A Tongue-In-Cheek Look at Competitive People…

Originally published on March 29, 2018 on LinkedIn

Or… Why I bet I can read this article faster than you can.

A while back, I went on a road bike ride with my friend (let’s call him Joe), who was also my boss at the time at one of my startup gigs. Now, I have been road biking for many years, but I was never someone that you’d consider “competitive”. No, I wasn’t the guy who would be motivated to beat you on a fast descent, or the guy who wants to kick your ass on the way up a steep hill. I am, like many riders, recreational, although I do enjoy having nice bikes, I just don’t ride them very fast. Joe, on the other hand, is one of the most competitive people that I know. Bordering on asshole level, he’s the type who will race you to the cafeteria, or the guy who will always have a better car than you, or nicer shoes, or even a better haircut. Joe will talk crap with you at the gym, while he lifts bigger barbells than you. Joe can be really damn annoying.

Some people will tell you that competitiveness is a positive attribute — that it leads to added success, better drive and attitude, and a go-for-it mentality. But is there a downside to being a competitive person?

At its roots, competitiveness generates images of people who go beyond their own limits, and the limits of others, to achieve success. It usually means winning a race of some kind, but in general being competitive can infer being someone who really wants to win, all the time. The concept of winning has different meanings to different people, but it’s safe to say that everybody would rather win than lose at something. Typically, the motivation that one would have to win would be in the act of being competitive. The competitive person eats, breathes and sleeps with the goal of winning, period. All thoughts and actions of the competitive person orbit around the notion that they must win.

As a society, we see competitiveness as the moniker of a successful individual. Why? Because successful people are usually people who “won” something. It isn’t always a race. Sometimes it’s a bid for a lucrative contract. Sometimes is a big promotion. Sometimes it’s getting married to a supermodel who also happened to finish her PhD in nuclear physics.

But if you examine closely, you would find some peculiar things about the competitive person. Things that aren’t so “nice”.

First of all, competitive people hate to lose. It’s nothing short of a mortal sin to lose at anything, and the idea of loss eats at the core of the competitive person to no end. Competitive people have so much hatred of losing that they will go to great lengths to explain “why” they lost. They will expend countless hours explaining how they lost because something was wrong, broken, incomplete or not working right. The “impossibility” of losing is so ingrained into their brains, that they can’t fathom how it could possibly happen, save for a fluke occurrence or complete mistake made by [obviously] a lesser person.

Competitive people live for their wins. For the competitive person, a win is just another feather in their hat. An obvious reward for their super-impressive hard work. Wins are to be admired and revered by the mere mortals who surround them, and the competitive person is just the right vessel to display the fruits of their [awesome] labor. Competitive people savor a win like a thick juicy steak and won’t even think twice about how or why they even won. They just did, and you of course really should bow in their presence, out of respect, and awe.

This mentality reminds me of when my kids were 5 years old. Everything in the world was owed to them, and they deserved it all. If they got what they wanted, they would bask in their own awesomeness, flaunting their newfound toy, or slice of chocolate cake like it was a gift from God. And if they didn’t get what they wanted, in their tiny minds the whole world was collapsing as far as they were concerned. Life as they knew it was ending, and we were all going to die a horrible death.

Competitive people exhibit a particular attribute that is common to all of them, even across spectrums of gender, age or culture. They are one of the most self-absorbed people you will probably ever meet. They may not show it openly, but competitive people are thy way for a reason; they take care of themselves first, and everyone else later. Try this the next time you interact with a competitive person. Talk to them about a favorite sport, food, or place. The tell them that you bet you have a better sport, food, or place. What you will probably elicit is a response akin to “No way… mine is way better”. It may be obvious or subtle, but trust me, the mental tidal wave is there, in their heads, ready to wash over their psyche like a hurricane. Within hours, or even minutes, they will probably catch you in the hall, with at least a half dozen better sports, foods or places that make yours seem weak in comparison.

In the end, think of this as a fun activity, to keep you and your friends entertained for days on end.

Understanding the competitive person is an exercise in futility in many cases because the thought process that drives a competitive can be confusing and convoluted. But, for a moment, feel some empathy for these fine folks, because in most cases they have no clue why they do what they do, the same way a kid sticks his finger in a light socket, gets shocked, and just keeps doing it — over and over. Nay, the competitive person should not be shunned, but instead be felt sorry for, because they are cursed — not only with the ability to win, but also with the ability to annoy hundreds if not thousands of people simultaneously. Think Chris Froome in cycling, or the New England Patriots and football… successful folks that you just love to despise.

It’s been awhile since I rode with Joe. Maybe someday soon, I’ll go on another ride with him and bet he can’t beat the passing cars — just for the entertainment value of it…

… because few things are as worthwhile as watching a competitive person struggle…