We are going to explore the nature of competition and put some frame work around it. Maybe this will be the first time you will look at competition this way.
When I ask people about competition and what they think it means, mostly they drift towards looking at it from the perspective of teams playing each other or sparring and in most of these cases they view competition as creating the opportunity for someone to win and someone to lose.
So, it comes as no surprise that there are a lot of people who don’t like competition especially in these days of protecting people’s feelings. I am not saying people don’t like to watch competition. There may be even more people than ever attending events where a competition is being held so they can participate in the atmosphere and cheer on their team or champion. I am saying that there is a reason that a lot of people are trying to avoid competition. I believe that’s because of the way they feel about themselves when they are given a score for their work or their team loses. The feeling of losing or having your work judged is making them feel like a “loser” and in the eyes of this generation that means your self-esteem is going to be lowered so we need to find a way to avoid that.
The fact is that when you win, it feels great. If you’re a kid and your team wins a match, you get a group hug with euphoric energy, then mum and dad rush over and heap praise, pats on the back and attention on you. A quick photo is taken and put straight up on Facebook with jubilant praise for the team and of course YOU – the champion. Endless comments are posted of your amazing effort, reinforcing how important your result is. You may even be lifted high on others shoulders and there will be lots of stories rehashing those highlight reel moments where you ducked, dodged, and seemingly did things that almost felt superhuman. On the way home, you might swing by the Maccas drive thru for a celebratory ice cream and then home for some more pats and maybe because you performed so well, an extra half an hour on the X-box is in order but only after your sisters’ ribbons are moved aside to make way for your new and shinier achievement to be displayed proudly.
You are as high as a kite, you might not even be able to sleep tonight.
Surprisingly, it’s not too much different for the adult, except you’re probably a bit big to hoist up on your parents’ shoulders.
For those adults who achieve in a less public way we still pine for the feeling you get from that group acceptance. Walking away from the event, you can’t help feeling a little low because you kind of miss out on the Dopamine shower. So, you give yourself a quiet fist pump and take yourself through the Maccas drive thru – or the adult version- as a treat for your good work and to see if you can raise your emotional level. After-all, you probably burnt off extra calories.
Now let’s look at losing.
I don’t think it’s going to look and feel like winning.
Straight away you’re going to feel bad, your head will be low to avoid any undue attention, after-all what can people say – Congratulations. You overhear someone crying as they speak to their parents and another is blaming you for not making that kick or tackle or hoop. It’s a shame the ref was so good, otherwise they would be taking him down. Your parents meet you with subdued tone as if to feel out what to say. Your dad pats you on your back and starts talking about how awesome you were but his words are muffled by what you heard the other boy say. “If I’m awesome how come I feel this way”, you think. Your coach is a good guy and came over to talk tactics for the next game. It reorganises your thinking for a little while but there is a huge hole in you. At least he talks to us when we lose, last year’s coach wouldn’t come near us if we lost. We hop in the car and the mood is sombre despite mum trying to put a positive spin on the game – she’s always positive- “how does she do it”, I think. My mood picks up a little as we hit the Maccas drive through and for a while the taste of ice cream distracts me from my funk. When we get home, I realise I don’t like this feeling so I decide not to participate ever again – What-ever it takes.
Sounds a little grim but I am sure for a lot, I am not far off the mark. When I ask students why they don’t like competition they say they don’t like the feeling of humiliation, failure, looking bad, maybe getting hurt and the list goes on. Some people can have this perspective without ever having competed.
When you only have 2 ways of looking at something or explaining it, there is not a lot of choice for growth. I believe that there is another view for those in competition but it doesn’t stand alone. It works with winning and losing. That option is TO BE THE LEARNER.
In this way whether you win or whether you don’t there is always something to learn. This new focus helps us take something away from every competition. After-all isn’t competition everywhere not just sporting arenas. It’s in the home, the workplace, in conversation, at school, in store sales, in your own mind and with your health just to name a few. You can even compete against yourself and within yourself.
It’s important to understand competition so you can compete. Your biggest chance to grow and build self-esteem is to understand the rules of life and start playing the game. Start competing.
Anyone I’ve trained for competition I always say, “Train to win but go to learn”. Put in all the effort you can when your training, taking your skill to new levels but when you enter competition don’t look at the scoreboard, spend time learning from the competition. Remove the stress of having to win and then you can truly enjoy what you are doing and grow. The lessons from this competition will take you to the next. After a while you will relish competition not because of your score but because you have gathered some new skills and perspective to take on your journey. You have had an opportunity to express yourself through this endeavour.
Someone who wins and doesn’t learn is really in the same boat as someone who loses and doesn’t learn. Only the winner has a false sense of themselves and will eventually come crashing down one way or another.
Winners who learn become greater winners and when they don’t win, find it easier to regroup and adapt. Losers who learn eventually find great confidence in the level of competence they have attained. They also can reconcile events in a way that has them saying, “Ok what do we need to solve this.”
When you put yourself in an environment where there is no competition or you limit it so you can win, you limit your ability to reach your true potential – To be the best me you can be. Competition doesn’t have to define you. The score, the result, the grade are not you. They are the result of your effort and inclination to date in a particular environment on that day and are a feedback mechanism to be taken on board but not overboard.
Being around people who are going in the same direction as you and who are trying to be their best can only rub off on you in a positive way. If you will let it.
Remember the rising tide raises all boats – so long as you don’t have a short rope attached to your anchor.