Thursday, 24 April 2014

Why compete?

I've never liked competing. I've always thought it was a vastly over-rated concept. I much prefer to set my own standards and try to reach them. Competing so often becomes a mindless desire to "win" and to defeat other people, frequently in the name of some dubious goal like making a fat profit or being famous or exciting envy.

And does competition drive up standards, as it's generally said to do? Look at all those jobs where competition is rife and tell me how high the standards are. Politicians? Estate agents? Journalists? Car salesmen? It's more like a race to the bottom, with principles thrown out the window in favour of being top dog and trouncing your rivals.

All too often the frantic desire to win leads to widespread cheating and fiddling - drug-taking by sportspeople, plastic surgery by models, gazumping by estate agents. Publicly it's condemned, but in private the attitude is, anything goes in order to reach the top.

I've always thought that the people who achieve the most, be it happiness, job satisfaction, a purpose in life or creative innovation, tend to be motivated not by competition but by personal standards they've set for themselves and tried to live up to or exceed. Rather than endlessly looking over their shoulder at what other people are doing, they're ploughing their own furrow and following their own impulses.

They may be aware of what others are doing, they be influenced and inspired by them, but they're not competing with them, they're simply using them as grist to the mill, as a shot in the arm.

The people who impress me most are not Oscar winners and gold medallists so much as the determined individuals who make a name for themselves solely by pursuing their own high-minded goals and meeting them. Camila Batmanghelidgh, say, or Paris Lees or Shami Chakrabarti. I take my hat off to them.

32 comments:

John Gray said...

My previous partner was totally blinded by the need to succeed at everything he did.
He was rich
He had a great job
He had the best of everything
And he was a miserable fucker

Nick said...

John: That doesn't surprise me. People can get so totally eaten up by the urge to compete that normal human feelings get crushed out of existence.

Keith said...

I had a good friend, or so I thought. He is good at his job, and doesn't care who he treads on to get the the top. He became a member of the Rotary Club, and then he joined the local Masonic Society. That led to an invitation to join the snooty Golf Club and through that he and his wife go to the Civic Ball every year, and mingle with the upper classes.

Needless to say he doesn't contact me any more, and doesn't even acknowledge me if he passes me in the street. Me? I'm just a poor OAP he no longer has any use for.

Even my neighbours don't have any trouble trying to outdo me. I'm under the care of Oxfam anyway!

One day, one day matey. . . . . . . .

Nick said...

Keith: People like that are not worth losing sleep over. They're best forgotten. I'm sure you have other friends who value you for what you are and don't see you in terms of worldly success and status.

Wisewebwoman said...

Rampant capitalism glorifies this. The world is constructed like Britain's Got Talent or any of the other myriads of shows, I don't have TV so can't list them, I know Trump is in there too.
Down to children's sports/dancing/music.
Train 'em young.

XO
WWW

Bijoux said...

My spouse was raised in the most ridiculously competitive household I have ever seen. Consequently, the sibling rivalry carries on 50 years later. It's a terrible way to live.

Fancy Ranci said...

I like your post very much! It is right in line with my way of thinking. I do not like competition. I am put off my ultra competitive people. I just don't get it!

These days it is nearly impossible for a kid to pick up a sport for hobby at age 10. All the other kids started the sport at 3 years of age and have had personal trainers for the past few years to help them be the best. It is maddening! And it is sad, really.

CheerfulMonk said...

I'm highly motivated, but it's more by curiosity and the joy of playing than by trying to reach high standards that I've set.

Nick said...

www: Yes, competition underpins capitalism all the way, setting worker against worker in an exhausting race for ever higher profits.

Bijoux: Sibling rivalry continuing after 50 years? That's totally insane.

Nick said...

Ranci: It's especially disheartening that kids of 3 are already being swept into the whole competitive culture. At that age they should just be enjoying themselves without all that external pressure.

Jean: Curiosity and the joy of playing are great motivators too. And much more suitable for innocent young minds.

susie said...

My pet peeve using the word "elite" in kids sports. Elite soccer, elite cheerleading, elite softball. How elite can it be when you live in the middle of nowhere? Sounds so snooty.

Nick said...

Susie: And of course it encourages elitism. The kids all go around wondering if they're part of the elite or not, rather than just doing their thing.

Sol said...

I was told yesterday that I was a negative person. Never. I have high standards. Unfortunately I hold others to my levels and then they fall short. That is my down fall and something I should work on.

I am highly self motivated and rather than wait for something to fall into my lap, I will pursue it.

People put their kids into sports etc now to keep the kids off of the street. I was enrolled in dance classes at 3. I loved it. I was no good at it but I loved it. Its the parents that make it a competition. I just liked the shoes and the costumes.

I don't have children. I am afraid I would be a tiger mum. I feel education is something that you should push.

Nick said...

Sol: It's tricky when you have high standards and others fall short. Either you tactfully take no notice or you say something and risk offending them. Perhaps you need to be a little more lenient sometimes?

I think that's probably true that it's often the parents who introduce the competitive element. I like the way you didn't feel competitive, you just enjoyed the shoes and the costumes!

I also don't have children. I was afraid of being either too laid-back or too disciplinarian (well, among other things)!

Jenny Woolf said...

I think those who are really good at what they do compete with themselves, don't you?

Nick said...

Jenny: I'm not sure about that. Trying to better what they've done previously perhaps. Is that the same thing?

Grannymar said...

I think there is no better satisfaction than when you achieve something by your own efforts and hard work.

Z said...

I'm not competitive either, I just don't understand it. Though, amongst the careers you've mentioned, I do know trustworthy people in each of them, even car salesmen. And it's not the estate agent who gazumps, but the seller - honour and trust can go out of the window when you've a house to sell. Though, to be fair, if someone offers you an extra ten thou, it's hard to resist, however honourable that would be.

My work is voluntary, so I am encouraged to be selfless. It gives me a pretty high status - until I leave it, when I will have none. Since I'm planning to stand down within a year and a half, I've been pondering how I'll feel about that.Do I mean what I say about not wishing to be missed: the measure of success is to have filled all the gaps left by my leaving? I hope so. I might be able to tell you in a couple of years' time!

Nick said...

Grannymar: Hear hear. Isn't it always more satisfying to achieve something on your own initiative rather than being forced into it by other people?

Z: Oh yes, there are always a few good apples in the barrel! And surely if a seller gazumps, the estate agent also benefits from a larger commission?

Indeed, will you really not care if you give it up and you're not missed? As you say, time will tell.

Z said...

That was my test of success last time, and it was fine. This time, I don't plan to replace it with anything, so it'll be more of a test.

Nick said...

Z: Perhaps you should have a replacement activity lined up? Or do you just want to do less and unwind a bit?

Z said...

I want to stop and see what it's like. I haven't done that for over 25 years.

Nick said...

Z: I'll be interested in how it goes!

Rummuser said...

There was healthy competition in getting good grades participating in games and sports and such activities in my childhood and it did not turn out the kind of persons that I now see among young people. Words like it is a jungle out there and you have to be the lion to succeed etc are common and the amount of time that children put in for studies and if they are good at some thing like say cricket, sports, can only called lunacy. They simply do not have the time to enjoy the things that I did as a boy. In fact they do not think that it was fun anyway.

Nick said...

Ramana: Yes, there used to be a competitive element when I was at school, but it was all very laid-back and nobody took it that seriously. Enjoying the activity was still what counted. Today, as you say, the competitive element seems to have got the upper hand and many school pupils aren't enjoying themselves at all.

Secret Agent Woman said...

One of the things that drew me to Quakerism is the noncompetitive nature of it. Even on retreats, the games were noncompetitive. And a blast! I don't compete for anything - I'd rather just walk away. It doesn't mean I won't play games where there is a winner, and even be enthusiastic about it as I'm playing, but I genuinely don't care about the outcome. When my younger son was 5, he was playing a video game at a friend's party and the dad (who is a friend of mine) told me that when he tried to offered my son some tips on winning, my son said, "I don't care if I win or lose, I just want to have an adventure." Words to live by.

Nick said...

Agent: I agree, I'd rather walk away from something than compete. "I don't care if I win or lose, I just want to have an adventure" - my sentiments entirely.

Ursula said...

I am not particularly competitive. By nature. Not design. So can't claim moral high ground which leaves me nauseous anyway since I don't like heights.

However, Nick, human kind is designed to be competitive. Why do we have Alpha fe/males? Olympics? All those whatever 'xy factor' shows? You can't even do so much as cook a perfectly good dish without being thrown out of Masterchef. Weeping. Etc. You get the idea.

Greetings from a not competitive Alpha female (the Alpha by nature and my genetics'design),

U

PS Not so much exhausted as hoping not to expire any time soon

Nick said...

Ursula: I don't see how you can say humankind is designed to be competitive. Says who? Surely it's just as much a question of how we're brought up and whether we're pushed to be competitive or not? I was never urged to be competitive, I was only encouraged to do my best and use whatever talents I possessed.

Anyway, if we were all designed to be competitive, then surely we would all have killed each other by now and humankind would have vanished?

Suburbia said...

Me too Nick, with you all the way on this one.

Helen Devries said...

I'm not competitive...I'm not interested in beating someone else...but it's always interested me how much competitive people detest those who are not to the point of being spiteful.

Nick said...

Suburbia: Just look at all those highly competitive jobs, and then look at what they actually achieve for people.

Helen: I think you're right. A lot of competitive types want other people to be equally competitive, even if it's not in their nature.