Nothing against ambition and competition. Nope. They can be very useful. But turn them up too loud, and they become a burden. But I have an unbidden competitive streak that I’ve been working on for a while. It seems to be the cousin of the perfectionist tendencies I’ve been working on, too.
Competition can be healthy and lead to brainstorming and creative blasts. But that’s not what is bedeviling me. Mostly it overcomes me when I’m doing research. I go from “that’s interesting,” to “how is that done?” to “I can do that,” to “I can do that better,” to a growl of: “I T ‘ S M I N E BWAHAHAHAHA!” Not attractive. Worse. Not useful. I don’t even notice the mindset until I feel cranky and hot.
With that feeling comes the need to be best, to excel, to climb the charts, to . . . be ruthless and uncaring. And that’s not at all who I want to be.
Now what? I am working on tiny steps. When someone shares an achievement, I say, “I’m happy for you,” even if I’m not sure I’m happy. It’s the right thing to say, and I’ll let my meaning it catch up with me later. If I feel my inner critic nudging me and saying, “you could do that too,” I call up my Inner Underdog Hero and say, “I have enough on my plate right now.”
When someone sends an email that says they are too busy to teach that class we were going to teach together; I let it go. OK, I work on letting it go. I’m not the boss of them. They get to make their own decisions. I do get to feel a tiny bit of hurt, but only for 20 minutes, then I move on. When I later see that they are teaching with someone else, I do not immediately assume it’s my fault. They got a better opportunity. Truly, if they do not want to teach with me, the class would not work out. I breathe through it. (Sometimes I have to use a paper bag. You know, a Trader Joe’s bag, till I feel grounded again.)
It’s hard not to be competitive in an ugly way. The way that says “Winning is the only thing,” which I don’t believe. But there is that old, deep trigger. That desire to be best, first, and skilled. I respect many of my competitors, respect their talent and the skills they have worked on. What I really need to work on it setting my own goals and steadfastly working toward them. Not get distracted by the flash of attention. I admire most the artists who dedicate their attention to creative work that enriches them and makes meaning for them. That’s my model. But it’s not easy.
—Quinn McDonald is minding the high road, which seems a bit empty these days.
15 thoughts on “Working on the Competitive Spirit”
Just remembered a lovely story about my oldest grandheart who is tall, very long-legged and gorgeous inside and out (small bias acknowledged). At 7 she was in the class cross country race. She bounced along, skipping and chatting, at the back with a very small 7 year-old girl and came last with her. After the two laps of the school, her mum asked why she didn’t race and the smiling response was, “Annie’s just little and she might get lonely at the back so I thought I’d run with her.” No-one can make you have the killer-instinct for sporting competition when you have a heart like that eh?
What a huge heart! I need to rub up against her!
Yeah, she’s the best big sister in the world and says loves me to the edge of the universe and back again . . . plus a zillion.
Competition is ugly unless you’re a willing participant. The goal is to get to the top, at any cost . . . listen to sports commentaries or politics and note the violent and degrading language used before during and after the ‘battle.’
Personally, the only opposition I’m interesting in beating is the IC. Mental image! Oh such violence! Chuckle.
And I’d teach with you . . . wouldn’t pull out . . . we’d make each other shine!
Somehow, teaching with someone falls outside the competition line. Teaching means helping people love their own creativity in some way, and another teacher helps reach that spark in a different way. And we would shine!
In competitive situations I’m afraid I tend to annoy people because I don’t buy into the rules. Not in the sense that I cheat to maximize my own results; because I can’t usually agree on the results. The “rule” I have trouble buying into is about the results I’m expected to try to attain. When playing Scrabble I’ve been known to ignore scores and go for interesting sentences or better arrangements of tiles (my favorite is solid blocks of tiles 4×4 or better). I’ve also been known, when changing jobs, to take up to 70% cuts in pay because I’d gotten bored.
I’ve found it’s best to be careful about undermining and ignoring the little boundaries everybody expects to neatly encapsulate a situation. Some people don’t deal with it very well.
While I love your spirit, I agree with that last sentence. It can be tough on the people around you.
That’s why I make sure there are very, very few.
I go humming “Lalalalala, flowers and unicorns* through life until I am put in a competitive environment. Then I become a kamikaze ninja of impending doom. Usually I take everyone by surprise at they don´t see it coming. 😀
OMG, we are competition twins. It must be some sort of DNA thing that does it!
We´d be great together in a teams competition.
yes, we would. But I won’t write a book with anyone, otherwise I’d have no friends!
If I were scheduled to teach a class with you, I wouldn’t pull out. There’s winning, yes. And bigger opportunities that can bring “seemingly bigger wins and bigger breaks.” But there is such a thing as commitment, and courtesy, and bridge building, and sometimes the biggest wins come in small, quiet places. I guess that’s what karma is all about. I’m actually not very competitive in a “win the prize NOW” kind of way. For me the prize is what I learn along the way, who I meet, the things I get to experience, and the souvenirs I collect from those experiences. Those treasures are prize enough for me.
I admire your far better attitude. I never think of myself as competitive, but this streak shows up when the chips are down and I begin to drool. I find your way far superior and far more rewarding.