I am not a competitive person. That is not to say I somehow like losing or that I don’t enjoy winning. I just wish there was no such thing as competition whatsoever.
In elementary school, I was the type of kid who didn’t just stand in the corner during dodgeball, waiting for the ball to hit her. I would just deliberately move myself into the line of fire of whomever I thought wouldn’t hit me too hard, but still had good aim, and stay still until it was done. He or she would let out a “WHOOP!” of excitement and high-five somebody–which was fine, because I didn’t care whether or not they thought they had won. I just wanted to be out.
Granted, this gave me a deep-rooted fear of disappointing people, as my fellow 9-year-old teammates tended to turn into assholes as they blamed me and whomever else had been the “reason” they’d lost. All that nonexistent glory that they had been so close to was ruined by us. The shame! So I began “trying,” as I got older (i.e. pulling the same shit, but pretending it was unintentional better). Nevertheless, I would still feel terrible knowing other people were upset with me because they felt shafted due to my incompetence and apathy towards that incompetence.
Competitive people are upsetting to me for a variety of reasons, the first being that they are rarely competitive about rational things. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that some of these irrational things were actually important to having a “good future,” whatever that is, but because of a competitive best friend and a whole lot of underachieving on my part, I was clueless to this.
My issue with competition isn’t the game itself; it’s with competitive people.
Competitive people are almost always in “competition mode.” To them, just about everything is a big deal. Things that do not remotely benefit anybody involved become the most significant thing in the world. It’s not foosball; it’s the World Cup. It’s not a quiz; it’s Jeopardy. It’s not dinner; it’s Top fucking Chef and they’re going to literally eat you if you do not succeed. Well, maybe not literally, but competitive people are strange so you never know when they’ll Ozzie out on you and bite your head off.
Want to opt out of the game? Can’t! It’s impossible. Walking away, as I mentioned earlier, isn’t an option. Competitive people will try to provoke you by saying you’re a “bad sport”–which, if your reasoning for leaving is that you just didn’t want to lose, is a valid argument–or they’ll simply make fun of you. Even if you simply don’t want to deal with somebody yelling at
In the event you’ve ever seen any reality show ever, you’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “I didn’t come here to make friends, I came here to win.” This is because overly competitive people tend to believe that winning cannot involve sharing a prize. Take a look:
And on that note: reality shows have undoubtedly encouraged competitive behavior, as most revolve around winning something, whether it’s a cash prize, a job or a lover. Yes, reality shows are the fun house mirror reflections of “real life” depictions, but that doesn’t mean human behavior isn’t observable within that setting. And unfortunately, I had a lot of human experiences growing up that involved entirely too much of this particular behavior.
There are also subtly competitive people. You know, the ones who won’t admit outright that they’re incredibly competitive, calling themselves “ambitious”? But there’s a definite difference: ambitious people are ones that want to get to the top. Competitive people, on the other hand, believe that in order to get to the top, everybody else has to be displaced to somewhere below them.
When I was in high school and throughout most of college, I had a very close friend who genuinely seemed to not want me to do well. We loved each other very much and got along wonderfully, so long as I made sure she was comfortable at all times.
We would have these fantastic nights where we’d dress up, do our makeup all fancy and go out to meet people (i.e. seek out potential banging buddies). But I would constantly have to dread our times–even if I thought she was in a good mood–because I knew that if anybody attempted to talk to me, even if it were without any remote romantic intent, she would get upset. She would get angry, storm away and insist that we leave as soon as possible as she either cried or passive-aggressively rolled her eyes and ignored me. It didn’t matter if she was having fun prior or if somebody were trying to hit on her at the time; what mattered was that in her book, we were in constant competition and if I had something pleasant happen, it meant I was a horrible bitch who needed to be knocked down a peg.
She would get competitive about school, friends, social activities, guys, guys I was dating, guys she was dating whom I had set her up with, medical problems, weight…everything was a competition and no matter how hard I tried to abstain, if she felt like she was “losing,” she would become livid and inconsolable. This led to my chronic fear of upsetting other people, which I still have today and get sick to my stomach whenever I think somebody may be even slightly competitive with me.
The fact is that many of us live in a culture that encourages the belief that for there to be a winner, there has to be a loser. If we want to be on top, we have to fight tooth and nail to do so.
But this just isn’t true. You can be a goal-seeker and have a lot of ambition without throwing other people under the bridge or looking like one of those parents at sports games who fights with other parents because you both are so intent on your children winning, it’s necessary to punch somebody over it.
The past several years, I’ve tried my best to avoid competition at all costs. My first semester, I was an opera major, but I quickly switched because I couldn’t handle the idea of auditioning and being compared to other people. All through college, I worked as a makeup artist, which involved almost no competing; all I really had to do was say “yes” when people asked me to work, and people need makeup artists in Southern California all the goddamned time. I was also a writing major, which could’ve resulted in some competing if I’d actually submitted anything anywhere, but I refused because I both afraid of not succeeding and I simply didn’t want to deal with the “OMG DID YOU GET INTO ____?” questions that inevitably make their way between the participants in anything where “winners” and “losers” are involved.
But then, upon graduating, I realized that despite my best efforts, not being competitive had affected my life somewhat negatively. Sure, I had managed to avoid all the awkward, antagonizing bits, but I had also eliminated myself from the drawing. While many of my friends had received numerous rejection letters, they had also achieved a lot of small, yet significant, successes. Not playing meant that I couldn’t lose, but I also couldn’t win or even say I’d really tried. This resulted in me not having much of a portfolio (besides makeup), so it was initially difficult to have any idea where to turn post-graduation.
I gradually began to “put myself out there” and actually try things, rather than running away from them, which has turned out to be far less terrifying than I thought. In fact, by introducing a bit of competitive nature into my bloodstream, as well as having a lot of help from people who care about me, I am presently on my own track to where I want to be in life. Taking a page out of competitive people’s books has actually increased my ambition, not anxiety.
I still don’t really compare myself to other people (when I do, I wind up just getting bummed out), but I do try to use others’ experiences to propel my momentum forward when I’m feeling stagnant. While I primarily decide to stay away from most metaphorical races, deciding to run a couple once in a while has pushed me to do more–and do it better–than I thought I was capable of.
Photos: Health.gov, ANTM and South Park.