Competition with Balance

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:

Thanksgiving Blokus

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.

That’s Just How You Play The Game… Right?


A few weeks ago, two friends of mine came over for dinner and to relax a bit on a Monday night.  It was nothing formal – just a little bit of respite from the week.  One of them arrived a little later than the other and just a bit before 8 PM, came charging into my house and wanted to be sure we were all ready for the show at 8.  Show?  What show?  Ladies and gentlemen… it came to my attention that we would be watching a little thing called “Bachelor Pad” that evening, brought to us by the fine folks at the American Broadcast Company.  God help me.

“Bachelor Pad” is fairly similar to most reality TV shows where contestants are competing for some kind of cash prize at the end: there are roughly two different groups (in this case, men and women who did not make the cut in either “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette”) who compete in weekly competitions to gain immunity from being kicked off the show/out of the house/off the island, etc. There’s nothing remarkable in any of that – that’s the formula with the only real wrinkle being that almost every person on the show is really attractive and there are all sorts of… err… “romantic” entanglements.

Now, I try to avoid reality TV shows like the plague – I just find them absolutely awful on almost any level I can think of.  I will allow for a bit of leeway on a show that is really structured more like an on-going documentary (such as past seasons of “Hard Knocks” on HBO or something to that effect), but things like “Jersey Shore” just make my skin crawl since it’s really just a glorification of the worst elements of people’s lives recorded, cut down to the juicy bits and plastered on TV for viewing like a train wreck of biblical proportions.  I know, I know… that made no sense since there were no trains to be wrecked in the Bible, but don’t lie… you got the picture anyway.  Don’t get sassy with me, my friend.

Wait, where was I?  Oh yes – reality TV.  And you thought you could completely get me off traffic, didn’t ya?

The competition shows are probably what bother me a little more than the antics of other reality programs because there is this common theme that runs through all of them that just makes me nuts: every act of lying, backstabbing and conniving is justified under the notion “Hey, this is just part of the game.  I’m just doing what I need to do to win.”

*shudder*  Nails on a blackboard every time I hear it.

Lest you think I’m being puritanical, I get the idea of hard-fought competition and it’s one of the things I truly love about sports and such.  It reminds me of a passage from Vince Lombardi’s “What It Takes To Be Number One” speech:

It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.

On any reality TV competition show like “Bachelor Pad”, there’s always a focus on the win part and seldom more than a passing nod to the notion of winning fairly, squarely and by the rules… and maybe that’s just it.  These shows really don’t have any rules about how you play the game.  And why would they?  A big chunk of the reason people are watching in the first place is to see the lying, backstabbing and conniving that occurs week in and week out.  I guess that’s the “fun”.

But for me, it’s just nothing I can get behind.  It’s like the old rap adage of “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.”  Except here’s the problem: regardless of the game, every person has the opportunity to make choices for themselves and who they want to be in that game.  And hell, you chose to be in the game (whatever that game may be).

I don’t rush to view shows like “Bachelor Pad” as yet another sign that we are steadily marching towards the Apocalypse – I’m just not that prone to Chicken Little thinking like that.  I think every society goes through those kinds of moments where some new thing causes everyone to be convinced that everything is falling apart… and then it doesn’t really happen.

I just hate to think that our model for how to compete is increasingly becoming this kind of programming we see on TV, which would be sad.  And while sports is not perfect, I think it tends to get competition right a lot of the time and at least there is something or someone keeping most of it in check.

So pick your arena of competition.  Go out and seek to win.  But never, ever try to sell me on the eggshell thin notion that how you compete is somehow out of your hands.  The choice is your own.

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