Something about that question just makes me sigh, and I wonder if you can relate. It’s not that I don’t want to excel, I do. It’s not that I don’t want to work hard, or put in the work-life equivalent of long, hard grueling training. I actually love to sweat.
It’s the elbowing other people out of the way part that I can’t stand.
But maybe that’s not what being competitive is really about. Maybe I’m confusing being competitive with cheating, which wouldn’t be so bad if it were just my problem, but I think it’s pretty widespread.
Let’s consider the concept of a competitive athlete, which is pretty straightforward if you forget about steroids and things like that for the moment.
Athletes who are “in it to win it” have to be well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They make the most of their strengths and try to work on their weaknesses.
I can handle that. But too often in the world of work, people who think they’re really going for it try to hide their failings and exaggerate their accomplishments.
Successful athletes need to be aware of who their opponents are. They need to know the other team’s moves, or how they usually run races.
Again, I have no problem with knowing what you’re up against, and mapping out a strategy accordingly. But I don’t know how that translates into insider trading, bad mouthing a colleague, sabotaging someone else’s work or sucking up to the boss.
Somehow I think we’ve confused success with winning, and they’re not the same thing. To me, success means working very hard and doing something really well, and you can’t get it any other way. But you can get a win in a number of ways, and I don’t respect all of them.
In fact, I think large segments of society have adopted the “Winning at any cost” mantra, with terrible results. These include fudging numbers, cutting corners, lying on resumes and, taking the approach to its logically illogical extreme, Bernie Madoff and Enron.
I have a couple of ideas about how we return to fighting the good fight, and fighting fair. First of all, I think we need to call people out who claim they’re being competitive when they’re just being obnoxious.
Secondly, we can adhere to another principle of competition. We can make a point of standing tall, and not folding under pressure.
What do you think?
by Danielle Dresden