I once told a friend the following words.
“I’m not competitive, I’m comparative.”
This was the reason behind many years of always feeling not quite satisfied, never quite good enough and various self-pity parties either by myself or with close friends. What’s my interpretation of the difference? Glad you asked.
The Comparative Curse
When you’re comparative, you’re focusing on what other people have versus what you don’t have or vice versa. You’re viewing the situation in a way where one of you will be seen more favorably than the other. Whether it is in your favor or not, the act of comparing yourself to others automatically supports the idea that your worth is questionable and conditional. You’re putting your value out for a test. If you lose, you’ll feel diminished and if you win, you’ll only experience temporary satisfaction. That’s the curse that comes with comparison if you choose to partake in it. Yes, you have a choice. I eventually realized it; you can too.
Being comparative is not productive – for yourself and others around you. It doesn’t build confidence, it dwindles it. It doesn’t make you any happier; it creates a false sense or drains the good feelings and replaces them with less favorable ones. And forget about being truly happy for other people’s successes if you’re not secure in your own success as a person.
The Competitive Courses
Okay, so what’s the alternative? If comparative is bad, then competitive must be more advantageous, right? After all, when you’re competitive, you’re generally taking steps to get something you want as opposed to being comparative, which is just thinking unproductively about something you think you want! Yes, the benefit about being competitive is you’re more focused on a goal and what you can do to get yourself closer to the outcome.
However, there are different types of competitive: competing to one up, competing to improve, and competing to thrive.
These different competitive courses are not equal. I’ll explain.
Competing to One Up
When you’re competing to one up, the foundation is essentially still comparative. You’re focused on competing so you’re ahead or better than a certain person or group. This has the same basis of conditional worth as the act of being comparative.
Even if you win against a certain someone, there’s the possibility that person will come back to take the lead and there will always be someone else to one up you. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder, fearing for the inevitable. Playing to one up is based on insecure foundations and it’s only a matter of time when any achievement will start to crumble. This was a course where I didn’t care to play for very long.
Competing to Improve
When you’re playing to improve, this pits you against yourself, which slightly more productive than playing to one up. After all, it’s beneficial to want to continuously improve, to put in the work to get better at something than you were yesterday. There is a caveat though: there will always be something to improve on, so if you’re playing to improve, it’s never going to feel like enough. Many who play in this competitive course are always looking at the next hurdle, the next number, and often neglecting to celebrate their progress along the way.
If you’re playing from the mindset that you’ll feel successful when you reach this next measure, it will likely never be enough. Most likely, your sense of worth will be filled temporarily only to fall just a little short each time. This was where I got stuck for awhile, and it took some major shifts to realize there was a more optimal way to play the game of life.
Competing to Thrive
When you’re competing to thrive, you’re looking at the long term and strategizing for the short term. You’re keeping your eye on the ultimate vision while being okay with the mistakes, twists and bumps along the way. You understand that in order to thrive, there is equal importance on physical health, mental strength and tactical skill set. You invest the time and energy to ensure you’re taking care of your body, gaining clarity for the mental strength, and honing your craft for the tactical skill set.
Most of all, you’re competing to thrive in your own game. No one else is in it, because no one else will have your exact vision of what you really want in life. There’s no failing grade in this competitive course. There’s no one to compare against, there’s no one to one up, no mark you need to achieve. You’re just trying the best you can every day of the journey.
Sure, the path may collide and trip, and sure, there will be disappointments. However, if it doesn’t work out, it just means it just wasn’t meant to be in that way and at that time. In this course, you’re accepting and loving of where you are right now, while working towards goals that will allow you to thrive even more. You’re playing for the long haul, and you’re playing in a game where you determine what success means for you (HINT: if you think it’s money, you’re wrong – uncover deeper). You’re able to experiment and follow where your energy and interest naturally take you. You’ll learn new things and continuously adjust your vision as you naturally evolve.
It’s that simple, yet it’s one of the hardest things in life to truly understand and embrace. E.E. Cummings said it best with the following quote:
“To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting” – E.E. Cummings
I’ve struggled personally with the transition from comparative to the levels of competitive throughout high school, college, and my early professional life. It took some lowest of lows, the worst of self-doubt, fear, quitting a stable job, and being okay with not having a plan afterwards to fully realize what it meant to play to win my own game. With greater awareness comes greater power and yes, it does (eventually) become easier over time.
Stop caring about what other people think, want or do. Focus on uncovering what you really want, defining what success means to you, and then designing the life you really want. Compete to thrive. Because if you truly did all of those things, you certainly wouldn’t have any desire to compare or to compete in any game other than your own.