Mainstream culture teaches that competition is good. As do economists and politicians. After all, where would the economy be without capitalism? And politicians would be out of work if they didn’t continually fight over territory – both literally and metaphorically.
But when you read books like Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits Of Highly Successful People and Peter Gray’s Free To Learn, you begin to wonder.
Especially in Gray’s book, because you see that by the behavior and attitude of modern-day hunter-gatherers that our ancestors thrived because of their cooperation. Children didn’t compete with each other during play, they cooperated.
Competition creates a win-lose atmosphere, pitting people and groups of people against each other. It’s what leads to murder, depression, and wars. Ask any child who’s ever been on a losing team. Ask any adult who is hoping for a promotion.
Competition is unhealthy. Period. If you’re a person of faith, you should see it as sin. Where is the unconditional love that Jesus calls us to, inside an atmosphere of competition? We see the competition as the enemy, as someone to be vanquished. You can’t love somebody you believe needs to be squashed under your thumb.
Yet, most people attempting to achieve goals and dreams see others in their niche as competition, and therefore as the enemy. This is why you see so much emotional manipulation and hype in the world of marketing in general, and specifically online.
I have gotten caught up in this competition myself. Here’s where it’s taken me: if I sell more books than some other author, I feel superior. If I struggle to sell one copy of a book I’ve written, it’s the end of the world.
If I get 3,000 visitors per month on my blog but never make a dime out of it, I’m a failure. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know about my recent angst with YouTube. The long and the short of it – that I didn’t realize at the time of writing that YouTube post – is that because I felt like I was in competition with other YouTubers, I felt like I was a failure. (Don’t look for that post about YouTube now, by the way; I’ve unpublished it.)
Once I sorted through the whole competition with others thing, my soul became more peaceful than it has been for a long time. My purpose in life is not to compete with other people, but simply to be who I am and create what is on my heart to create. What happens as a result is up to God, not me. Which means I’m not a failure just because I don’t achieve the results that other people in the same creative niches do.
That settled, life should be good, right? Until the day I was forcing myself to sprint as hard as I could while making treks between the house and sheds. I wanted to keep my heart rate down, because a lower heart rate equals a healthier heart, right? (Not necessarily so.)
My hips were complaining and I was sweating when the thought brushed across my mind: Who are you competing with?
I thought about it for a minute. Myself, of course. After all, you are the only person you should be competing against, right? You should continually strive to be more and better today than you were yesterday, right? So it’s okay to make yourself your own measuring stick for success, right?
Competition is competition. It is as unhealthy to compete with yourself as it is to compete with other people.
You are never the same person two days in a row.
Biologically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, you are at least slightly different from one day to the next. And it’s not always because you’ve improved! Sometimes, the opposite is true. For example, a huge storm system three states away could be significantly impacting the barometric pressure where you live, causing you to feel lethargic and irritable, whereas yesterday you might have been overflowing with energy and cheerfulness.
Not only can you never truly compete with yourself because you are constantly changing, even if in only small ways that may not be obvious, but competition breeds stress and a fear of failure – regardless of who you’re competing with.
I’m working now to walk out of the idea that competition with myself is good. It’ll probably be a longer and harder journey than turning away from the idea that competing with other people is good. But I’m going to work at it as long and hard as I have to, because I want the freedom of simply living every day the best I can.
Without measuring myself against anybody else – including who I was yesterday or last year, or who I wish I would be.
So I end this post with a challenging question for you: who are you competing with? And a follow-up: How’s it working for you so far?