Losers, Failures and Economies of Scale

In a group conversation with some very successful friends, I was accused  of having a higher quality of life than anyone else. It struck me, as I often feel like a loser especially given their lifestyles.
In an seemingly unrelated incident, I was riding to work and as I turned off a side street, there was a older Toyota Tundra stalled in the lane, standing in an open door holding a gas can, was Josh.

“Hey man, I just ran out of gas, is there a gas station nearby?”

“Yes, just around this corner, or at the end of this road.” I pointed forward about ½ mile to a Racetrack full service convenience store and station.

“Awww man…I gotta pick my Mom up from the airport at like…9:30, can you give me a ride?” It was 5 till 8.
I started to protest that Louisiana has helmet laws, but my bigger gripe was, you know, two dudes on a bike. Then I realized it would cost me nothing. God knows I owe a ton of karma debt from several roadside misadventures.

“Sure, hop on.” I said, flipping down my passenger floorboards. As Josh closed the door of his truck I could see the weed pipe on his seat. I also noticed Josh wasn’t wearing any shoes, just socks.

He was genuinely appreciative as we road the short distance, he made a deliberate effort to hide behind my helmet, just in case. I crossed the state highway and dropped Josh off at the gas pump.

“Thanks again man!”

“No problem. Good luck!” I meant it. Josh had actually allocated enough time to get to the airport, and assuming he had any money, he would still make it on time. He seemed like a nice guy, but clearly spent a lot of his time in a, shall we politely say, altered state.

But Josh has stuck with me. I exorcised some demons on a recent post and received a huge reaction I didn’t expect. People I was sure had never had a bad day in their life telling me they stared down the same barrel of doubt and remorse. 

People I have never met thanking me for giving a name to the enemy lurking in the dark.

I wonder if Josh does has the same army of doubt playing him? I wonder if Josh stays awake every nigh wondering what would have happened if he had turned left instead of right? Josh seemed like a good guy, the kind of guy you would want to share a beer with. I seriously don’t think Josh lives with regret. If he feels like he wronged someone, he probably apologizes right away. When life doesn’t go his way, he probably shrugs it off. Nope, Josh is happy.
But to the outside world, Josh is a loser.
My Merriam Webster App defines Loser as:

“1. A person that loses especially consistently

2. A person who is incompetent or unable to succeed.”

I Googled loser, and found an interesting definition;
“A person who accepts defeat with good or bad grace, as specified.”
Urban Dictionary had an even better one;
“A person who has fallen off the social ladder, climbed down the social ladder, jumped off the social ladder, or just never bothered to climb the social ladder in the first place. Upon arrival on the ground, losers begin to befriend fellow groundlings and realize how much fun a person can have when gravity isn’t an issue. It is perfectly acceptable to insult losers, because they have nowhere to fall and it won’t hurt much. They will end up laughing about it later, anyways. Every now and again, a loser will glance at the top of the social ladder, but it is never long before they realize how pointless and stupid the top of the ladder is.”

This reminds me of Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High.
“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz and I’m fine.”

Compare him to the character of Brad Hamilton. Who is so focused on his “career” and climbing the social ladder he ends up bouncing from job to job and finding neither love or success, at least until he thwarts a robbery, oddly enough with Spicoli’s help.

But we must remember that life is not a movie, and if it was we need more musical numbers and better special effects. 

It is not a stretch to think of Josh chilling with his friends, listening to music, enjoying the favorable New Orleans weather and its laid back approach.

Which bring us to the definition of failure.
Again, our friends at Merriam Webster define it as;

“One who has failed.”

Which it further defines as “omission of occurrence or performance; specifically : a failing to perform a duty or expected action.”
Once you get past the first three definitions leading to our current and previous Presidents, Urban Dictionary defines it as;
“When your best just isn’t good enough.”

As we traditionally define it, a series of failures will make you a loser. But we are taught to look at failure as an opportunity for growth, enlightenment and learning. So even as we define it, we contradict ourselves.

I have always learned more from my failures than my success, and god knows I have had many failures. While there are those who call me a loser, I don’t feel that way. But I do often feel like a failure.


When I was in college, my ROTC commander told me a story of an assignment choice. One was to the Pentagon and a sure fire fast track to making 0-6, “Full-Bird” Colonel and possibly beyond. The other was an adventure, embracing new technology on a small, fast jet. He was told he was an idiot for taking the fun job and the opportunity to move to the fast track would never come his way again.

To the day he told that tale, he would smile. He embraced being a “loser.” I knew, right then, that’s what I wanted when I was done. I wanted a long book of great stories, a stack of email addresses, phone numbers, good friends and the ability to look back on my time with a smile.

As young LT, I told my commander that story during a career discussion. He was trying to mentor me and asked me what I wanted from my career. My commander recognized the expression and asked me if it was Col Hutt? He agreed, it was the way to be. This commander would rise to General, I retired as a Major.

If I honestly evaluate my career from those early standards, despite my failures and shortcomings, I feel pretty good about what I did. In fact, I met Lt Ward’s definition of success, I would say I exceeded his expectations. But I will allow myself to quickly feel like a loser because I didn’t get promoted one more time.

Would you know a failure if you met one?
What about a loser?
Are you sure?

In the end, we have to build our own definitions of loser and failure. We have to decide what level of failure we are willing to accept and at what costs. 

Regardless, some will look upon you as a loser because you didn’t rise to a level they expected, but what do your friends think? What’s your quality of life? What did you do with your failure?

I don’t have an answer, because at 45, I am still working on those definitions myself. But I hope Josh made it to the airport. He seems like a good guy, loser or no. I am betting if he didn’t pick up his mother, he would feel like a failure, and Josh probably deserves better.

We all do.


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