Do you consider yourself a competitive person? Do you see it as a good thing or a bad thing?
I was having another of my in-depth discussions with one of my friends after a spot of boxing in the ring (it happens a lot after a good spar) and we got on to the topic of competitiveness. Now not to state the bleeding obvious, but I can be a competitive person. And my friend? Perhaps not so much. But this is where the conversation became philosophical very quickly.
I grew up in a competitive environment. I did Little Athletics every weekend or cross country. I tried numerous other sports and competed in almost every possible sport I could in high school. But it didn’t stop there. I suppose you could say I was competitive in the classroom too. I still remember having ‘times tables’ races in Grade 6, determined to be the last one standing. Later on in life, I took up taekwondo and was completely enamoured with the competitiveness of it.
But at what point does competitiveness become a negative attribute in a person? And can it be managed? Or is it a case of a leopard can’t change its spots? i.e. once a negative competitive always negative competitive.
To answer that question, we need to take a step back and really consider what ‘competitiveness’ means? Is it the same for everybody?
The simple definition of competitive is: Having a strong desire to compete or succeed. Or to be as good as or better than others.
But I would like to beg to differ, or perhaps add to this definition. Competitive is also having a desire to BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE. A desire to IMPROVE ON YOUR PREVIOUS BEST.
I say this, because I struggle to see how one can set goals for themselves, aim high in life and want to be the best version of themself, without an inner drive and inner competitiveness. It isn’t necessarily and shouldn’t be about being better than everyone or anyone else and winning. It’s about your own success.
Maybe there are two types of competitive:
Extrinsic Competitiveness: Display’s their competitiveness externally and derives their success from external competition
Intrinsic Competitiveness: Keeps their competitiveness to themselves and continually tries to better themselves.
Even when we consider these two types of competitiveness, does that mean that one type is better than the other?
I can’t answer that question for everyone. But I can offer my opinion. I think there is nothing wrong with either of those types. But maybe when you let one dominate the other, it becomes an issue.
Being overly Extrinsically Competitive can be exhausting. For both you and the people around you. We see examples every day of this type of competitiveness. Football, cricket and almost every kind of kids sport requires an element of this type of competitiveness. But it becomes a negative thing when it starts to affect yourself and others. Trying to keep up with the Jones’s or be better than them sees life become a never-ending competition. There will always be people who are better than you at something. Not one singular person can be the best at everything. So stop trying. You’ll drive yourself insane. And those around you. Whether you are verbalising your competitiveness or not, the people around you can see exactly what’s going on. They see you constantly striving to be better than everyone else. They see you trying again and again to win. And your friends get tired of never being able to one up you. (Note: Friends build each other up not determine to beat your pants off every time).
Being overly Intrinsically Competitive is that internalised competitiveness that sees you aiming to beat yourself every single time. It’s wonderful that you focus on being the best you possible, but ease up on yourself. Your desire to constantly get a PB or achieve impossibly high targets, can have just a detrimental effect on your self esteem as being around someone who is extrinsically competitive. There may be a tendency to beat yourself up if you don’t achieve those goals.
Now those examples are both extremes. And when anything is on the far end of scale, there are often negatives that go with it. So here’s the thing. It’s all about balance. Like anything in life.
A little bit of externalised competition is a good thing because it inspires people to aim higher and set goals that they never though possible. It also provides an important feedback loop on how we go about achieving our goals and teach us how to accept failure or ‘not winning’ in a gracious and positive manner without damaging long term self esteem (this is particularly important for kids). What is also important however that external competition is not forced on others and promoted as a ‘win at all costs’ – then it becomes negative.
And this is where a good dose of internalised competition is important. It teaches people to focus more on their own personal achievement and gains than beating others, particularly when it comes to setting goals, motivation, drive and achievement in life.
There is a time and a place of extrinsic and intrinsic competitiveness. Everbody has a a little bit of both in them, usually one in more dose than the other. As long as you don’t let the pendulum swing to far one way, then it can only help you be the best you can be.
What do you think? I know that I can sometimes be too extrinsically competitive and like to win (particularly arguments). I can also be too intrinsically competitive as.well. Which means that I am hard on myself when I don’t achieve my expectations of myself. I consider myself a work in progress on both fronts.
Do you see yourself as competitive? Is it possible to not be competitive?
And is there such a thing as too competitive? I’m really interested in everyone’s thoughts.