I wrote this week about comparison. I realised the idea of competition got a bit of a bad rap in this post. I felt the need to redress the balance.
Not everything about competition is bad.
Competition can provoke work that improves standards. It can be the impulse leading to scientific breakthroughs, or to sporting achievements. As iron sharpens iron, so those working in a similar field can spur each other on, to better their ideas, their communication, their achievements. And this can be good for everyone.
The London 2012 Olympic Games showed us how a display of sporting brilliance can influence a generation and maybe a nation. Across the country in local sports centres and on flood-lit pitches people have had a go. Not all aiming for Rio, but just to try, to see what it’s like, to get fit, or even just for fun.
Competition can improve and inspire.
But I have always thought this didn’t apply to me. You see, I am just not a competitive person.
Growing up I had a friend who was super competitive, who would upturn a board game if she was not winning and storm out of the room. I was never that bothered. My youngest has this tendency too. If he decides he is not going to win, he gives up. He only plays if he can be the victor, and often, for the sake of peace and harmony, we let him win. (Although, if it is matching pairs we are playing, even when I try my hardest, I cannot beat him.)
As I have thought about it, I realised that my lack of competitiveness was, at least in part, to do with my fear of failure.
If I don’t try and be the best, if I don’t aim for first place, I won’t find out I’m not capable of it and feel frustrated.
If I constantly lower my expectations and the expectations of those around me, I cannot fail. I won’t disappoint.
When it comes to sport, this is not a problem, because I am not passionate about sport, and I don’t feel the need to win at board games.
But when it comes to my writing or my creative practices this fear can raises it’s ugly head.
Because it is fear. The fear that says that there is not enough to go around. The fear that whispers that someone else’s success means that yours is less likely, that somehow they have used up the success-possibilities and you will now miss out.
Of course, there is no gold star for the worlds’ best blogger, so it is easy to pretend I am free from the ugly side of competition and comparison. But the truth is I have to watch for the tell-tale feeling in my stomach when I see how many tweets, or shares, someone else’s post has received, or how many subscribers someone else’s blog has got.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend my days obsessing about it, but I am not immune.
Just because my competition doesn’t come lycra clad, and wearing specially designed cheerleading shoes (it is mainly in my old t-shirt and from behind my laptop) I can still go from the joy of publishing something I think is pretty good, to the feelings of sorrow when it doesn’t seem to receive the response I might have hoped it would.
(I am aware these are not attractive qualities I am confessing to here).
It is a murky area, the connection between comparison and competition. How do I work alongside my peers, who are brilliant and doing excellent work, without feeling the need to rank myself amongst them, creating a subconscious sliding scale for who is winning and who is loosing? How do I allow their triumphs and successes to be a cause for mutual joy? How do I celebrate with them, be inspired by them, but not leave any room open for the soul-sapping comparison to fester?
The answer is not to isolate myself, to become an island and never engage in the community of writers for fear I will not match up.
And it is not to treat my work with indifference, coolly pretending that I wasn’t that bothered anyway.
I am learning the way to combat this distinctly human emotion does not come in a single bulletproof solution. It is a practice, a way of being that must be developed.
It think it starts with engaging, being fully present.
Then allowing myself to be inspired by the work of my friends, encouraging and taking delight in their breakthroughs.
All the while reading vociferously and, with discipline, learning and practising and working to develop and hone my craft.
Or I could say, the principles of this practice are:
Be all in.
Do your work.
Enjoy the process.
Like my junior cheerleading competitor I need to enjoy the performance (or in my case, the writing) for what it is, and not let the world of measurement taint my joy.
This is a life-long practice. I’m a work in progress.