I’ve been spending a little bit of time tonight wading through the backlog of my Google Reader, trying to catch up on everything that I have missed over the past couple of weeks. An excerpt from Shapely Prose reads:

I know that some people genuinely thrive on competition, and more power to them — but the problem is, in a capitalist society, people who thrive on competition are held up as gods, and those of us with more Ferdinandy dispositions are dismissed as lazy, useless, undisciplined, etc. It’s awfully hard to advance in any career if you don’t want to compete, and it’s awfully hard to make enough money to live on if you don’t advance, so coming in last because you felt like walking instead of running isn’t much of an option. And if you do stop to walk because the running is killing you, or refuse to fight because you’d much rather sit and smell flowers, the whole culture makes sure you know what a freak you are.

I always seem to find things at this blog that hit the nail on the head for me. I was just thinking today about competition in reference to my martial arts. I am not a competitive person – I hated team sports because I wasn’t very good at them and I never had the drive to win. I have participated in one tournament, back when I was an orange belt, and I disliked it. I didn’t like the feeling before competing, I didn’t have any drive to win when I was competing, and afterwards I wondered what exactly all the fuss was about. I like learning new skills and I like realizing that I can now do things that I couldn’t do previously, or see progress in my skills, but I really don’t care how I stack up against other people. Winning a medal against strangers doesn’t mean anything to me. Winning a sparring match in the dojo doesn’t mean anything to me. Losing doesn’t either. I just don’t have that competitive drive.

I’m perfectly happy to tootle along at my own speed but others don’t understand how I can not be competitive. I don’t know how to explain it to them – I can give examples like letting my brother cheat at board games when we were little because winning was really important to him and not at all important to me. But no matter what I say, I still get the strange look and I know that the other person is thinking that the reason I don’t like competition is because I’m either a) lazy or b) not confident enough in my skills. As if suddenly I am going to wake up one day and realize that yes, I should compete because now I have a good shot at winning! And winning is clearly what it is all about so – go get those medals!

I’m trying hard to find my own motivation that will carry me through my intense training for black belt grading, because wanting to come first is not a motivation for me. And it’s unfortunate because no one at the dojo understands how this can be, and seem to think that if they just push me a little harder, one day I will wake up with that edge. If I’ve made it to 28 without giving a damn about coming in first, I don’t somehow think being badgered about it is going to have any effect.

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6 Responses to Competition

  1. donna says:

    I have no good comment, except: “me too”. 🙂

    (We’ll ignore the fact that I occasionally invent contests that nobody is participating in, like Christmas. I totally won Christmas last year…)

  2. Jeanie says:

    I too have no good comment, except NOT “me too.” 😀

    (I’ve always been competitive about the things that matter to me. I can be just as happy to help others win or go along at my own pace, but that’s generally in situations where I know that it would be unfair to compete or that competition would be adverse/useless or disadvantageous to those involved. I think it probably has just as much to do with upbringing than anything else. You stated that you hated team sports because you weren’t very good at them and that you don’t like the feeling before/during competing. I’m the opposite. I was highly successful at team team sports as a child and derived a lot of my sense of self confidence from my successes. I had two brothers who pushed me to be the best and parents who encouraged me. Even as an adult, I still revel in the feeling of anticipation before a competition and the exhilaration I derive in the moment of intense competitive challenges is indescribable. Think of it as psychological behaviourism: For me, positive reinforcement = repeat behaviour. For you, negative reinforcement led to a desire to avoid the behaviours.)

  3. erin says:

    No, I disagree. I don’t think it has anything to do with psychological behaviourism. I am a pretty good singer but I never wanted to compete to get a solo. I don’t have any drive to climb the corporate ladder although I am very successful at what I do. I am pretty good at martial arts but I have no desire to prove that to anyone by going to competitions and winning medals. It’s just not important to me and never has been.

    You mention the anticipation before competition and the exhilaration in the moment. Even when I have competed and won, I have never felt that. Ever. I think it comes down to personality quirks that one is born with and tendencies to prefer one thing over another. Your preference is towards competition and mine is away from, or at best, neutral.

  4. Jeanie says:

    That makes sense. Perhaps it’s a matter of motivation then. I was motivated by the external positive reinforcement I received, which led to an internal feeling of confidence (and in turn, the associated feelings of pleasure in competitive atmospheres). What are your reasons for participating in martial arts? I imagine they’re more personally focused or internally based than mine. (Sense of own personal enjoyment, achievement, empowerment, etc.)

  5. erin says:

    I like to push myself, physically. I love the art – the beauty of it, the deadliness of it. I like learning new skills. I like the feeling of knowing I could defend myself if I needed to. All of which is usually great motivation but is hard to explain to those whose motivation is to come first.

  6. Jeanie says:

    I understand. I’m sorry the ppl at your dojo don’t.

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