So I'm walking into a sushi restaurant last weekend after having performed an exciting concert. I was feeling really good about the event! It was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and I was with a good friend I hadn't seen in a while. I had just got out of the car and was walking past some teenage kids who were hanging out in front of the restaurant.
One of the kids said with distain, "Geez, it's not a competition!"
I was already in the restaurant when I realized the girl had said that to me. I had forgotten that I was still wearing my formal-wear tails and stuff...
My thinking went from finding it funny, to being angry at the quick uninformed judgement and attempt at insulting a stranger who was having a really great night, to wanting to walk back out there and just say, "You're right. It isn't."
You are not what you do. (...or what you wear.)
I didn't go say anything to the kid. (I figured they probably needed a hug if they're saying hurtful things to strangers, but that'd be too weird.) But I have been thinking about how we compete too much.
I'm competitive...at times. Being competitive serves me well when I set my goals and need to motivate myself.
Unfortunately, competing can lower our standards when we set our standards relative to other people or to our past. Competition can have us prepare and perform relative to beating others.
Another potential negative result from competing can happen if I get destructively emotional about how I compare to others. When I do this, I usually need to reassess things. Often when I feel bad about how I compare, it's because I'm comparing some sort of external value judgement about a specific aspect connected to me, against my self-worth. DANGER DANGER!!
You are not what you do!
That idea would have helped me a ton while growing up. We constantly compare ourselves to others. This is a big part of most of my painful memories from high-school. Comparisons can be healthy. Competing, though, can make things more about winning than being our best.
Mozart. Beethoven. Shakespeare. da Vinci. Picasso.
Were they competing? Maybe. But consider how much of what they accomplished was from competing, and how much was just a result of their efforts to be the greatest pillar of excellence they could possibly be. The heights of their excellence pillars were endless (well, ok...until they died) and that constant choice of standards resulted in incredible creative output from them.
Meryl Streep. Ella Fitzgerald. Joni Mitchell. Focusing on connection, communication, story telling...
Ok, these next ones get a bit more creative, but I think my idea still applies. Basketball great, Michael Jordan. Tennis great, Serena Williams. Competing, for sure! But also simply putting the ball in the hoop regardless of who's on the court...serving an ace, regardless of who's across the net. Relentless excellence, not relative in their minds, to anything but their best.
Task for the Day - Just do your best
Raise your sensitivity to competition. For today, notice when you think competitive thoughts about someone else. Replace those thoughts with high standards in what activity you're thinking about winning, and act optimally toward those standards.
Consider this. If you're thinking about an audition, and you aim to beat Bill and Jane, what if you train well enough to do that but Erin shows up at the audition? Erin is way better than Bill and Jane. You've just realized you aimed too low in your preparation, and it's too late now.
It's much better to train to perform an incredible Mozart and Beethoven...and the bonus is you end up winning.
Replace competition with high standards - Construct a high pillar of excellence.
You build the best version YOU can imagine (with help of your peers and mentors), and then you go share that inperformance. For athletes, your preparation is the same, it only includes different types of process that largely depends on the actions of others as well as your own.
Competing is not always a negative pursuit. If competing is a thrilling experience for you, doing so drives your work and standards, and you consistently win, keep doing what you're doing!But if you have a hard time competing, and/or staying positive when engaging in activities that are regarded by most people as "competitive", consider the option of taking yourself out of the competition.
You just might take yourself out of the competition, and rise above it all.
Just be the best you can be, over and over again. If you do that well, that best version of you can be the last one standing, after everyone else has finished competing.
Letting go of the competition will have you more invested in the process of learning and loving well, so you'll get to your best quicker...
It really doesn't have to be a competition. Get to your best quicker today, and repeat...
All the best,
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