Yes, you. I’m talking to you, the one that wants to win at everything. If it helps, I’ll admit I’m one, too, although this post is a way of toning down that overly competitive self that can drive to some pretty nasty consequences.
First, a little bit of background. I was born in (still) communist Romania, in 1987, from communist educated parents, and attended a fledgling post-communist school system. Our only goal was to get 10/10, and to get the first prize in class. My mom and my friends’ moms would always ask who got the highest marks on term papers, exams, tests and homework. If I didn’t get the highest, I’d get told off. If I got the highest mark, then they would ask who else got it, too.
I remember the only time I competed for marks by my own free will. It was when I bet with my parents that I would get a snowboard if I would get 10/10 in math over a whole semester. Obviously, they thought I wouldn’t do it, but I did and I’ve been snowboarding for over 15 years, as a result. Looking back, if they had given me similar milestones and if I had identified similar rewards, I would have been more involved in my first years of schooling.
Even childhood games were competitive, sports and any other stuff. I wrote about it earlier last year. This negative competitive attitude then went on to shape people, business and life. It creates bad work environments, bad relationships, bad friendships. It also takes a strong personal toll. If you have an internal conversation going on inside your head (I found out some people don’t, and that’s ok), even that can become competitive.
The way that manifested in mine for the longest of time was through comparing myself and my achievements with others. I know, slippery slope to depression and anxiety. It also fosters imposter syndrome and other nice side effects! If it’s not clear enough, I’ll spell it out: It’s really bad for you.
Naturally, I wanted to fix it. So here’s a few strategies I’ve been applying in work, life and sports.
Sports (for fun)
If you’re a competitive athlete, this obviously doesn’t apply to you – that’s more in the work section.
If you’re like me, and do sports for fun and casual work out, then hear me out. Up until last year, I was snowboarding and playing basketball like my life depended on it. While this was fun and I pushed myself to perform better, I often didn’t have as much fun. I was too focused on extracting every ounce of value or at beating my/others benchmarks. That took the fun out of my hobbies. Needless to say, when I stopped being competitive there, I started having way more fun.
This is a tricky one. While in most situations, I would strongly encourage you to be competitive, there are different ways to approach this.
Not every battle is worth winning, and sometimes you need to give some ground in immediate battles to be able to get what you want long term. It’s like the long term greedy concept I talked a bit about in the fat cat/hungry wolf post.
So next time you’re in a work exchange of opposite views, ask yourself – do I need this win to achieve our collective long term goals, or will conceding here will buy me enough good will to get what I want/we need next time we have to negotiate? Good old fashioned politics, yes. While some people might hate it, it’s inevitable the higher up you move in your career.
Side-thread on politics – if you want to convince a large group of people to follow your lead, you’ll need to use some politics to do that. It’s as simple as finding the group leaders, the loudest people and the most likely to challenge you and working with them, not against them.
So while at work, choose your battles carefully. You might end up competing in a race that’s not yours.
Here’s where I vote for going 100% competitive. Personal development is about yourself, and improving who you are every single day is a competition I love to be in.
Sure, there will be ups and downs, but overall, I’m ready to beat my previous results when it comes to being a better person, being inclusive, being kind to people, being generous and loving.
That doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself up about it. They way I see it, it’s like with my snowboard bet from high-school – you need to find that positive motivation that pushes you forward. I’ll share mine in a later post.