Quite Continental Charm School: Day 27 — No Contest

28/02/2012 § 1 Comment

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life
Winner of first place high diving award Vicki Manolo Draves with second place winner Patty Elsener at the 1948 Olympics in London.  Taken by Ed Clark for Life Magazine.

Day 27: No Contest
When I saw the picture above, of Vicki Manolo Draves and Patty Elsener at the 1948 Olympics, winners of the first and second places in the high dive, I was inspired to write about something that is related — but not specifically limited — to the sporting world.  In fact, my chosen subject has the ability to permeate our entire lives, pretty much from birth, if left to its own devices.  What am I talking about?  Competition.

On the whole, competition can be a rather tricky thing.  It can positively motivate us to improve, but if allowed to run wild, it also has the ability to poison personal relationships, cause stress and lead to unhappiness.  This double-edged sword needs to be dealt with gingerly.  Please also note a distinction between ambition and competition: ambition means you want bigger and better things, competition means you want bigger and better things than that other guy over there (and maybe even at his expense).

First, identify it.  What are you competing for?  Wanting to be the fastest runner in your jogging group or top of the class is altogether different from a generalized feeling of competitiveness with your coworker, friend or partner for no distinct reason.  Generalized competitiveness is the one you have to watch most closely, because if you aren’t competing for a specific outcome, item or position, then why are you competing in the first place?  What is the prize that you are hoping to gain?  Take a step back and think hard about this.  Is all you really want schadenfreude?

Second, can you be supportive?  I don’t necessarily believe that all competition is negative.  Rather, healthy competition can definitely motivate improved personal performance and achievement, such as sibling valedictorians and husband and wife collaborative teams.  But if you find yourself unable to support your fellow “competitor” like Vicki and Patty appear to be doing above, your may need to admit your competitiveness might stem from feelings of insecurity or jealousy.

Third, call yourself out.  Be brave enough to admit to yourself that your ego is a bit out of control, or that you are envious.  Write it down in a journal and ruminate on why this has gotten your goat.  Better yet, if you are close to the person who is inspiring these feelings, admit to them how you are feeling.  The best way to combat unhealthy feelings of competitiveness is to come clean, either privately or publicly, so that you can begin to deal with what is hiding underneath them.

This can be tricky for me at times.  As an oldest child, I have a natural inclination to be the best and the first.  When the whole world seems to be focused on what I lack, it’s easy to turn that same lens upon myself and identify those who seem to have “it all” as my main competitors: she’s smarter, he’s richer, they’re married, he has an amazing job, etc.  But I’ve come to recognize that in the long run, a tendency to compete will only serve to hurt me — and what is there to win, anyway?  Absolutely nothing.

Let’s do our best to change it together, shall we?  For life is not to be “won” but rather, to be relished.  Let’s endeavor to be thankful for what we’ve got, and to support each other on our path to bigger and better things.

The Quite Continental Charm School
A modern guide to creating a charmed life

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