The Simple Difference Between Negative and Positive Competitiveness
Competition is healthy. At least that’s what we’re told. But so often we aren’t taught just how to deal with out competitive sides.
Unless trained, another person doing better than us in our chosen field is apt to drive us wild with frustration.
There is of course the sports mentality. But it boils down to this. Be better, jump higher, run quicker.
When it comes to actual real-life competition, it rarely is so simple. People the world over push themselves to an early grave trying to beat their competition. Whether that grave is for themselves, or their business, it depends.
But there is a better way to build a competitive spirit. One that doesn’t eat away at your soul, make you feel small or unworthy.
Believe me, I have spent most of my life being negatively competitive, but that is changing now.
My Dark Side
I remember when I truly became aware of my competitiveness.
It was Christmas. My sister and I, and our respective boyfriends, were playing a game of Just Dance on the Playstation. We had been drinking. It was late evening. All was merry.
My sister and I watched our boys with laughter as they wiggled, jerked. Both were playing to win, though I forget who actually did. No one was concerned with figurative trophies.
Next up, my sister and I took to the stage — that is, the gap between the sofa and the TV — and danced our socks off.
Being naturally rhythmic, and having played a lot of ‘Dance Stage’ as a kid, I thought I was doing great! I was a shoo-in, as the saying goes.
Until the scores started to mount-up. I glanced across the screen, saw she was beating me, and in a fit of horror I shouted
“why am I losing I am better than you!!”
Now. Luckily we were drunk. Nobody was concerned with my little outburst. And when the game was up and we found that she had indeed won, I graciously accepted defeat.
But as I took my seat on the sofa, I softly seethed into my gin & tonic.
How had I lost?
I didn’t remonstrate for too long before I realised how silly this all was. In fact, no one would have even been able to tell the shift in my thinking.
But soon after my thoughts strayed to my own competitiveness. How had I never noticed this trait in me before?
The Two Sides of the Coin
Now I know that competitiveness has two disparate camps. So disparate, in fact, that they seldom look the same at all.
I’ll explain. My competitiveness was never the driving force behind all my hard work and effort. It was weak, and childish. I could do well with certain tasks and hobbies because I loved them. Writing was always a huge one!
But when it came to vying with someone who was equally matched, more productive, I would sink into myself. Thinking I’d already lost. My competitive spirit only went so far.
I never believed myself competitive because I viewed competition as pre-conceived defeat. And I diminished under it. I saw others talents, skills and even beauty as the absence of my own.
I did not believe in myself enough. I did not see that healthy combativeness could actually improve my skills. Make me work harder, be better.
If I had stopped to conceive of this whilst at school, I would have realised that:
1. Competitors can be a source of strength
2. I can use healthy competition to improve myself
You see, my competitiveness was borne from jealousy, self-pity. I also had rose-tinted glasses around the opposition’s effort.
I thought it came so easy for them. I didn’t see the hard work and struggles they put in behind the scenes. I would fixate. Rather than seeing my ‘areas for improvement’, I saw insurmountable failings.
To me, the world was a wash of people who just knew how to do things. So, when I excelled at things, I felt great! But when met with others who could do just as well or better at something, I crumbled.
Bright & Positive Competitive Spirit
Real, healthy competition is not like this. Positive competitiveness comes from a place of empowerment. You know there are others out there, battling away in your field. You are aware of them, yes, but you don’t let that halt your progress.
You don’t sit there and think, “what’s the point? They’re already ahead of me”.
It involves creating a benchmark for yourself. Building goals as you go.
I am reminded of a story Simon Sinek told, of his own battles with competitiveness.
In this story, he talks of a competitor in the same field who made him feel insecure. But whom, through talking with, and eventually working with, he came to see as a Worthy Rival.
The basis of a worthy rival is simply this:
“Another player in the game who is worthy of comparison. That in some way, shape or form reveals to you weaknesses that you have that are opportunities for you to work to improve yourself”.
And you don’t have to like them, but you do have to respect them. These people can shine a light on ways to improve, whether directly or indirectly.
This notion is held within Sinek’s realm of ‘The Infinite Game’. Proposing that the ‘game of business’ is infinite, there are any number of players drop-out and joining at any one time.
So aiming to ‘beat’ your competition isn’t enough. In fact, it’s quite useless.
Because in the infinite game, your only true competitor is yourself.
So, learning from and adapting with our worthy rivals is the only way we can go. And these are the people we choose to learn from! Anyone, from any industry, can be a worthy rival.
I have learned so much from Sinek since I discovered him back in 2018. The candidness with which he discusses his own insecurity in business is refreshing. It hints at the fact that we are all capable of these feelings. It’s merely how we deal with it that separates the positive from the negative competitors.
You might know Sinek through his wonderful diatribe on millenials, which is also super insightful!
In the infinite game, your only true competitor is yourself
But there are other worthy people who can shake you from your negatively competitive tree, if you need it.
A podcast I love to listen to is ‘How To Fail’ by journalist Elizabeth Day. Throughout each podcast, a well-known and successful person talks frankly about their failures. This format shows that, behind each success is a lot we don’t see. Hard work, difficulties and setbacks to be overcome.
Phoebe Waller Bridge’s latest appearance on the show brought a fascinating tidbit. The now hit show, ‘Killing Eve’, was rejected by every major TV network for months until BBC America picked it up. They nearly canned the idea, but their final try brought success.
With ten season’s of How To Fail under her belt, Day is showing no signs of slowing down. And I truly salute her.
This podcast alone has helped pull me pick my sorry ass up and throw away the self-pity. It has shaken me up and made me want to try again!
Continuing Competitiveness With Confidence
The world is full of people doing the same things as you. And sometimes it feels like there is no point in continuing with it.
But no one else sees things like you. So, if you stop trying to make your thing happen, you rob the world of something important.
When I realized that my competitiveness was in the negative camp, I worked hard to stamp it out.
I recognised my jealousy was causing me harm. So I began to, slowly, to turn that back to admiration. I’ve found my worthy rivals. I’ve sought their guidance, learning from their mistakes and successes.
I have earmarked some fantastic writers on Medium. I read their work, gleaning from their pages some of the fruits of their successes.
I have interpolated methods, tried it on like a new coat. Discarded it if it didn’t fit me — no harm, no foul. I have taken my self-pity and turned it into burning passion. I have taken my rage at not being where someone else is ‘right now’, and turned it into an article.
Or two. Or three.
If you stop trying to make your ‘thing’ happen, you rob the world of something important — Your-personal-spin!
I have yearned for a mentor. And you know what, I don’t have one just yet. But I will continue. And I will not shy away from the worthy rivals I see in this life.
Because this is truly the infinite game. People join, people drop out. Every day.
And once we start seeing those players as people we can learn from — not people to beat — a shift occurs. From the dark side, to the light side.
Come join us, we have sunglasses.