Can Competitiveness Be Good?

Last week, I played a satisfying competitive tennis match. My partner and I won narrowly in a third-set tiebreak, which was described by a teammate watching us as a nail-biter till the very end. It very much felt that way to the two of us on the court. Until the deciding point, the match really could have gone either way.

tennis courtCompetitiveness is a funny thing. Perhaps it’s the way I was raised, I never felt comfortable owning the competitive part of me. I guess I have a hard time acknowledging it, because it seems that I can’t be competitive and be nice and loving at the same time. But tennis definitely brings out the competitiveness in me. It goes above and beyond wanting to win, though. Sure, victory is sweet, but I want much more to know after a match that I played well and felt proud of my game. For instance, I love that I used to be scared of the net, and now I’m regarded as a good net player at my level. That’s validation that I’ve improved my game. In many ways, I’d much rather lose a truly competitive neck-to-neck match than win an easy one without feeling challenged. Where’s the satisfaction in the latter?

All that got me thinking: What’s at the root of competitiveness? Is it all bad? And, if not, how may we leverage competitiveness for good?

The Two Faces of Competitiveness

When I thought about it, competitiveness is just another way of seeking success, as to win is to succeed. For me personally, it’s an attempt to prove my self-worth. If I could beat another person at something, surely that would mean I deserve to be here. Wanting to win, to succeed came from my subconscious drive to feel deserving. Even though the person I compete with often is myself, it still comes from the same place. That is, if I could prove that I’m getting better and better, I won’t become irrelevant or unwanted. It all comes from a deeply seated fear that I could disappear off the face of the earth and no one would notice or care; no one would miss me. I simply don’t matter.

The above description is my “unconscious” competitiveness that runs on auto-pilot. It’s rooted in fear—fear of being unworthy, fear of not mattering. It underpins the perpetual self-improvement trap that I wrote about recently. I was gravely afraid that if I didn’t constantly improve myself, someone would catch onto the fact that I don’t deserve to be here.

grass heartIf I were to ground myself in Love, instead of fear, my innate competitiveness would look different. That is, the desire to win would simply become the intention to do my best no matter what. It comes with the unconditional acceptance that, by virtue of being human, my best will look different from one day to the next. From that expansive, loving place of intending to do my best, it’s always good enough. I won’t be judging myself for falling short of some yardstick that makes me feel less than deserving. My desire to win won’t be an attempt to uphold my mask of having it together, even if I may be falling apart inside. Rather, it’d mean pouring my heart into living life fully and passionately and, hopefully, to leave the world around me a little better than how I found it—by inspiring others to connect more to their hearts and live from that center, as I continue to open my own here in this writing space. It’d mean pouring that drive to be the best I can be, do the best I can do into whatever I undertake, so that it benefits all of whom it’s intended to serve.

Competitiveness Redefined

So, in writing this blog post, I’m redefining competitiveness as a desire to deliver the best for all involved. This redefinition also calls for shifting my grounding from fear to Love. As my weekly meditation on Sunday morning reminded me, all I ever need to remember is Love. If I can remember that, I’ll always know what to do in any situation. That includes how to own the competitiveness within me without judging it, and to ground it in a place that makes it an asset to how I live, love and serve.

When cast in the right light, competitiveness can be a beautiful thing.

What do you think? What’s your take on competitiveness?

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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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8 comments
Hiten Vyas
Hiten Vyas

Hi Alice,

Excellent post, indeed my friend and on a very interesting area.

I could really resonate with what you wrote earlier in your post about the conflict between being competitive and being nice and loving at the same time. This is exactly why I have some challenges with being competitive. Overall, I've reduced the need to be competitive in my life (although there are still times that this isn't the case!), because competitiveness for me can bring out my ego and the ego as we all know gets insecure.

However, I loved the way you redefined competitiveness. I think when we define it as you have, as a desire to deliver our best; it is a much healthier yet empowering way to look at competitiveness.


Thank you.


karenjolly
karenjolly

I enjoy your view point so much Alice. What a refreshing look at being competitive. I grew up in a family of fierce competitors and I couldn't stand it. It often made me pull away from opportunities when I could feel that kind of competitiveness in a group. However, now I've come to understand that what I don't like about that kind of competitive thinking is that it is based in lack. "There isn't enough for everyone, so fight your way to the top." I don't believe in that - I know there is plenty for everyone. I agree with you, that having that drive to do your best, and even finding more strength when surrounded by others that stretch you, is wonderful. But the kind of competitive where you believe there is only one winner - that's coming from a very different energy. When you see success as something everyone can achieve, it's simply up to them, then you can go after your own successes with your whole heart. You are never "beating" someone else - you are showing us all the possibilities! There is enough success for everyone, if we all are willing to go for it! :)  Thank you Alice - I am learning so much from you.

AlliPolin
AlliPolin

Love how you put your new perspective - to deliver the best for all involved.  For better or worse, I've been a competitive person most of my life but it was not out of fear or to prove my self worth.  I give everything my all.  My competitive spirit never wanted others to lose SO I could win - just to push myself.  The hard part was that my disappointment, when I would fall short, would impact others because I do not have a good poker face and others interpreted my body language as if I was angry that they won instead.  That really wasn't it  at all - I never wanted to win at all costs because if those costs included stomping on others to get to the top or to win, that was out of the question (and always unacceptable)

I think that Jon's suggestion of asking what will winning look like is a good one.  I'd also add what will winning feel like.  

As always, appreciate your perspective, Alice!

ThinDifference
ThinDifference

Interesting insights, Alice. Competitiveness can help us get better, enhance our skills, and strengthen our mindset. When it comes at the expense of other, our competitiveness may get us out-of-control. Using competitiveness as a way to lift others up is a solid insight and a good way to be competitive in many situations. Maybe a way to look at it is to answer "What will winning look like?" The answer may help us compete in the right, meaningful way. Thanks! Jon

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

@Hiten Vyas Almost missed your great comment, Hiten! Yes, it's really all in the way we bring consciousness in the abilities we've been given in this life to serve. While our drive to be our best could be used by ego, we can also engage it with high intention to serve. Thanks again, my friend, for sharing your own take and experience!

Latest blog post: How Does Life Love You?

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

Thank you so much for this thoughtful addition to the topic, Karen! Yes, so much can be traced to the inherent belief in lack vs. abundance. How many of us were raised with some variation of the belief that life is a zero-sum game, or that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there? When we remember that there's more than enough for everyone always, as you pointed out, then the drive to win is really the innate desire to go for all the possibilities in an expansive way that inspires others, not to contract into self-preservation mode. Love what you've added to this conversation, Karen, thank you!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

Alli, I can relate to what you said about pushing yourself and not stomping on others. It's the insatiable inner drive. I love your addition about asking what winning would feel like! Thank you for adding to this conversation!

DrAliceChan
DrAliceChan moderator

Jon, you're so right about not coming at the expense of others. That's when competitiveness is not coming from a loving place. I like your question of asking "What will winning look like?" as well. That would keep ego in check and give us an opportunity to consider where competitiveness is directed. Thanks again for adding your insights, Jon!

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