Life Is Not A Competition
From the time we are born, we are endlessly forced to compete. Even before you knew what was happening, you were being compared with other babies on how quickly you walked or talked. If you could ride a bike or shoot a basketball at three years old it was seen as some harbinger of great things to come. And let’s not talk about after you became school age. Once you step foot in the great halls of your first school, every possible metric is measured and rewarded. Attendance, athletics, academics, playing well with others. This, you may say. Is just the way it is. But after close examination, does it serve us well?
While there are certainly many people who love to compete, who love the thrill of victory and are resolute in the face of defeat, there are many more who just want to learn and be the best they can be. There is an old saying “when you know better, you do better”. Research has shown that there are many types of intelligence, some can be measured easily, some not so much. What if your ability was in making friends or helping others. These skills, while important, are not valued in a competition driven society. We want to win at any cost. Whether it’s the spelling bee, girl scout cookies, valedictorian or star athlete, we are taught that winning is not the important thing, it’s the only thing.
The downside of this philosophy, of course, is that everyone can’t win. Even though we have hundreds of different competitions that a person can compete in, there will always be a large number of folks who just never seem to win at anything. They are labeled early in life as underperformers. On the opposite end of the coin are the people who easily win at things they really don’t enjoy and thus are pushed down a career path that makes them miserable.
The reality from my perspective is that life is really not a competition. The paradigm that our lives are races that can be won or lost based on the outward symbols of success is faulty and causes so much pain in our lives. A better paradigm is that if you are breathing, you’ve already won, simple as that. No amount of money, trophies, or accolades feels better than that next breath. If you think I’m lying, have someone hold a plastic bag over your head for two minutes and see how amazing it feels when you finally get to breathe again.
Instead of thinking of life like some kind of high-speed scavenger hunt, we should instead think of it as a journey where we can observe life. I like to use the analogy of a museum tour. When you see the group in front of you, you don’t feel anxious about them seeing things before you do, or being able to go into rooms that you are unable to enter. You understand that every tour is slightly different, but each is enjoyable in its own way if you appreciate the art on YOUR tour. At some point, everyone ends up at the same store at the museum’s exit and really that’s all that matters, not how fast you made the trip or what sites you got to see inside, because everyone, billionaire, and pauper ends up exactly the same. So, if you take the time to enjoy your tour, you’ve already won.