Life Is Not A Zero-Sum Game

After years of managing people and many more years managing myself, I realized that the one thing that is hurting one’s success and happiness is their attitude. It is not about what happens to you but how you decide to react and feel about it.

You can look at attitude from many different aspects, but deep down there are two characteristics, two building blocks that shape how we see the world around us.

In the economic theory, a zero-sum game is a representation of a situation where each participant’s loss or gain is exactly balanced by the losses and gains of other participants. The total sum of all gains and losses is exactly zero. If one person wins, another one has to lose.

Life is not a zero-sum game. If one person wins, it doesn’t mean that someone else needs to lose. If only one side wins, it creates a dent in the relationships. In a long-run, no one wins if the relationships keep breaking. Ideally, you want everyone to win. If you can have that attitude and allow everyone to win, life flourishes.

Do you have abundance or scarcity mentality?

For this to work, you need to have an abundance mentality. You need to believe that life is not a zero-sum game. There is enough for everyone. We all want to win, but only some of us feel that we can win alongside the others. Those are the once with an abundance mentality.

You can discover whether you have an abundance or scarcity mentality in a couple of different ways.

Do you have this excessive need to be right? Then you have a scarcity mentality. You feel that unless you have the last word unless you give your two cents to every conversation unless you are the smartest person in the room someone else may win. Therefore you may lose.

To build up your abundance mentality muscle try to let other people speak and listen, try to give others the opportunity to be right, try to step a bit into the background and help others, and you may discover that you are still winning.

Do you need to be always the first one on the bus to have the best seat? The number of seats on a bus is limited, so if you wait too long, you could indeed be left without a seat. And yet, it still shows an attitude of someone with a scarcity mentality.

You automatically assume that someone else may get a better seat and that is not acceptable. By adopting the attitude that regardless where you sit you will still get to the next destination, you may even offer the better seat to someone else to build a better relationship and feel good about it.

Do you believe you deserve more than others? If you feel that you are much better than the person next to you and you, deserve more money, better title, bigger house, and faster car, and you are grumpy and envious if that doesn’t happen, you have a scarcity mentality. You believe that because the other person has a better car, it somehow diminishes your achievements. It doesn’t.

Forget about others and focus on your own needs. You may discover that your salary, title, house, and a car are completely fine and nothing to dread about. If someone else has more staff, good for them, but you are still feeling happy about your fortunes.

Do you take credit for work of others and marginalize their contributions? It goes back to the excessive need to win. You might be so blinded by the scarcity mentality that you can’t admit that someone else may have done something right. You may not want to admit that you succeeded only because of labor and sacrifices of others. You worry that if discovered, you would lose, and so you claim all the credit and diminish the contributions of others.

If you can learn to praise others, to promote the work they did, to give credit to the people around you, once again, you will discover that it will elevate your status in the eyes of others and not diminish it. You won’t lose only because you help others to win.

Do you believe that you make your own choices or that choices are made for you?

There is a second aspect of the attitude towards life. It is not only about the abundance of material possessions in the world but also about whether you believe you are controlling your destiny.

Do you blame others for your failures? Blaming others builds an internal self-image of victimization. It is not you who made a mistake. It is someone else and you are the poor victim. Life is sometimes not fair so get over it. Always ask first what you could have done differently before blaming others.

Don’t blame your boss for not agreeing to your proposal. Chances are you didn’t present it convincingly or didn’t gather the right data. Don’t blame your team for not understanding your direction and doing something different from what you expected. Chances are you were not clear on priorities or on what needs to be done. Don’t blame others. Own your world.

Do you blame others for you being stuck? If you believe that it is your boss who is destroying your career by not promoting you, then you are putting yourself in a role of a victim. Take action into your own hands. It is not the world’s responsibility to be here for you. If you want the next promotion, work hard on it, ask for it, or go to the company that gives you what you need. Don’t blame your boss and be miserable.

Are you constantly waiting for someone or something so you can get on with your work? Set clear priorities, escalate when you are blocked, make sure people understand the natural consequences of their inaction. Don’t blame the world for you not moving forward. Own your destiny.

Do you envy others they fortune? Do you believe that it is not fair that others have stuff you believe you deserve? Maybe yes, maybe no. The important thing is that it just doesn’t matter! Forget others. Focus on what you can do to get what you want. Focus on yourself. Being envious of yours neighbor new car won’t help you to get a car on your own. If anything, it will slow you down. Stop paying attention to what others have and rather focus on what you need and work hard to get it.

Do you daydream about happiness while being miserable? If you spend hours daydreaming about how great it would be to have a big house or travel the world you are wasting time that could otherwise be used to take action to get what you want. If you truly want something then act like you mean it. Be willing to make sacrifices to get what you want.

If you are not willing to make the sacrifice, it means you don’t want things bad enough. If you truly want to get in shape get to the gym instead of sitting on the couch eating chips and watching sport on TV. You are watching people who wanted it bad enough, and they spent hours every day exercising and practicing. They made the sacrifices and so can you.

Do you complain about small things in life? If you find something to complain about on anything and everything you see and experience you have a problem. If you find a problem with everything in your life, you can hardly feel happy. Stop looking for problems. If you look for problems, of course, you find them.

Start looking at the bright side of life. If you pay attention, you find many positives on everything around you. If you learn to enjoy the small things in life, you will be happier, and it will give you the energy to move forward. The more you focus on small positive things in your life, the more you will see them. The more you see them, the more you enjoy life. The more you enjoy life the more positive things you see around you. It is a positive feedback loop.

Life is not a zero-sum game.

If you believe you own your fortunes, you are more positive and confident about everything you do. You don’t make excuses. If something doesn’t work the first time, you try again, or you change the approach. It is only you who is in charge.

If you have a scarcity mentality, you believe that the world is out there to hurt you. If you don’t grab the first seat, the others will conspire against you, nature itself will not allow you on the bus. It is your struggle against the world.

It is all about your attitude. It is all also learnable. You can choose and work hard to learn to have an abundance mentality. You can choose and work hard to feel like you are in control of your destiny. You can choose and learn to feel good about life and be happy. It is all your choice.


How do you see yourself in the light of the descriptions above? And do you believe that there are other things, more basic, that shape our view of the world?

Photo: HoliHo /

I’m gathering material for a book about introversion, leadership and successful careers, and I would love to hear from you! If you are an introvert, who has a successful career and/or who moved to a leadership role, I would like to ask you to share your experience with me. I prepared a couple of short survey’s that will make it easy for you: Strengths of successful introverts (What strengths introverts have that can help them be successful?); Blueprint of a successful career (What is required for a successful career?); Strategies for introverted leaders (As an introverted leader what strategies do you use to lead and manage others effectively?)

Categories: Career, Life

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3 replies

  1. THe phrase “Life is not a zero sum game” popped into my mind this morning along with a little tune so I wanted to see if others were using it. Your entry was the first that Google showed me. I absolutely agree with all you are saying.
    I also have an image of everyone being given a cup in which to catch blessings but some folks get confused and hold it upside down and wonder why they never get any.

  2. Loved this …
    Was listening to a message about 1.5 hours into it he was speaking of zero sum game in life. I had to look it up and found your page. Perfect!

  3. Put more into life than you take out and you will leave with more than you had when you arrived.

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