Friday, 6 February 2009

Why compete?

I'm a seriously uncompetitive person. I just don't see the point. A mere whiff of people around me being competitive, trying to outdo each other, trying to score points, and I turn off instantly. I simply can't be arsed.

If those I'm with are feverishly trying to out-smart and out-shine each other, to trump their companions with the wittiest arguments or slickest accomplishments, I fall silent and let them get on with it. I'm really not interested in jockeying to be top dog.

Whether it's intellectual brilliance, career advancement, the property ladder, exotic holidays, cultural awareness or alcohol consumption, I couldn't care less if other people seem to be more on the ball or up-to-the-minute than I am.

I don't measure my achievements or well-being on a competitive yardstick, on how far ahead or behind I'm deemed to be. I'm guided solely by my own instincts and aspirations and a sense of what I'm comfortable with.

Competing with other people can be destructive as often as it's fruitful. If you're competing for the fattest salary, the biggest hangover, the most gas-guzzling car or the most sexual conquests, is that really going to enrich your life? Or will you just end up on a neurotic treadmill of trying to impress others rather than searching for your deepest desires and satisfying them?

The ultimate proof of how badly competitiveness can backfire is of course the current economic crisis. For years British banks were competing ruthlessly for the most customers and the biggest market share. And the result? A trail of wrecked lives and broken hopes after the whole house of cards abruptly collapsed.

Thanks to Conor for the idea.

18 comments:

Suburbia said...

I am so with you there! The only person I am competitive with is myself, and that's a whole new ball game!

Hullaballoo said...

I struggle with knowing whether I am competitive or not, and if so, whether or not it is healthy. Having spent the last 10 minutes thumping pillows to release my anger over the actions of certain people (who shall remain nameless), I now know that I cannot stand unupmanship.

So what is life, to be more mentally sorted or less so, but more happy? I do not have the answers, only copious amounts of fairtrade chocolate spread, which I seem to be guzzling by the teaspoon load right now.

Nick said...

Suburbia - If competing with yourself just means wanting to keep doing things better, that sounds good to me.

Hulla - Hey, you must know whether you're competitive or not. If other people are trying to outdo each other, is your reaction to join in or to disengage?

Babycakes said...

I agree with you totally Nick.

I recently told a high-flying career minded friend that I was thinking of going part-time, just to have a better quality of life and start doing things I might actually love, and on a certain level she just could not understand it. Could not understand why I would give up money and career possibilities. It will make me happier. That's why. And competitive people just don't understand that sometimes.

Have you read 'Affluenza' by Oliver James? Very good on this very topic!

Nick said...

Babycakes - It's funny how people become so obsessed with career advancement. And often they become typically ruthless, unfeeling apparatchiks in the process. Going part-time sounds like a good idea.

Jenny's just read James and was disappointed. She's more impressed by Clive Hamilton's Affluenza (I think James ripped it off) which she's reading at the moment.

Babycakes said...

I found some aspects of James' book disappointing too, I must check out this other one then!

Baino said...

I'm not competitive either although I am a control freak. Then I'm not particularly good at anything so competing seems pointless.

Nick said...

Babycakes - Once Jenny has finished Hamilton, I intend to read him myself.

Baino - Unfortunately, not being very good at something doesn't stop people being competitive. They're still determined to prove themselves better, by deceit and trickery if necessary. And anyway, doesn't control freakery mean competing for power? As for your not being good at anything, that's just nonsense....

gaudiumdegaea said...

I am competitive. It's a habit acquired from childhood playing volleyball competitively into my late 20ies. I don't like making mistakes and I want to be the best in whatever it is I do. However (that's a big however), I have the lazy side to me that can't be arsed sometimes, especially if I don't care enough about something. So the destructive side of competitiveness can not get to me. Otherwise, combine full on competitiveness with perfectionism and I would have been one miserable soul. I think a little competing is nice though, thriving to do a bit better, not necessarily against others, but to improve what I am doing now.

Nick said...

GayƩ - Well, I would distinguish between being competitive and having high aspirations. You can have high aspirations, i.e. wanting to do something well, without necessarily aiming to outdo others in the process.

Agreed, competitiveness plus perfectionism can be truly destructive, either pushing yourself relentlessly to total burnout, or not being able to cope with failure.

Wisewebwoman said...

I really had to think about this one, Nick.
Because I can be fiercely and openly competitive at Scrabble, say, and then at Bridge keep it all bubbling underneath and inwardly fault my partner.
I had to make a lot of noise to be noticed in my family of origin so I got top marks in school, etc. When I had a career back in the day I was competitive, not for money but for status.
Now I couldn't give a rat's arse about any of it anymore.
Except maybe Scrabble. ;^)
XO
WWW

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, I'm Dave, and I'm competitive. (it's like the opening to a 12-step program).
When there's an opportunity, whether a great idea for a new product or a chance to beat my brothers at cards, I do kick into gear. I play fair and look for win-win solutions, but it's fun to win and I hate coming in second when I was ahead.
Still, I'm generally a nice person and I don't go out of my way to create competition out of everyday life. (Things are stressful enough without creating artificial excitement.)

Nick said...

www - I suppose most people are competitive in some ways and not so in others. Understandable that you were competitive as a child in order to get the family's attention. That happens in an awful lot of families.

Dave - I think competing to create a bit of excitement is quite common. Though you say your everyday life is exciting enough already. Sounds like a touch of the adrenalin junkie there....

K8 the Gr8 said...

I'm not competitive in the slightest which is maybe a bad thing. It means people have free access to gloat about their winnings but I couldn't be bothered contesting it. Sometimes people NEED to be humbled... know what I mean?

Nick said...

K8 - That's true, competing can be a way of humbling people who've got far too cocky. But like you, I still can't be arsed. I just hope they'll get so cocky they do something really idiotic and get their come-uppance.

Mudflapgypsy said...

I disengage in a group of people who are bragging and trying to be the "big man". I have nothing to prove to anyone. I don't get much of a thrill in beating another person in a game apart from really, really competitive people who are bad losers. That is the only time I enjoy it. I think that might be just cruelty though. Friends told me once, years ago, that it was no fun playing a game against me as I didn't mind whether I won or lost. I always wondered was it that they wanted me to be a bad loser......

Dave Hampton said...

laugh -- Now you've kept me up all night...good comment.
I'm actually not an adrenaline junkie, extreme sports and life on the edge aren't my thing. But you're right asking about why I should feel compelled to compete otherwise.
I think it's creative tension and control. If there's a great idea for a new product and a cool technology, then I want to be the first to create that. There is competition for ideas and for first to market, for motivating a group to flesh out the idea and instilling enough urgency to complete the project.
late last year I attended a conference in Rome where a competitor announced a new product that was the same as the one that I was working on before my company shut us down last summer. I really hate the feeling of having been close and missing the chance to have finished it.
I still see it as more constructive competition, based on doing well: I don't like the "I only win if someone else loses" variation that is so prevalent in politics and reality shows.

Nick said...

Muddy - That's probably exactly it, they wanted the pleasure of beating you and making you the bad loser. It's all such ridiculous nonsense.

Dave - It must be quite a thrill to be the first to create something new, I can understand that. Though personally the satisfaction would still be from the creativity itself rather than pipping someone else to the post.