The hidden costs of competition
On a scale of 1-10, how competitive would you say you are?
I’m sure your answer will vary depending on the context of the competition, but it’s fair to say that everyone possesses a certain level of competitive spirit. As a former athlete, coach, and the second of four siblings (2 brothers and a sister), I will admit that my competitive spirit is probably above average. In fact, I can still remember arguments with my brothers over a certain game of Monopoly. To this day, I remain certain that I had placed a hotel on Boardwalk and therefore deserved payment, but they obviously didn’t agree. Okay, I digress.
When I think back to my own tween and teen years, I’m very aware of the countless benefits I received from having participated in competitive sports. The obvious benefit was learning to celebrate victory with humility, and seeking to find the lesson(s) in a loss. In fact, this continues to serve me well in my business pursuits.
Equally clear in my mental filing cabinets are the costs associated with this above-average competitive spirit. The majority of these costs were not a result of my participation in sports, but rather “indirect” competition with peers or classmates. I stress the word indirect because unlike a sporting event which clearly pits two teams or individuals against one another, competition amongst peers is often subtle and unannounced. Herein lies the incredible cost.
Below are the two most common costs that I see with regard to indirect peer competition.
COST #1 – Your self-worth is gauged strictly on how you compare to others. Whether it’s buying the coolest pair of shoes to outdo a friend or posting a series of conceited statements on Facebook in an effort to appear better than someone else, the root of these actions is always inauthentic. The recent influx of social media has contributed greatly to this cost.
COST #2 – You often experience a very turbulent ride on the emotional roller-coaster. In other words, when your emotions are always tied to the outcome (i.e. better grade than someone else), your level of happiness naturally becomes extrinsic in nature. When you are at the peak of the roller coaster, you feel joyful and proud. Conversely, when you plummet to the bottom, you feel sad or depressed.
I once heard someone say that competition is to self-esteem as sugar is to teeth. While I don’t think this is the case with many forms of competition, I do feel that it is extremely valid with regard to indirect peer competition.
My goal with the Lenses of Leadership program is to cultivate a Me AND You mindset amongst peers, which is based solely on cooperation. In doing so, the Me AGAINST You mindset, which is rooted in competition and comparison, will diminish.