Let’s face it, our culture is very competitive. While there is nothing wrong with competing on the sporting field (see my post on The rules about winning), competition can get out of hand. You may think you are not a competitive person, but you probably compete without even knowing it.
We all compete when applying for a job. We compete for a car-park at the shopping centre (especially leading up to Christmas!) Many of us try to ‘out-do’ each other when it comes to kids’ birthday parties, or which car we drive. Our kids are already competing with each other with regard to which electronic device they have, or how many ‘friends’ they have on Facebook. I’m certainly guilty of competing when it comes to Scrabble!
Competition according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as ‘the act or process of trying to get or win something (such as a prize or a higher level of success), that someone else is also trying to get or win’.
And while competition is fine at one level, it can very quickly get out of hand.
You see, while we are busy trying to be better than everyone else and ‘win the prize’, we lose the gist of what competition is really about — Excellence.
Our primary school has five over-riding values — Respect, Excellence, Confidence, Responsibility and Resilience. Five great values, if you ask me.
At the start of the year, all students discuss what each value means to them. They write them up and they become the values of the classroom. My son’s year level came up with the following statements to define Excellence:
Doing our best — aiming high!
Having a go and learning from your mistakes
Thinking – “I can do it”
My daughter’s grade 2 class came up with this:
Practicing and working hard at everything we do, to be the best we can be.
Nowhere does it say ‘being better than everyone else’.
The problem that arises when you try to be better than everyone else is that you forget about improving yourself. You’re too busy focussing on what everybody else is doing, and trying to do ‘better’ than they are, rather than spending time developing yourself. The focus on ‘doing your best and aiming high’ has been replaced with ‘getting the better of’ someone else.
When we compete, we often end up comparing someone else’s ‘outer’ (or our perception of them), to our ‘inner’. Which is sort of ridiculous. It’s like saying that bananas are better than swimming pools. But many people, especially kids, don’t get that. In their eyes, you are either a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’.
Which leads to the emotional difference between competing, and striving for excellence.
Competing to win can set someone up for a fall. In most competitions there is only one winner. So where does that leave everyone else? If you only focus upon the outcome of winning, then your success is tied up in victory. If you are not victorious, you are not a success, in other words, you are a ‘loser’. You are not good enough. You need to ‘perform better, do better’. Blah blah blah.
Competing sets you up for jealousy. If you are so focused on the end result, it is easy to envy your competitor for their victory over you. And this green-eyed monster can make it very difficult to see where you can make improvements. Because where there is jealousy, there is also often blame — reasons why you didn’t win. “I was too tired, the referee made a bad call, someone pushed me over, it wasn’t fair”, etc. etc.
But striving for excellence is a whole new ball game. Striving for excellence leads to positive self-esteem, and finding value in yourself for your efforts, rather than in the end result. Striving for excellence enables you to set goals and feel good about achieving them, regardless of what everyone else is doing. Aiming for excellence empowers you to keep trying harder, to be a better version of yourself than you were before. Which leads to confidence. And confidence means you can keep striving for excellence in all you do, for you know there is never failure.
Keeping the focus on excellence also means that there is little room for jealousy. If you did the very best you could have in whatever circumstances, then how can you be jealous of someone else who did the same? I would even go so far to say that being your best self and focusing on being your own ‘excellent self’ opens you up to cheer on someone else for their efforts and achievements, something I wrote about earlier this year (Are you a dream-stealer or a dream-weaver?).
When we strive for excellence, we all win; because excellence can mean different things to different people. It can mean running 5km without walking. It can mean not eating chocolate for a week. It might mean practicing your handwriting. Perhaps it is joining a sporting team for the first time. Maybe even speaking in public without getting nervous or putting in your best effort in an exam.
If you truly want to rise to new levels, stop trying to ‘beat’ everyone else there. Focus on being your most excellent self, and you will be surprised at how quickly and effortlessly you will get there.