My favorite sports story (myth? metaphor?) is the one where two competitors fight to the bitter end in very close competition and then fall into each other’s arms. One has won, one has lost, but in the moment it doesn’t really matter which one did which, because the whole thing was about the fight or the game or the process — the doing with each other.
I wrote a story about that once: “Blindsided by Venus in the House of Mars.” It’s sort of a love story, but it’s also about how winning isn’t what anything’s about, even when everything is on the line. It was published quite a few years back in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.
Maybe I should send it out to reprint markets.
I’m not particularly competitive. I like to succeed, don’t get me wrong. I want to be read, to be listened to, for others to admire my work, to get accepted by magazines and publishers, and I realize that when I get accepted someone else gets rejected, as a rule.
But I don’t do it for the joy of beating someone else. I do it for the joy of doing. If I succeed, I am not thinking about all those people who lost when I “won”; I’m just thinking about the fact that someone liked what I did.
I’d feel something similar if I was competing in karate or tennis or road races or something, though it would spoil some of my pleasure if a person beat me and then engaged in taunting.
(I really don’t like taunting.)
I want to be good and I want to be recognized as good, but I’m not doing it so that I can call someone else a loser.
I mean, some artists, athletes, musicians and so forth do transcend the rest of us — sometimes just once, sometimes over a long period of time — but that doesn’t mean the others are losers. Now some of my friends might scoff at the idea that I’m not competitive because they’ve seen me argue a point. And I did do some trial law back in the day.
The thing is, I never get into these arguments to “beat” someone else. I get into them because I think I’m right. I can get excited because I want to convince you I’m right because I believe it passionately.
Likewise in court, I usually wanted to succeed because I wanted to take care of my client. My goal was to get the best outcome I could for the person I represented, not to “beat” the other lawyer.
I can remember crying in the bathroom because I lost a case not because of the losing – the law wasn’t on our side – but because of what it meant to the clients. (Fortunately in that case, we found another solution.)
I got to thinking about this because I heard a podcast where someone who took up professional poker playing said she was “competitive.” I expect you do have to be competitive to do poker seriously. You need to want to win to do all the things that make it possible to win consistently.
Me, I like a friendly game of poker. I love it when I play my cards just right and win a hand with next to nothing. But a lot of that is, in fact, just the joy of doing it right. And I wouldn’t want to have to do that every time I played.
I don’t have to win every time I play to have a good time.
I’m not saying this to be judgmental. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being competitive. I think you probably have to have a strong competitive drive to be a trial lawyer or a professional athlete or politician. The act of winning has to matter a lot to succeed on those levels.
I just don’t have it. I’m not driven by any idea of success that is built on someone else losing. Or on me not losing.
But that doesn’t meant I’m not ambitious. I want to do good work and have other people notice it. I suspect that for a lot of years I had those things rolled into one idea, but being ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean being competitive.
I want to see others win, too. And I want all of us to get the great joy that comes from doing something we like to do really well.
There’s really nothing better than that.