Embracing the Painful Beauty of Competition

>> Friday

I’VE ALWAYS HAD a distaste for competition. I never liked the feeling of trying to outdo another person. But competition is a fact of life, from the lowliest worm to the executive on Wall Street. Competition is like gravity. We may not like it, but there it is anyway, having its effect on our lives, regardless of what we may think about it. There’s nothing nasty about it — gravity doesn’t care whether you hurt yourself when you fall or not.

If you have two organisms competing for a limited resource, say, a lion and a hyena competing for the carcass of a gazelle, if the lion doesn’t want to compete or feels competition is wrong, then the hyena will eat and the lion will go hungry. If this goes on, the lion will die of starvation and the hyena will have many offspring. Nature is not being cruel. Competition is the way of the world. It’s the way life on this planet became so complex and beautiful and amazing. It’s the way your incredible brain evolved. Ultimately, competition is good. It makes things better. It forces improvement.

I’m a writer. There are places that pay for writing. And there are other writers in the world who would prefer that the money paid for that skill go into their bank accounts rather than mine. The money can’t really go to every writer’s bank account. There’s a selection going on. Certain things will be selected for and certain things will be selected against. It is a competition, whether I want to acknowledge that fact or not. And, of course, the ones who compete the best will always out-compete the ones who don’t compete as well (or at all).

Competition can be an ugly affair, typified by the presidential elections with all the mudslinging and back-stabbing. Although that’s obviously competition, so is what goes on at the Olympics.

The presidential elections are ugly, but the Olympics are beautiful — whether you win or lose, you can still shake the hand of your competitor in friendship. You can compete with honor. You can compete for noble reasons. You can compete for the sake of others or for a cause you believe in. The spirit of the Games raises competition to the elevated place it should hold.

Consider it in this light and you can learn to appreciate competition. It’s important because you must either compete well, or those dreams you have will not happen. Whatever your job, this is true. If you’ve had, like me, a distaste for competition, start changing your attitude. Learn to appreciate and even like competition, because the truth is, if you can compete well, you can fulfill your desires. If you can’t or don’t compete well, or if you don’t “play the game” at all, someone else will get the raise or promotion or position, someone else’s view will hold the floor, someone else’s vision will be realized, and your dreams will become pipe dreams. It’s up to you. You can compete, play well, and know you’ve done your best, or not. It’s your call.

Excerpted from the book, Principles For Personal Growth.

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