On Competition

How picking your battles doesn’t define your competitive spirit.

I played competitive sports for the better part of my life.

Like many young children, I also competed against my classmates for highest grades.

However, I remember the distinct moment in my childhood when I first secretly denounced competition. I thought to myself — sometimes removing yourself from the competition feels much better than wining. I could finally think clearly, and I didn’t obsess as much about comparing myself to others.

Rather than comparing my grades with everyone after the big exam, I chose to hustle out of the classroom undetected.

Rather than arguing with someone who couldn’t be reasoned with, I learned that if I kept my mouth shut, the argument would be over sooner.

I focused on how I felt with my own performance after a soccer match, rather than indulging in conversations about how unfair it was that the ref made this call, or how the other team played dirty and all that.

But I did it all secretly.

I didn’t want others to misinterpret my step back from competition as a lack of competitive spirit.

It just became my way to handle the elements of competition that were in my control, not the aspects that made me feel bad.

I still excelled in a lot of areas. It’s not like removing myself from the competition lessened my desire to do well.

I never felt I used it as an excuse to slack off.

It just removed the mental blocker of feeling like I had to play in the game of constant comparison and always needing to be right. If anything, it allowed me to focus better on me.

It made me better at competing to become a better version of myself, which is what we should be doing anyway, right?

As Morgan Housel (author of The Psychology of Money) says, sometimes “the only way to win is to not fight to begin with.”

And that’s easier said than done in a world where every measure of success is seemingly determined by social comparison.

At work, it often feels like you’re not regarded as “ambitious” if your goal is to learn as much as you can, rather than get promoted. If you want to learn AND get promoted, then yup. You’re ambitious. Box has been checked.

I’m not telling you any of this so that the world will better understand me, the seemingly shy child who had to hide her dislike of constant competition.

It’s not about me.

I’m doing it to have another voice out here in the world saying that making the decision to pick your battles doesn’t define your competitive spirit. It doesn’t define how ambitious you are, it doesn’t doesn’t define the amount of success or fulfillment you will achieve in your lifetime.

If you don’t pick your battles, it either 1) eventually creates a major source of dissonance within you, or 2) you’ll never have enough if you’re always competing.

Choosing to define on your own terms what healthy competition looks like is entirely within your power. Once you block out the noise of what you’re taught to think competition is, it gives you an incredible ability to think straight. To focus on what feels aligned with you. To focus on what is enough for you, without the pressure of equating enough to what everyone else is doing.

If that’s the case, you will never have enough. Because your competition doesn’t even know what enough means.

Competition makes you aspire to achieve other people’s goals, however foolishly they may have been set.

Picking your own battles makes sure they’re YOUR goals. YOUR dreams. It is your life after all.

As Housel puts it, you have “to accept that you might have enough, even if it’s less than those around you.”


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3 Thoughts

  1. It certainly is true that when you remove the noise & focus on exceling at an activity (take blogging for instance!) towards what you’re hoping to achieve from it & not what others are gunning for, you’re genuinely happy & fulfilled each time you reach your own milestones. Otherwise, there’s that unsatisfied feeling if you haven’t reached the goals that someone else outlined! The trophy is yours when your personal goals are met… 🙂

    Like

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