I’m fascinated with competition because I’ve simultaneously seen it bring out the best and the worst in people, including myself.
Win…even if it costs you
Back in the early 90s, my friend Adam had a Sega Genesis. I did not have a Sega Genesis. When we would get together, we would play game after game of NHL ’95, and typically, he would win. I hated losing to him but more accurately I hated losing at anything.
So, I saved my money, bought a Sega Genesis and NHL ’95 and began playing it religiously. I was committed to not only beating him on a regular basis, but absolutely crushing him. I got really good and I was ready.
One day, after school, I called him to hang out, and when I came over, he pulled out NHL ’96. He had moved on but I insisted that we play NHL ’95…for old time’s sake. In a series of several games I demolished him…at least as my memory goes. He was fine with it and content to move on to playing NHL ’96 or walk up to the kitchen to make a box of mac n’ cheese. But it was really important to me that I had beaten him. I worked hard at this and after countless losses, I was being a sore winner, basking in the glory of my victories for the remainder of that day. I believe that it was how I behaved during this particular day that led to my friendship with Adam substantially cooling off until we rarely hung out at all.
The Pursuit of Winning
Throughout my life I’ve been a very competitive person. As illustrated above, I was, at times, competitive to an unhealthy degree. I’ve always loved winning and I’ve always hated losing. While I don’t know where it comes from, I am certain that I’ll never rid myself entirely of this behavioral quirk. I am, for better or worse, a competitive person.
Over the course of my life, I’ve noticed this competitiveness taking several forms. For the early part of my life, it brought about ugly behavior in me. Over the years, I have tried to channel this competitiveness toward healthy endeavors. I worked on my tendency to be a sore loser, I worked on my tendency to be a sore winner. I have tried to learn how to appreciate and savor victories especially when they don’t come at someone else’s expense.
At 39, I think I have finally arrived at a point where my competitiveness is relatively healthy. I try very hard to compete with myself and consistently do better than I did yesterday.
The Return Of The Ugly Side
But, on occasion, the ugly side of my competitiveness has come out. When I sold my agency in late 2017, I joined an agency and my competitiveness began to turn to the dark side. Up until that point, I had run my own agency for seven years and my competitiveness was strictly with myself. At that time, I favored collaboration and partnerships.
When I joined From The Future in early 2018, I fell back into old habits. I noticed that I just wanted to win. I wanted to crush every other agency. I wanted to be so good that I stole all of their clients. I don’t know what changed in that moment but when I look back on it I don’t like the person I was during that time and thankfully, some people called me out on it.
This is not an indictment of my former agency but rather an indictment of me. I’m not certain what led me to revert into the toxic competitiveness that characterized my teenage years, but I’m at the age where I should know better.
Assessing Healthy Competition
Competition is a funny thing because the point at which competition goes from being friendly to destructive is a fine line.
Competition is baked into our society. Capitalist societies tend to promote the idea that competition leads to innovation. We have seen countless examples of how multiple parties all seeking to accomplish the same big goal can find the resolve to be the victor.
At the same time, we’ve all been in scenarios where competition is undeniably toxic. Some company cultures thrive on competitiveness in a way that brings about collaboration and healthy motivation. Others with less structure or defined values, can see employees stepping on each other to get recognition, promotions, or other accolades. In these situations people tend to begin focusing on the “wrong things,” such as winning at all costs.
In these times we forget that sometimes the costs aren’t worth the reward. When you burn bridges, when you sacrifice your values, or do anything that sacrifices the reputation and integrity you’d work so hard to build, it’s not worth it.
Staying In The Lines
I enjoy trash talk. I love it and I don’t know if I’ll ever kick this habit, because I enjoy it. Trash talk has always motivated me. The idea that if I put my word out there, I have to back up what I say. It’s a way of “holding my own feet to the fire.” I like how the call to rise to the occasion can give me a psychological edge and put some others at a disadvantage. At the end of the game however, this is just a tactic. It’s not real. I don’t really want to break someone’s ankles in basketball…it’s just an expression.
In my experience, the key to having productive and healthy competition rather than toxic competition, is to keep several things in mind.
The goal of your competition should be creation, not destruction.
Focus on the positive outcome you want without needing the other side to be harmed in the process.
Victory in competition is about the best version of you.
This stands in stark contrast to your victory being about how much better you are than your competition.
Be gracious in both victory and defeat
You will not always win. You will not always lose. There are lessons in both and you need to be humble enough to accept it.
Harness the Power
Competition burns inside of me, and maybe it burns inside of you. If you’re anything like me, you will constantly take stock of how this competitive spirit manifests in your interactions with others. Keep doing that, and keep working to direct that powerful energy toward making a difference in the world.
Also published on Medium.