Those that know me well- and even some who have just met me – know I like to compete. Or maybe I should say I like to win! There is a difference. Some competition is good. It can be healthy. It can be motivating. It can push you to achieve more.
If you are running next me at the gym on the treadmill- we are racing! You may not be an active participant in this ‘race’ but it’s on. I’ll smile and say hi as I glance at your speed … and then I’ll bump mine up a few notches just to make sure I am winning. And I’ll be a good sport- I won’t say anything about your lose.
If you are in the checkout line next to me at the grocery store… I’m getting out first. Nevermind that I have more items- I’m ready with my loyalty card, coupons, and reusable bag. I’ll help with the bagging if need be and forgo small talk with the cashier!
Don’t ask me to help you paint a room – because I’m willing to sacrifice precision and neatness to get my wall done first. I also have everyday ‘competitions’ – can I get the clothes out of the dryer, folded and put away during the commercial break??? Can I set the land speed record for chopping vegetables?? It’s a wonder I haven’t lost a finger.
About a month ago, while doing a casual jog through my neighborhood – a recovery run – I entered in to an all out race with a complete stranger. My run started out as just a meander through the neighborhood to put a few miles on the legs and stretch out a bit. I crossed the road, passed a slow jogger, and continued on my way. About a block further – I realized this jogger had actually picked up his pace quite a bit and was now on my heels. Instantly I thought “You want some on this?? Oh it’s on!” Good bye casual run. Within a few feet, unknown stranger and I were literally sprinting through the park- and we continued this for close to half a mile. I was patting myself on the back for not only leading but also knowing where the finish line was – my house – just ahead! My pace dropped by close to 2 minutes per mile by the end of it. It felt great to push myself, to run faster than I had in a while and to win. I can only assume this stranger shares my same ‘winning’ personality.
So competition is a good thing right?? Sometimes. That answer may surprise some of you – especially coming from an admitted competitor. But let me break it down for you:
Running faster or harder and achieving a new PR – great! Rushing through a pilates workout- and missing the real work or connection- not great. Pushing myself so hard I run the risk of injury and have to take time off- not smart. Missing out on the camaraderie that can come with working out with others – a lose. Feeling like I have to win all the time and not enjoying what I am doing- a big miss.
There is also another side to competing that is not so pretty- losing. No matter how good you are – at some point you will lose. Let’s be honest- losing sucks. You worked hard, you gave it your all and it wasn’t good enough. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Maybe there were circumstances beyond your control – bad weather, a cold, the wrong equipment – none the less the result is the same- you didn’t win. That lose can can affect how you approach the competition in the future. It can produce doubt, feelings of ‘not good enough’ and fear. It can even make you decide not to compete or participate again.
I learned a much needed lesson several years ago at the finish of a 5k race. I had run an ‘ok’ race – enough to place in my age group but not the time I wanted. I was not happy. In my mind I had lost. One of my girlfriends congratulated me on my time. I proceed to tell her how slow I was, how frustrated, and how I wasn’t sure I wanted to run 5k’s anymore if I couldn’t do any better. She very wisely pointed out that there were quite a few women including herself who finished behind me and would have been very happy with my time. It had’t occurred to me that my ‘losing’ might be ‘winning’ for someone else. And my bad attitude not only spoiled my race but potentially affected others too. What right did I have to rain on their parade?
So… competition can be good if you use it to motivate yourself, to work harder and too achieve more. But choose your ‘races’. Slow down and enjoy what you are doing from time to time. Being so focused on a finish line real or imaginary can cause you to lose sight or perspective. A couple weeks ago at the Zoo 5K – I reminded myself to look around while racing. I noticed four elephants just a few feet off the course cheering us on as we rounded a corner. I would have ‘lost’ this cool moment if I had kept my tunnel vision and only focused on my pace. Accept that you may not win them all and choose to be a good sport – if not for yourself for the sake of the other competitors. Being too competitive can take the enjoyment out of what you are doing and cause you to only focus on the possibility of a win or lose. These are things I have to constantly remind myself. I’ll always be a competitor and I hope I continue to push myself – but I also hope I take time to enjoy the moment and to be a good sport too.