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I'm not your Competition, and You aren't Mine


I don't have a competitive bone in my body.

And I guess that's why I hated team sports, why I enjoyed the orchestra, why I withdraw when I smell a competition of any kind.

And oh, adults have competitions raging all the time.

But I don't compete to be top dog, in fact, I would rather you were top dog. When I lead, it's because no one else wanted to do so in that situation and so I see it more as a duty than a privilege or right. Being a class mom, or collaborating ideas for the school nativity play, or taking a group of people on a journey of prayer and theology... I don't put my hand up and ask for those jobs, yet will do them to the best of my ability and for as long as required. I count it as "taking one for the team," because being part of a team, I get.

We have some ridiculous competitions raging around us right now though, which is what got me going.

Competing for friends. I simply would rather back down than be someone's second choice. Or someone's secret. And this is a real thing, people seem to want to separate their friendship circles and so they would rather isolate than include. So I say no. And, "No thank you," to the invitations that would be part of this separatism. Rather have five real friends than ten half-hearted ones, that's what I say.

Grown-ups also seem to compete over who can throw the best children's birthday party. Stop for a moment and consider what I've said there. I hope that you don't have a child who drives the pressure in your home to do this, and I certainly hope that you don't succumb to it. They're children. They don't care who has the best party, so long as they have a party. And yet, I see all around me the competitiveness to be the grandest party thrower, for a five year old. And it seems as silly to me as wanting to be the bowls champion of the world.

And yes, grown-ups compete over who has the most talented child. They play this game in a funny way, moaning over all the extra time they need to put in to take little Johnny to his first team cricket squad training or Suzie to her national children's choir practice. They're not openly bragging, but slipping in all the extra qualifiers there to make sure you know they have the most talented child. And then making that sound as though it's a burden. If that were my child, I would probably be openly bragging; telling you how completely surprised I am that my child had reached that level. Because I would be so proud. But to make it sound as though my child were competing with your child, well that would never be the case. I hope.

We return to tribalism and men show off their primitive strengths by comparing cars, or homes, or property investments. It all reverts to "Mine is bigger than yours!" and they may as well be wearing loin cloths.

When the playing fields, so to speak, aren't level, is when things turn really nasty and it's as if you have a clean team playing by the rules confronted by a dirty team, abandoning the rules. Then nothing is off limits. Your budget, your botox, your hairdresser, your gyming... all of it is a competition to see who has more. Who has better.

I was once so non-competitive that people would gush over how beautiful I was and I allowed myself to be ugly. I wouldn't wash my hair, I wouldn't put on moisturiser, I wouldn't wear fashionable or flattering clothing. I wanted to be on the opposite side of beautiful so that people would stop comparing me to others. It worked, but it wreaked havoc with my self esteem. That took longer to repair than my outer appearance, which I thankfully realised needn't be a punishment to make a point.

I once tried to fail a subject at school because I was being teased for being too smart and the teacher was comparing me to my predecessors in that subject, telling me I was far brighter than any of them had been. So I flunked. I wanted to shout, BACK OFF!!! but didn't have that gumption in that class. Only when I was gently told that my results would be a short blip for the school but a life-long blemish for me did I realise I was competing against myself, and no one else, really.

See, that's a competition I get. Self-competing. I want to be a better version of myself tomorrow than I was today. But I don't see the person I am today as my enemy, a foe to be beaten. No. I see that person as version 1.0 and I am aiming for 2.0 tomorrow. I will unbrazenly say that my third child has had the best version of "Mommy." Not that I was a bad mom to my first child, or my second, but by the time number three came, I was older, wiser and humbler. I had learnt many of the hard lessons and could walk with a little more wisdom. I was also more comfortable in my own skin, which benefits everyone. And I guess, by then, I had realised that we're not in a competition. We're in a long game, and the winners are those who make it to the end leaving a legacy of love.

Getting back to being in a sport's team versus being in an orchestra. I watched Simon Sinek give a talk recently about finite games versus infinite games. (Link below) When you see life as a finite game, you're expecting to play like a sports team: there are rules, there are structures, there is a limit to time, there is a winner at the end. If your opponent breaks the rules there are often penalties. If you break the rules sometimes you get ahead faster.

When you see life as in infinite game you are not playing to win, but playing for the greater goal. In an orchestra, I play my bass as best I can, you play your violin as best you can and together, we play a concerto as best we can. The personal victory is small compared to the larger, nobler goal. In marriage, you can say that you are fighting with your husband to win a point, to get the final word in, to have your say. He may be trying to keep the peace for the sake of the relationship, for marriage's sake, to be the best together for the long term. There's a different goal in mind and therefore we play by different rules, depending how we see the game we're in.

Also, an interesting talk was on Oprah's Super Soul Sundays, and she interviewed Joel Osteen. I've never heard the man speak, but I liked what he said about competitiveness. You and I are not competing. We're not even on the same track. We are each given a race to run at the start of our lives and a track on which to run it. I can not run your race and you can not run mine. So the fact that we compete against one another is quite silly, since we are in different events and are judged by different criteria.

I don't want to compete with anyone. Like I said, the competition makes me run in the opposite direction. But when I realise that a) my race is my own, and no one else can do what I am meant to do as well as I can and b) I should be playing for the infinite and not the finite, it makes a huge difference. I don't see people as my competition, but rather as iron to sharpen my iron. It is a case of waking up tomorrow knowing that today, if only marginally, you moved closer to being a better version of yourself. Then we all win. Then we make beautiful music together.

Simon Sinek on Infinite Games

Oprah and Joel Osteen

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