Wednesday, October 25, 2006


The Competition

This is a re-post of an item I wrote for a company blog on 13 July 2005.

Brian started a discussion about competitiveness in blogging, and that started me thinking (again; I've thought about it a great deal, over the years) about competitiveness in general, and what is/isn't/should be/shouldn't be a competition. As I was in a plane recently, and as plane rides are conducive to introspection, I chewed on it a bit. Let's see what it looks like.

My daddy taught me to do the best I can at everything, and it's a lesson I learned well. And so I try to do that, I try my best at everything I do, whether it be writing, playing, cooking, working, or anything else. In some sense, this is "competition", I think, but it's competition against myself. Can I write something that people will want to read, and that I can be proud of having written? Can I play that game better than I've done before? Can I cook a meal that will please the people who eat it? Can I do work that I'm proud of, and that's worth what the company is paying me for it, and more?

I am not, though, thinking of competing against others when I'm doing most of these things. I'm pleased to read what others write, and eat what others cook, and I learn from their successes without feeling any jealousy of it. I can't imagine thinking that I "lost" some sort of "competition" because someone else made a better curry or casserole or crème brûlée than I did, and I would not enjoy entering a cooking competition.

Of course, in games and sports, competition is often imbedded in the activity. When I ski, I ski "against" myself, trying to tackle that hill of moguls deftly, without competing. But when I play volleyball, I'm playing, along with my team, to "win". It's contained, though, and is one reason I like the group I play volleyball with. It's not a "league", with "playoffs" and a "trophy". It's a recreational group, where we play seriously, and play each game to win it... but when the game is over, it's over, and we play the next game to win it, without regard to what's happened before. That mode suits my temperament.

I do a few kinds of dancing. "Challenge" level square dancing sounds like it might be a competition, but it isn't, and I'm not aware of any competitions for it. The goal is to work together as a square, eight dancers, and to solve the geometric puzzles that the caller throws at us, get the answers right, and "come out right" at the end, ready for the next puzzle sequence. It's cooperative (within one's square), but not competitive (against the other squares). The ballroom dancing I do is for my own enjoyment, and I have never, nor will I ever, enter a ballroom competition. It doesn't suit my temperament.

Some people are of a different temperament. Some are happier when they're competing, and thrive on the competition. Some need the season record, the playoff games, and the trophy for motivation. Some enter ski races, dance competitions, and bake-offs. Some create competitions in things that I don't even imagine the competitive aspects of; they see the opportunities for competition in everything.

It disturbs me, sometimes, to see how we often teach that to children. In some ways — even when we try to set up an arrangement where "everyone gets a prize" — we're shoving competition, winning and losing, at children when they're way too young for it, when we should be teaching them to cooperate, and to get enjoyment out of the accomplishment, not out of the "winning". We must learn to cooperate before we learn to compete.

Now we get to work, and it all turns over. At one level, work is not competitive. My job is to work cooperatively with others to accomplish things that benefit the company. That sounds good to me. At another level, though, all business is competitive. We have to do better than the other companies, so what we win, and maximize our profits. That competitiveness extends to individuals, as well. If I want that promotion, I have to be the best at what I do, and there's significant competition, scratching and scheming to position oneself as the best. Given that, it's actually surprising how cooperative we are, and how well we collectively work together to accomplish things.

This, of course, does not suit my temperament. And so I've adapted, and I think I've adapted well, to where I enjoy the work that I do; my management seems to think I'm doing it well, and so do those around me. If competition isn't in our natures, we have to learn how to adapt to its inevitable presence.

I've been typing for a while, and I have to go, and I'm not sure how to end this. I suppose, though, that I don't need a formal "conclusion". I mean, this isn't a competition, right?

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