COMPETING SIDES OF COMPETITION
#1: The Light Side of Competition
Either through playing or simply spectating, it’s estimated that somewhere north of 3 billion people worldwide engage in competitive sports. From football to fencing to Formula 1, countless people are invigorated and inspired by epic matches of skill and grit. Like most animal species, competition is encoded in our DNA, so it’s only natural that we’re attracted to it. Having generally evolved out of competing for physical survival - wars notwithstanding - much of today’s competition happens in venues such as sports fields, marketplaces, talent stages, and trivia nights. There is undeniable benefit - and certainly some fun - that comes with engaging in healthy competition. To name a few examples, businesses competing for market share often results in enhanced value, product safety, and innovation for customers. Competition among sports teams for championships can promote selfless cooperation through the necessity of teamwork. And in any personal endeavor, a competitive spirit has the potential to hone skills, develop discipline, and encourage perseverance. When administered in the right doses and engaged for the right reasons, competition can aid in the evolution of both personal and societal development.
#2: The Dark Side of Competition
The Ghost Pepper is one of nature’s most extreme and fiery creations. Deciding how much of these scalding red peppers to cook with can be the difference between your chili having a nice kick to it and one of your dinner guests needing medical attention. Like the Ghost Pepper, competition can burn us if we overindulge it. This overindulgence is often fueled by an insidious desire to prove something and is frequently tied to low self-esteem. If you have a burning obsession to dominate - in any endeavor - it’s likely that you’re caught up in seeking validation through victory. When your opinion of yourself is dependent on an external, competitive outcome, you are playing a game that ultimately cannot be won. This is true for two reasons: First, all winning streaks come to an end; and second, true self-validation can only be achieved from within. There is no shortage of very high achievers who, deep down, don’t think highly enough of themselves. These people are much too focused on what the results of their efforts might say about them, and not focused enough on taking pride in the effort itself. Becoming solely results-oriented, their self-image and self-worth will always teeter on their next win or loss.
#3: Balancing Competitiveness
It’s important to acknowledge that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with winning or wanting to win. But where the desire to win is coming from makes all the difference. A balanced, competitive mindset does not link self-identity to winning or losing. To keep us from going out-of-bounds on the ideal playing field of healthy competition, our focus instead must be on the process of playing the game or running the business or doing whatever it is we’re doing. If our focus narrows in an unbalanced way toward only winning points or only making profits, there’s a good chance we will lose ourselves in a competitive mania. Of course it feels good to win a game or achieve a goal; but you don’t have to wait for the end of a successful football season or the end of a record-breaking fiscal year to have that good feeling. Instead, revel in the constant reward of training hard, bringing your best game, and showing good sportsmanship on the field. See the intrinsic value of running or working for a fair and ethical business that enhances the lives of its employees and customers, and gives back to its community when it can. And whatever personal ambition you have, take pride in doing all that you can to achieve it, understanding the inherent benefit of that process for your own life’s journey, no matter the outcome. The growth, character development, and experiential wisdom gained from your endeavors has much greater value than any profit and is a much higher win than any victory.
Our species evolved out of an extremely competitive, Darwinian jungle. For millennia, we have been slowly maturing beyond our innate, survival-of-the-fittest mentality. As we continue to evolve and mature, there will be an ever-increasing focus on cooperation over competition. And more and more, we’ll strive to achieve with each other instead of stiving to achieve above each other. In the end, our chief competitor, main rival, and greatest opponent is ourselves. When we realize this, we’ll spend less energy trying to be better than another, and we will very wisely spend more energy on simply being better than we were before.
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