Competition -is it all it’s cracked up to be?

There is nothing like good competition to push you even further

Peter Economy, Inc. magazine

Inc. a leading magazine published an article collating the top quotes from successful business leaders on competition. Do these quotes make your soul sing?

Growing up in a country with more than a billion people, put competition in a whole new perspective –  you are competing for literally everything. Buses are generally over full and you try to hang on to anything you can get your hand on – including the window bars on the outside of the bus. The traffic jams are never ending.

The economic disparity between the rich and the poor increased the intensity of competition. There is a constant push to be the best so that you can get a spot on that bus, in that school, get the scholarship, get the job…This is further compounded by being a woman and a visible minority. My mindset has been trained to be better than everyone else so that I am the obvious choice in whatever race I am running.

So it was vitally important to out-compete the competition so that I can have a better quality of life for my family relative to the rest of society. I distinctly remember bringing home grades of 100% and my parents would ask “ why did you not get 105%?” – another bi-product of this level of competition is the lack of satisfaction even when you achieved the perceived goal ( but that’s probably a whole blog post on its own).

So for the last 40 years I have competed at school, at work, in friendships, finding the best deal and so it goes…

Paradox in a corporate organization

Having worked in a professional corporate job for over 25 years of my life, I see the corporate organization as an interesting paradox of co-opetition and competition. Your department has annual objectives to achieve which drives bonus compensation at the end of the year based on the extent of the objectives attained. In order to boost performance, companies have attempted to drive a 3-way split of the bonus from individual, department and company performance. However at the end of the day each person needs to fight for a portion of the same pie – so no matter how much you beat the “department mandate” or “corporate mandate” unless there are other constructs in place in the organizational culture to drive team behaviour, it is highly likely that  individual performance and focus on getting individual objectives is going to supersede department or company objectives.

A few months ago, the intensity of a competition mindset became loud and clear in a very simple situation  – I was getting off the commuter train to get to work when I realized my mind was assessing the other people getting off the train to determine who would get to the door first, which door would get me in the shortest, who will get up the stairs the fastest…and it continues. I was struck by the auto-pilot nature of it all – I had done this walk for the past couple of years to the same job location so I knew exactly how long it would take me on an average paced walk to get to my office – yet, here I am ready to outpace the perceived “competition”. 

Am I just a strange anomaly in this North American society? Anybody out there feel the same way?

Danish secret to happiness

The little book of Hygee” written by Meik Wiking who is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen aims to showcase how the happiest people in the world live and identify the source of their happiness. He shares the following quote:

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”

Benjamin Franklin

Being first or having more than the next person doesn’t make the cut. You may be surprised to hear that it is the simple things in life that bring happiness to the Danish: baked goods, hot drinks, warm socks, candles, blankets,company of friends. In fact when people get together, which they do very often it is considered ill mannered to talk about your achievements.

 It’s not a competition. We already like you. There is no need to brag about your achievements.”

Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

The Hygee manifesto contains the following elements – notice there is nothing that even remotely alludes to competition…

Competition and connection

I often listen to podcasts and audio books on my commutes to work . Emily P Freeman, author of “The Next Right Thing” notes the following:

“You can’t connect when you are comparing”.

Emily P Freeman, The Next Right Thing

It dawned on me that this is such a simple truth, yet I had not realized it. Aside from my family, I have few friends – is it because when I am busy comparing and out-achieving that there is little room for human connection to move from everyday banter to a soulful conversation?

Over the last few years I found myself seeking… even yearning for soulful conversation – but unfortunately these are hard to find. How do you drop a question on someone who you have had surface conversations on the weather, the economy to something deep and soul exposing, when you have never shared a real connection?

I am not against competition – there are many benefits to competition and in fact without it I would not be enjoying the lifestyle and its freedoms and choices that I do today. But when is it too far? What are we sacrificing at the altar of competition? How do we balance between nurturing the right level of competition and connecting with people at a human level?

We, in North America, are privileged to have the quality of life that surpasses many on planet Earth….and at the end of the day no matter what prestige we gain in our lives, how much money we make and how big a house we have, we all face the same inevitable end. 

Why not, be in community with a few people that you can have real conversations, who “already like you” just the way you are, who will be in community with you as you journey through the heartbreaks, health struggles, the inevitable aging…

What are we afraid of?

Published by Priya Denton

I am a professional engineer, a wife, mother of two and discovering new meaning in life over the last few months. This blog is to share some of the learnings in my life journey in the hope that it will encourage and empower you.

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