What Drives Us To Compete???
Competing sometimes deservedly gets a bad rap. And
highly competitive people are often very polarizing people. You either love them or hate them! A news reporter famously asked Michael Jordan a few years ago if he thought his Chicago Bulls team would beat LeBron James' Lakers team.
Jordan promptly responded, “Yes!” The reporter asked by how much, and Jordan replied, “By two or three points.” The reporter persisted, asking why he expected such a close game. Jordan answered, “Well, most of us are almost 60 now!”
The reality is that competition in our society is unavoidable for all of us. It doesn’t matter what type of personality or disposition you may have. Competition is engrained in us from the start. The truth is that you were born from a sperm that beat out millions of other sperm in the competition to reach your mother’s egg first. That one sperm was faster and more adaptable to its new environment.
From the time we are little we compete for our parents’ attention. (If you have a sibling, you know exactly what I mean!) In school, we compete for grades. In life we compete for jobs, raises, recognition, lead roles, as well as attention. Young men compete for a girl’s affection. Most people associate competition with sports. But there are many different levels of competitiveness and many different ways to compete…teachers can attest that some
children will try to be funny, some will strive to get the best grades, while others misbehave to draw attention. As we develop and discover what we are good at, we strive to be better while learning new techniques and practicing those techniques.
Yes, I do believe that human nature has a built-in bend towards competition. But why do we seek this? Why do we, perhaps, even NEED this? God created us with a desire to do well and with an inclination to improve. Competition allows us to test our abilities. It spurs us on to do better and encourages excellence. In its truest form, competition enhances all participants, not just the winners. In its purest form, we learn to be gracious in victory and defeat, gaining what we can just from the experience of competition.
Stephen Curry is a 3-time MVP and 4-time NBA champion. He prominently wears a yellow wristband each game that says, “In Jesus’ name, I play.” A “humble superstar” is the way teammates describe him. Everyone close to him knows what motivates him. Curry said, "I know why I play the game, and it's not to score 30 points a night, but it's to use the stage I'm on. I've been put here for a specific purpose: to be a witness and to share my testimony as I go through it...[it] challenges you to make sure that you are feeding your spirit with the right things versus what the world is throwing at us. It's a constant battle; if I say I have it down, I'd be lying."
And we are all that way...we'd be lying if we said we were ALWAYS at our best when competing. To me, it's like driving a car. Mostly, I try my best to be a good driver and be courteous to other drivers. But personally, I don't want to have one of those fish symbols on my car...just for those times when frustration erupts. Hopefully, we are all growing as we face competition. There's nothing quite like the challenge, the adrenaline, and the pursuit to be your best! Human vs human; human vs terrain; human vs Mother Nature; human vs self. It doesn’t matter. Inherent in the act is a connection…connection with ourselves, and often connection with others. No one can deny the bonds that are formed among teammates and even amongst competitors.
But sometimes, you do have to wonder about why we push ourselves so hard. Just this week, I laid exhausted on the ground after vomiting from the heat. I moaned and groaned, cramped, and stared blankly while waiting for my body to return to normal. At the U.S. Open this week I saw a professional athlete sitting off to the side crying alone. It’s at times like these when I ask myself, “Why do we do this to ourselves?”
Most of us just can’t help ourselves. When we compete, we are fully in the present, in the here and now. We face the challenge. We meet adversity head on every time we hike a mountain, hit the first serve, or put a foot on the start line. The level of the competition is irrelevant. No two events are the same. It makes no matter if it is a spelling bee, a musical audition, a sale, a job, or a brand-new sport that you have taken up. Each stimulates and brings its own level of emotion and excitement that can’t be captured elsewhere. That stimulation can also occur by simply watching our favorite teams or people compete. We inherently appreciate the work they have put in, their God-given talent, and their courageous spirit.
Competition makes us step out of our comfort zone, encourages us to make goals for ourselves, and allows us to make progress towards achieving those goals. And yes, sometimes we fail. But in the midst of failure stands the bravery to compete, to overcome fear, and to learn something about ourselves. It gives us experiences to remember for a lifetime in some cases.
I am convinced competition can be a healthy part of a fully functioning person. It can bring out the best in us and in our society. It can disrupt the power of monopolies and liberate markets. It can lead to communities and teams pulling together. It can promote new technologies, new science, and new medicines. At its best, it can make the most of people’s talents. It can be a win-win. The trick is to approach it with humility, knowing that as we strive to do our best, there is room for improvement and the chance of failure. We can make new friends, learn new techniques, discover our strengths and weaknesses, and instill a bravery within that can carry over to many aspects of living life.
I am not naïve to the fact that competition can lead to negatives, such as anger, jealousy, bitterness, loss of perspective, or a tendency to always put yourself first. Sometimes it can bring out the worst in us. From the beginning of time, man has competed. Cain and Abel…Jacob and Esau…Joseph and his brothers…David and Goliath. Sometimes it is not a pretty picture when fueled by greed or pride. But at other times, it can be the essence of beauty, especially when the glory is given to the One who created us…when the mere opportunity and ability to compete is met with a true gratefulness to be able to do something we enjoy. We can truly be a great competitor when our fierceness is matched with kindness, when our bravery and intensity is matched with fairness and honor.
It is no accident that many wise verses in Scripture deal with competition. After all, God knows our nature. We are advised to “run the race” of life well. Because at the core, competing is not about winning or losing. The worst losers can also be the worst winners. Competing is a matter of the heart. And there are times when even the best of us need to examine the status of our hearts. As you face the inevitable hills and valleys of life, I leave with you a few verses that may be helpful to reflect on as we “use our stage.” They may well save us from folly if we heed their advice.
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” 2 Timothy 2:5
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” 1 Corinthians 9:25a
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9
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Anne Hope is the award winning author of Bent Pages...a sharp, funny, and deeply inspirational narrative. Kindle version of the award winning, "Bent Pages" is now on sale at Amazon! Click on the link below to take you there.