I am, by nature, a somewhat competitive person. I don’t care too much for losing (few do), but I find that where I care more is about the showing up and actually competing. If I go out and give my best or if my team goes out and leaves it all out on the field, then I’m good no matter the final result… but I would surely prefer the win over that ugly and often nagging feeling of defeat.
My competitive drive also varies based on the activity at hand. I’m not going to get some kind of red-eyed rage if I’m playing Blokus with my family during Thanksgiving… and obviously, they would seem to share my view as this picture so perfectly illustrates:
Now, when I did that strongman competition last year, I was really and truly competitive. Oh sure, I wanted the learning experience of it… to better understand what it’s like to be in the strongman arena… and that’s all true… but damn it, I wanted to do well. Really well. I did ehh and not much better than that. It still bothers me a bit to this day because I know I could have and should have done better. I view the experience as an overall positive… but damn it, I wanted a lot more out of myself that cold December day.
Of late I have been giving more and more thought on what it means to compete… the value of competition… when competition is more of a negative than a positive… and how important it is to win. I touched on this a bit in my post on greatness a few years back.
I believe this is, in part, driven by what has been going on in the news with the sex abuse scandals at Penn State and Syracuse… although really more by the Penn State situation where it seems painfully clear that a culture was created where as long as football wins (and the dollars associated with such wins) were coming fast and furious, then even the horrific could somehow be acceptable. It all just left me feeling disgusted, as should surprise no one.
It then got me thinking about how I treat competition in my own life. I remember one of my teammates on my soccer team saying that his high school coach would tell them, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”
In the most charitable of interpretations, that quote could mean that you have to go out, play hard, push the boundaries to the utmost and leave it up to the refs to make the foul calls.
But there’s such a fine line between playing a very physical brand of soccer and take a lunge at someone’s knee during a slide tackle from behind. And regardless, the quote is just an utterly horrible thing to say as a leader to a group of teenagers. Nothing good can come of it.
My take on competition and winning has changed over the years and now that I stand with 39 years on Earth, I think I have it sorted out in a way that is philosophically consistent with my principles:
Outside of things done strictly for fun, I enjoy the act of competing and competing hard. To quote Vince Lombardi from his “What It Takes to Be Number 1” speech, “The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.” I enjoy giving my all until the buzzer sounds, the bell rings or the whistle blows, regardless of the score.
Because in the end… my ultimate opponent… the one I try to best each and every time… is who I was yesterday.