I don’t have to compete against others in order to gain status and feel good about myself. Bettering myself is where I’ll always come out as a winner. Code #22
I was the kid who was left until last to be picked for the team in school sports. Routinely, the same athletic, fast, talented people would be picked up first, leaving skinny little me to be given away by default at the end.
I just wasn’t interested in sport, so never really tried. I never saw how people could take it so damn seriously when it was just a game, and I didn’t much like the fact that school made it compulsory for me to compete against others in physical sports that I simply wasn’t very good at. I could run fast, but not as fast as others, and I couldn’t catch, kick or throw a ball to save my life. (Fortunately the specific set of circumstances where my life depends on my ball skills hasn’t yet converged, phew).
But then something odd happened.
I must have been around 14 years old when I returned to school from a fantastic family holiday overseas; one of those trips that completely refreshes you. I had a water polo class on that first morning back at school, something I’d normally try to get out of by claiming I’d picked up some rare tropical illness while away and had to be quarantined for the safety of my classmates, but that morning I just went with it. What the hell, I thought.
In the pool, I found myself marking Adam Vanburgen, one of the star players at everything. I was sticking to him like glue, preventing him from getting his shots in, blocking his passes and intercepting the ball on a few occasions.
After 20 minutes I saw him position himself to receive a long pass from up the pool, and I got myself into the perfect position to intercept. Adam glanced over his shoulder, saw me ready to challenge him once again and said, “Christ Steve, where the hell did you go on holiday?!”
In that session of water polo, I’d become something I hadn’t expected. A decent player, playing a decent game of water polo.
What made the difference?
I wasn’t thinking about the competition; I was just playing.
Some people believe that success in the world is about getting there faster, better and smarter. Some people measure their progress and success by comparing where they are against where other people are. Some people even base their next choice on how well they think they’re stacking up against the competition.
I believe that living your life in competition with others will claim your soul.
The very act of putting your focus on those external measures of competition means that you’re:
- paying more attention to increasing the perceived pay-off from your choices, i.e. what your next move is to advance you ahead of the competition, rather than increasing the value of your next choice.
- devaluing what you can do in the face of “superior” players, rather than honestly and gracefully acknowledging your capability, effort or contribution.
- establishing patterns of thinking based on the belief that you’re not as good as other people, rather than having something extraordinary to offer.
Keep doing that and your soul will become shrivelled like a baked bladder.
I resented sports because I saw it as being all about competing on unlevel ground. So I never engaged. I never played (even though I sometimes pretended to). My thinking was based purely around the competition, my place in it and how irrelevant it was to me, and I’d thought myself out of the game before ever giving myself a chance.
That morning playing water polo, 2 things changed:
- I had no thoughts about the competition.
- The only thing that mattered was enjoying myself.
My self-worth had nothing to do with winning or losing or being better or being worse than anyone else in that pool; it was based purely on my choice to engage with the game and play to the best of my ability. It wasn’t even that water polo suddenly mattered to me; I still didn’t give a flying fig about water polo, what mattered to me was the value derived from playing bloody well.
Are you more focused on the competition or on playing? Do you think it’s healthy to compete with others, or is it better to compete against yourself? Thoughts?