Competition is a challenge to overcome or can serve as the friction needed to drive growth. Whether you compete against yourself, against the clock, or against an opponent, you need competition to keep yourself and your skills tight.
Think about the last time you competed. I mean really competed – a time when you had skin in the game and the stakes were high enough that the results mattered. I bet the version of yourself leading up to that day was focused. I bet you practiced your craft and honed your skills. This is what competition brings out of competitors.
There is a lot learned from competition. Competitors learn to develop discipline through showing up and training. They learn how to plan and prepare so that they continue to grow and improve over time. They learn how to win and how to lose.
In winning they learn to practice modesty and in losing they learn to practice respect. A good winner knows that on any given day the results could have been reversed and a good loser knows that while he may have been bested today, there’s always next time. So starts the next training block to come back stronger.
When I was younger, there was competition all around me. There was obvious competition in sports but I also played games at recess, in PE class, and around the neighborhood. Less obvious was the social competition everyone engages in – wanting to be popular, have friends, be cool. Most everyone can relate, I’m sure.
The stakes felt high at the time. I know I was invested in doing my best to win every sports match I played in, recess and PE would sometimes result in arguments over the rules because that last questionable play resulted in the winning run for the other team. I cared about whether the other kids thought I was cool or not. Competition was fierce and I did not want to lose.
So, then, where is the friction to keep growing? What is driving these people to keep training, learning, studying, and working on their skills to become better?
When I zoom out and look at society on a macro scale, it appears that many people lose their sense of competition as they grow. At some point, a person must lead themselves to remain competitive; to seek out opportunities to compete and push themselves to train. I don’t see this in the world. Instead, I see people trade in the hard work and training for comfort as they settle into relationships, careers, and whatever else the general population chooses to do with their time.
A lot is lost when there is no competition.
When there is little to no threat of losing, there is little to no competitive edge driving action to get better. That deep well of drive that used to propel the competitor within dries up.
Competition brings virility. Training hard, putting in work, and building something to bring to the competition is exhilarating, tangible, and real.The energy of competition cannot be substituted by anything else.
Withdrawing from competition softens the edge a competitor once had as the flame of competition slowly decays. The primal feelings associated with having a goal, working, visualizing the win, and making that a reality were felt deep and are not easily replaced.
What qualifies as competition?
As I got older, I was fortunate to have a competitive drive still in me. I began lifting weights in college. What started out as a competition to gain strength and muscle graduated to competitive powerlifting.
I competed in a handful of powerlifting meets over the years and trained with a small group of driven guys that would push me to do better, lift more, and train harder. Without that competitive spirit keeping us all showing up and working hard for that feeling of fulfilment and purpose, I would not have lifted the weights I have lifted.
You don’t need to compete in weightlifting or competitive sports to compete, though. Competition is everywhere. Here is what qualifies as competition:
1. The stakes need to be high enough to matter.
The local beer league slow pitch softball team does not count – the stakes there are not high enough to make it matter. Consider this leisure; a time to mess around with your buddies.
You need more skin in the game. Real competition requires you to put your pride on the line and having to take a hit to your ego if you lose. You need to be invested in the results. If you’re not invested in training, learning, and winning, you’re not competing; you’re participating in recreation.
2. Competition takes place on a stage.
No, not a physical stage necessarily, but you need to face your opponent in a competitive arena. This stage can be in the business world, on a field, or in a gym, any location where some number of competitors enter, and fewer exit victorious.
3. There needs to be a winner.
If there is no winner, there is no competition.
Now, this leads me to an aside – if there must be a winner, there must also be a loser, right? Most of the time, yes, for one side to win another side must lose. Undermining the benefit of healthy competition by removing the threat of losing does nothing but cheapen competition and all of the great things that come from it.
With that said, there are situations in which there can be multiple winners. This is often seen in business. Business is a unique situation because the biggest competition is not always between competing businesses but rather between a business and the challenges that they face. In these instances, successful businesses win and the challenges themselves are the losers.
Still Not Buying It? Consider This
Consider how popular this phrase has become in society’s vocabulary:
“I need someone to hold me accountable.”
Accountability is not the answer to the deeper issue at play. People look for external accountability when they lack the discipline needed to generate drive. There are few things that provide more drive than the spirit of competition, the threat of losing, or the feeling of winning.
Choose to step onto the competitive field, put something you love on the line, and see how little accountability you need from someone else to work for that win.
But… But Losing Doesn’t Feel Good For The Losers
This perspective is more damaging than losing in competition ever was. The split between a winner and a loser is healthy; it gives the winner the satisfaction deserved from putting in the hard work and gives the loser the satisfaction of putting forth his own best efforts after working hard himself. Losing is not damaging and it should not be viewed this way. Losing is an opportunity to reflect, refine, and work harder to come out of the next bout victorious.
There will be those that have already closed this article because they feel competition is evil and there are those others that will have made it this far while still disagreeing with what I am saying. These people may be of the camp that believe “competition brings out the worst of people”.
To these people I say “competition brings out the worst of poor competitors”. Competition is honorable and honorable competitors respect the integrity of competition and their fellow competitors. Competition exists to be won based on the merits of the competitors’ performance. Playing dirty is a characteristic of a poor competitor. Competition is not harmful to people, it is a select group of people that are harmful to competition.
Competition should be embraced. Everything that we have and enjoy today is a result of competition in one way or another.
If you want one way to improve your current mood, work ethic, and overall situation…
… go compete.
Yours in strength,
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