Anything you can do, I can do, maybe
I don’t usually feel like I’m in competition with people around me. I think that’s partially because I’m confident in my awesomeness. Though it probably has a little to do with laziness, too; If I tried harder I could be better, but I don’t always want to.
I have a pretty good sense of who I am. I know what I excel at and what I do not. I work hard on what I care about and less hard on things that I simply enjoy. I will never be the best at a lot of things in this world, and I’ve accepted that. I remember a teacher in high school accusing me of being a jack of all trades and master of none. Like that was a bad thing. Turns out, I got two master’s degrees, so he was at least a little wrong (and yet, still a little right).
But what gets me is that life isn’t a competition. I was introduced to the idea of a zero-sum game in Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty. Essentially, zero-sum means that an addition on one side means a loss on the other, so it balances out. Sachs argued that getting people out of poverty isn’t a zero-sum game, that just because someone who didn’t have a job now has a job and is earning money, the people that already had jobs aren’t losing money. A plus to one side can actually mean a plus to the other side, not a minus. That person can now spend his earnings on your stuff, so you can sell more stuff!
When people want to put themselves up against someone else, they’re essentially assuming life is a zero-sum game. Their exceptionalism can only be seen in contrast to my mediocrity, or even better, my complete failure.
I grew up in a family of five: mom, dad, two brothers and me. As the youngest, it was a good bet that I wasn’t going to be the best at anything. I was slower, smaller, weaker. If there was a competition, I was going to lose, so you can perhaps understand my disdain for rivalry. If you can’t win, what’s the point in playing? But, as we got older we each developed our own interests and abilities and my mom was awesome about not comparing us. I had never heard about multiple intelligences as a high schooler, but I knew that not everyone was the same. So, what was there to compare? Apples to avocados.
Competition is healthy, though, right? Eh, maybe. If it encourages you to do better, then that’s a good thing. But I’m obviously not one of those encouraged thusly. I’m more likely to disengage completely if forced into a competitive situation. However, I do compete against myself. I guess I’m intrinsically motivated. I’m not up for comparisons to anyone else, but I do like to see positive change in myself.
So, what about you? Do you like to compete? What motivates you?