Rules for Intrepid Living: Rule #13

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Rule #13. There are more important things than winning. Competition should bring out the best in you, not the worst.

I’m not a very competitive person. I was never an athlete on a level that necessitated it, I was never an academic all-star, I don’t feel intimidated by people who can outrun me or lift more than I can, I’m not a follower so I don’t care who claims to be an alpha, and though I’ve had many ambitions in my life, they have tended toward the vague instead of the specific.

But sometimes, like everyone, I want to win.

I’m not naive. I know that we live in a competitive world. Whether we like it or not, we compete with one another for jobs, dates, housing, and other positions in life. I get it, and I understand it. I’m not suggesting that we stop competing, I’m suggesting that we reflect on how we compete. Competition and a competitive spirit in and of themselves are neither good nor bad. Like many things, it is how we react to them that is positive or negative. But how does competition make you feel? How do you carry yourself in a competitive venture? Do you want to beat other competitors by improving your performance, or by diminishing theirs?

It’s not wrong to want to win, but a win at all cost mentality is unhealthy and dangerous. That isn’t a desire to win, it’s a fear of failure. If you are unwilling to have and follow a bail out plan, eventually you will get injured. It’s one thing to push through pain and discomfort. You can, and should do that. It’s another thing to create long term problems by refusing to yield to injury. It can be hard to tell the difference, and if you’re a very competitive person, you’ll want to push your performance to the limit. I respect that, and no once can decide what is too much for you. Just remember, at the end of the day, there will be other races, other jobs, other competitions; those things don’t determine your value and worth. You do. You simply can’t win at everything. No one is the number one elite performer in all things. Michael Phelps is an amazing swimmer, but could he beat the late Bobby Fischer at a game of chess? Can he play guitar better than Jimmy Hendrix? Play basketball better than Jordan? Write a better novel than Hemingway or Kerouac? I doubt it.

We all like winning, but it’s not the most important part of life. Winning is meaningless without friends, family, and loved ones. Discipline, wisdom, good sportsmanship, loyalty, fortitude, courage. These are qualities that competition should bring out in you. It is better to lose honorably than to win dishonorably. The effort put forth is more important than a medal or ribbon. You should be growing, learning, improving, strengthening yourself both literally and figuratively. The person you should be most competitive with is the person you were yesterday. Are you stronger, faster, wiser, and better prepared than that person? If not, then it’s time to embrace competition. Always strive to be better today than you were yesterday. When you find that you’re victorious in that manner, you’ll discover that the external victories aren’t nearly as important as the person you become while training to win.

So be competitive, but don’t let it bring out the worst in you. Winning means nothing if you don’t come by it honest. Embrace competition by using it to bring out the best in you. In this way, you’ll be victorious in being better than the person you were yesterday, and that is the ultimate win.

“Rules for Intrepid Living” is an ongoing weekly article that gives potential guidelines for how we can all live a bit more of an intrepid life.

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