I’m a fairly competitive person. My family would say I am a sore loser. I would say I like to win. Growing up, everything was a competition in my mind. I competed with classmates for the best grades (getting angry and aggravated over a 0.02 point difference in our GPAs). I competed (in my own mind) with my siblings’ accomplishments. Everything was about being “the best” or “the top.” Competition was a way of life in high school. And, as salutatorian, class president, and cheer co-captain that worked for me.
When I got to college (UCLA) I fell of my pedestal as I met class president after class president, and valedictorian after valedictorian. At UCLA, it seemed, everyone was “the best”. In those early months, I made a choice. I chose out of honors and away from grades. I chose not to compete. I saw the things I had lost because I was so focused on the grade, rather than the learning. As a competitor, I would cut myself no slack. There were no excuses for second best. There was no grace. There was no justification for failure. And that first year of college, I pretty much walked away.
My whole attitude toward school and learning changed. (I would say that the classes with Chip Anderson played a MAJOR role in this as I learned to be a “learner” rather than a “student”.) I began focusing on what I was learning, rather than the grade I was getting. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t start failing school with this new approach. Rather, my grades reflected the fact that I was actually learning. (Go figure!)
I am still fairly driven, but I try not to compare myself constantly to others and ridicule myself for the ways I don’t measure up. I still have rigorous standards for myself (possibly too rigorous) and like to achieve things. I am goal oriented and like achieving the goal. But I try to steer away from competition. I don’t focus on sports or competitions. I can do most things, but don’t perfect many things because I get too drawn into the evaluation and competitive nature of being “the best” all over again.
Generally, I would say this has benefitted me (and my relationships). I am more relaxed. Less tense. More gracious (with myself and with others). And more easy going. I’m good with that.
Well, recently at Family Camp, I joined a game of spoons. I have played many times and used to be pretty good at it. A friend gave me her spot so I could play (I came in very late in the game) and I did fairly well. But as I acquired more letters, I got more and more frustrated. My fuse got extremely short and my patience for “friendly” banter and physical scrambles for the spoons became obsolete. I finally finished spelling “SPOONS” (much like you would with “HORSE” in basketball) and left the game. As I left, I could feel something in me raging. It was like my old self and new self were at war. My old self was disgusted with losing, ready to throw insults and caddy banter at the other players and to be the “sore loser” I am notorious for being; and my new self reasoned “it’s only a game” and “it’s not worth being physically aggressive.”
To be quite honest, my old self was winning the argument. I was grumpy and irritable and ready to let loose on the next person that mentioned it. I was no longer friendly and amiable and gracious. My old self was back in full force.
And all I could think was, “This is why I don’t compete! It does not bring out the best in me. Nothing in me is righteous right now.”
Fortunately, it was late, and I had a private room, so I could sulk on my own and then process what exactly was taking place inside of me. In many ways, being super competitive is an old habit. A habit I thought I had kicked. It’s amazing to me how guttural and entrenched my reactions were. I didn’t think, “I should compete.” It just happened, and so did the frustration and the bitterness at losing.
It’s no wonder that from a theological or spiritual perspective, we advocate fully leaving behind bad habits. If we continue to hold on, even to just a semblance, we hold onto the habit as a whole. Maybe it looms just below the surface, but it’s there ready to take hold at a moment’s notice. The further removed we get from that habit, the easier it is to rebuke the ugly and callous things that come out in us because of it.
I don’t think this means I shouldn’t ever play a game or sport again, only that I have to proceed consciously. I need to think about how I am engaging the game and making sure that I play to enjoy playing rather than simply to win.