when I finally embraced being a loser did I sense how I might one day be happy.”

“So losing is the only way to win?”

“Your question is broken,” replies Wheel. “When you worry about winning and losing you’re swallowing Babylon whole. You compare yourself to others. You treat life as a competition. You judge your internal contentment according to external events. Maybe even random ones. Winning is a zero-sum game. Happiness is not.”

“But … this is more of a career thing than a spiritual insight, isn’t it?” asks Magpie.

Wheel considers his cards. “The Dalai Lama himself says the purpose of life is to be happy.”

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