How to not be competitive when you are extremely competitive
I am incredibly competitive. When I was younger, it was about being the best. I wasn’t really into sports (go sports!!), but I was competitive in band, choir, dance and school. I kicked ass. I worked hard when I had to but really relied primarily on my common sense, natural talents and intelligence to beat the competition. It came in handy. I took home awards, medals and scholarships in everything. It was great. I was however, a big fish in small pond. In college I was probably a medium fish in a medium pond. I stood out amongst a few smaller groups but was not among the best, brightest or most talented in the whole school.
Law school was a totally different story. I was now a microscopic single cell organism in a large ocean in that nearly everyone in law school is a super competitive over achiever… oh, and you have to do work and stuff in order to do well. Needless to say it was one of the first things that did not come naturally to me. It took a while, but I let go of the need to be at the top with straight A’s and the star of each and every class. It just wasn’t possible and I was driving myself crazy/ miserable trying to do so. I learned, slowly and painfully, to forget about the competition. As soon as I stopped comparing myself to others, things got easier. I became self reliant and self secure and everything improved. I brought my GPA up, graduated with honors and passed two bar exams with flying colors. My achievements were about me and my ability. Whether there were 5 or 500 other people in the same class or taking the same test, my success only depended on me. It did not depend on the lack of or lesser success of another. It wasn’t about winning. It was about achieving the absolute best of my abilities.
So where am I going with all of this? Good question. I’ve been mulling over this idea for a long time: How to not be competitive when you are extremely competitive. People can tell you over and over again not to worry about being the best and just compete with yourself…. But it’s just words. You can read them and repeat them to yourself over and over, but to a competitive person, removing the possibility of “winning” is incredibly difficult and in some cases takes away the motivation and the fun. It takes some soul searching, some tough lessons and some objective failures that are actually subjective victories to really understand this seemingly easy life lesson.
My competitive nature did not mesh well with my love of running… at first. I am a back-of-the-pack runner. I will never win a race. I only have a chance to win if there are only a handful of runners in my age group (I have done this exactly once in a 5k race that was the day after that freak October snow storm in 2011. ).
As a competitive person, this kills me a little inside. I will never. ever. win. And let’s be fair. I only started running for weight loss and fitness. I hated running until I was about 26. But once I fell in love with running and road races, my competitive nature kicked in.
It irked me for a long time that friends who didn’t care about running (didn’t love running like I did) were so much faster than me without even trying. For example, a few years ago (maybe 5) one friend decided one day that he was going to run a local 5k. Didn’t train, just showed up at the starting line without a goal in mind and started running. His time without even trying? Under 25 minutes. WTF. A sub 25 minute 5k is my life’s goal. I felt like a failure and I didn’t even run the race! I felt like he didn’t deserve the success because he hadn’t worked for it. But hello…? His success has nothing to do with me. In fact, to this day, I have no idea how “well” he felt he did. Maybe he thought it was a crappy time. But…I realized later that my PR, which is 3 minutes slower, has nothing to do with him. It’s like comparing apples and baseball bats. There is literally nothing logical to compare. Did I want to be just as fast as him? Of course! But not because I want to beat him in a race. Because I want to be that fast. I wish I could say I came to this realization relatively quickly. But no. It was a year ago.
The success of runners is measured by speed. I do not have speed. I literally run half as fast as the elites. My PR in the half marathon is an elite’s PR in the full marathon. It took some time, but I’ve accepted the reality that I am a below average runner. Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t run until my mid twenties. Maybe its my genetics, body chemistry, metabolism blah blah blah. Whatever. Running is such an individual thing… and I can only work with what my momma gave me. But the need for more speed is ever present. How could it not be? Runners define themselves by speed. I’ve never met a runner who wants to run slower. We take pride in going faster and further than we have before.
So. How to not be competitive when you are extremely competitive? The answer, for me, seems like a no brainer. It’s obvious, but it is easier said said than done… I’ve learned that it’s all about redefining the win. I set a high goal: Shave five minuets of my PR. But achieving a new personal record, a lofty one at that, is not easy. You have to completely surrender to the idea that it is not a competition with the people around you. Say what??? But I thought we were still talking about winning? Well, yea. But who is your competition in the back of the pack? Not the woman in the cute homemade pink tutu who is running for charity. Her race is not about being faster than you. Not the blind person tethered to a guide overcoming all odds and fears to run her first half marathon. Her race is definitely not about being faster than you. Your competition is indeed you….or more specifically the person you were three months ago before you started training… the person you were one year ago when you achieved your last PR. While part of your strategy for achieving your goal may include focusing on and passing other runners, you are not competing with them. Passing them does not mean you beat them. It means you have a goal to run a certain speed, and these other runners are not at that speed. So redefine the win. Winning is not beating the person next to you. Winning is not getting to the finish line first. Winning is being better than you were before. Winning is doing all the work, putting in all the time, sacrifice and effort and seeing the result on the clock at the finish line. Winning is setting a goal and annihilating it.
As a side note, I think redefining a win also includes different versions of winning. I read about the concept of having A, B, C goals. Different goals dependent upon the many variables that are present on race day. Having these goals in mind keeps the idea of failure very far away. For example, at my last half marathon, I had 4 goals depending on conditions and feel. Perfect conditions and feeling unstoppable: 2:25 (BOOM DONE!). Less than perfect conditions and feeling awesome: 2:28. Less than perfect conditions and feeling ok: 2:30 (prior PR), miserable conditions or feeling crappy: make it to the finish line in one piece. And all the while I kept in mind that I ran a half marathon in the pouring rain and it was miserable, but still not my slowest race.
So I guess the point in all of this is that as an incredibly competitive person, I can still be a competitive runner without ever needing or wanting to win a single race. I run my own race, do my own thing and achieve my own success measured by me and me alone. While the road may be bumpy and with occasional disappointments, I don’t need someone else to fail in order for me to win.
But it’s pretty cool that I still get a medal at the finish line.