I am a very competitive person. Now, I know what you are thinking. You’ve heard that before usually from someone who is really nice and says it with a slightly self-deprecating laugh as if they are trying to warn you that Mr. Hyde’s appearance is imminent. So, no. I am competitive like one of those jackals you see on a National Geographic film. The one that dies of starvation because she refuses to let go of the wildebeest’s leg and is subsequently drug to her death. Case in point, my “team” once took second in a golf tournament. This is only impressive because I am the worst golfer in the history of the game. Truly. I was only invited to play golf, ever, literally for the comedic effect. And make no mistake, it was comedic. The kindest, most compassionate superintendent I ever worked for once did his impression of me driving off the 5th hole at Indian Canyon. He even repeated my colorful language, which was shocking in the way it would be to hear Laura Ingalls Wilder swear. It was also painfully hilarious and dead on. The game made me absolutely crazy. I only golfed because I didn’t want to miss out on the deals cut on the course. It killed me that I just could not put it all together for more than one drive in 20. On this particular sunny Sunday morning, I was having a relaxing day with my team when, on the ninth hole, my assistant principal pointed out we were in second place. Until that moment, I didn’t even know it was a tournament! And then he told me there was hardware! I do love a trophy and none more than one won the hard way. I couldn’t have stopped myself if I wanted to. I didn’t want to (did I mention there was hardware?). At that moment, had you been on that particular course, you could have felt the joy being sucked out of the air from the 1st hole to the 18th like a twister touched down. Honestly, I was a lot like a tornado at that point- focused and unaware of the destruction I left behind. I never played better and we did take second. It wasn’t fun.
In my defense, I grew up at the height of the space race when your permanent record followed you around heralding the limits of your potential and every Saturday morning you relived the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”. Being competitive, persistent, determined were seen as strengths in my family, school and community. School was particularly competitive. I am sure that at the time the prevailing belief was that competition to solve problems resulted in better solutions made faster. I don’t think I ever heard the word collaboration in my k-12 education. In fact, I imagine Sister Estelle would have found that to be a sneaky way to make cheating sound like it wasn’t the sin that it was. “Collaboration” very well could have ended in a few Hail Mary’s and two sore knees. As a college science major, we did not do “group projects”. We certainly did not help each other out because back then it could lower your grade and definitely your standing in the class. In retrospect, that sounds really lonely, arduous and inefficient. Fortunately, I learned this before I had a classroom of my own.
I am still competitive. I am also much more self-aware. I think that comes with age and parenthood. If there is anything that will shine a light on those cringe-worthy parts of your personality, it is seeing them in another person – especially if that person is your child. There is just no getting around the epiphany that your child learned “it” from you. I am aware of this gift/curse in my personality (actually I am aware of several). I have learned to keep it in check- mostly. I’m not saying that I am no longer competitive. In fact, I was watched like a hawk at the post-Thanksgiving feast card game. I find, though, I don’t feel the need to compete as much anymore. I find that competing against myself motivates me. I find I don’t need to win all the time. I find I learn more from my losses than my wins; from my failures than from my successes. I find that I want to enjoy the experience rather than miss it in the focused pursuit of the hardware. I find that collaborating brings me deep learning. I find great satisfaction in helping others. I find that being really good at what I do is not diminished by others being really good as well.
This is one of my favorite pictures of my daughter. It was taken a decade ago and captures her natural competitiveness I think. She doesn’t play basketball anymore but she still goes all in no matter what she is doing.
(1/60 sec., f/5.6, 200 mm, 1250 ISO)