I’ve never been a competitive person. I never played a sport; so I never had a need to make others lose so I could win. Historically, I’ve preferred to only be in competition with myself.
I read a lot of self-help books and listen to a lot of motivational podcasts and videos. A phrase I’ve been hearing and thinking about a lot is “winning at life.” To my mind, this is competitive speak that doesn’t naturally resonate with me. So, every time the phrase comes up, my mind bounces it around like a shoe in the dryer.
What does it means to be winning at life?
Does it mean having lots of money? Then, I’m not winning. However, I have a roof over my head and food in my belly. For that, I am grateful and don’t see myself as losing at life because I have less than others.
Do I need fame to be winning? Then, only a small percentage ever have a hope (or desire) to win at life.
I don’t understand when people talk to me in competitive language about winning and losing. I don’t see why I need to be beating anyone else. To me, that’s scarcity mindset, not growth mindset.
I’m intrigued, mind you, and sometimes wonder if being competitive would serve me. But I’m not sure that that’s my nature. Is this something that I should work to develop, or would that be trying to be someone I’m not? I don’t.
I just know that competing with myself has benefited me.
Lessons from law school
My first year in law school, I decided long before grades came out that I was not going to share my grades with any of my fellow students. Good, bad, or mediocre, they were for my eyes only.
I had heard story upon story about how competitive law school was. There were stories of books being hidden during exam time to disadvantage peers. Study partners being picked for the advantage they were to others. Students lying about their grades.
I wanted no part of it, but not because I was lazy or didn’t care to work hard and make killer grades. I decided that I would just be in competition with myself, meaning I would try for excellence as best I could. Thus, there was no purpose in sharing my grades.
When the first semester grades came in, I politely told my peers that asked that I was going to keep my grades to myself. This was generally met with sympathy as the other person assumed this meant I was too embarrassed to tell my grades.
I clearly wasn’t winning or I would be shouting it from the roof tops. But I didn’t need their sympathy. My grades were quite good.
Some friends were offended that I didn’t trust them with this information. I tried to tell several “friends” who were worried about my grades that my decision was not a reflection of my grades. Few seemed to buy it.
Occasionally, I was tempted to say, “hey, my grades were better than yours don’t worry about me!” I was most tempted when I overheard my roommate, who had already proven herself to be no friend of mine, feign concern that I might be failing out of school as she told others about her poor roommate whose grades were so bad, I couldn’t bear to tell anyone.
But as luck would have it, or as my hard work would have it, the truth came out. At the end of the year, I was outed. I was in the top 7% of my class, and as such invited to be on the law review. Law review is a student publication, an honor, and most importantly for this story, public knowledge.
There was a collective jaw drop when my name was a part of the group. I hadn’t been hiding bad grades all this time. Most classmates were still, if not more, confused that I hadn’t shared my grades.
While my plan hadn’t insulated me from the mean-spirited competitiveness, I felt I did what was right for me to protect my heart. I learned two peers had outright lied about their grade, and thus, I learned more about their character. Yes, I learned a lot about those who were seemingly so concerned about my grades, but that’s water under the bridge.
Most importantly, I learned the value of just competing with myself. Whether it’s grades or some other result of my efforts, they are mine. The work is mine; the outcome is mine. I own them both, and I judge them both.
Our values determine what counts as winning
I guess this is my first problem with being questioned by others if I’m winning at life: only I have the values that resonate with my soul to judge whether I’m winning. Only I know if I’m making myself proud. Only I know if the work and output is enough for me.
I was winning. Getting on law review was important to me, because that meant I would research, edit, write, and perhaps be published (I was). Then for so long, I dropped the ball on that truth that writing and creating were important to me.
Money, climbing the corporate ladder, and material things don’t equate to winning to me. Creating does. That doesn’t have to be meaningful to you, though. The point is only we can judge whether we are winning.
Drop ‘should’ from your vocabulary
The second issue I have with being concerned with having winners and losers at life is that this leads me to “shoulding” other people. What is “shoulding” other people? Looking at what others are doing and thinking about all the things that they should do.
This was one of my recovery lessons. One that I’m still working on! Drop should from my vocabulary. Telling myself what I should be doing is guilt producing.
Moreover, thinking what others “should do” takes my eyes off of what I’m doing and how well I’m doing it, and leads to judgments and expectations. Expecting others to behave the way I see fit sets myself up for disappointment.
I recently thought to myself (in very over dramatic, oh-poor-me fashion), “will I ever learn that these other people I look up to are people too?” I, for one, need to stop being shocked when other humans are human.
Confession time! I am compulsive at shoulding. I should do this and that and the other. He should not be reacting like that….and when I say he, all of my readers who are wives probably know I’m talking about my husband. Oh gracious, I can should that man till the cows come home. But, I’m getting off on a tangent. The point is, “shoulding” (which is now a verb, I’ve made it such) is a waste of time. We not only don’t know what’s best for other, we have zero control over how they behave.
In sum, I’m not condemning the competitive. I’m just acknowledging that winning and losing don’t resonate with me, personally. Perhaps, it’s just semantics.
For me, there are no winners and losers on my playing field. There’s just me “competing” with who I was yesterday. Moreover, if I’m working toward things that bring value to my life, that’s winning.
“The principle is competition against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” – Steve Young