Our Biggest Competition

Oh, tug-of-war, every elementary schooler's image of competition.  Source: Wikimedia

Oh, tug-of-war, every elementary schooler’s image of competition.
Source: Wikimedia

I’m a naturally competitive person; I don’t care if I got a 99% on a test if someone else got a 100%, and I refuse to be out-done in most aspects. The question my parents have asked me ever since I was little and needed to perfect my dive to win a competition in my local swimming classes is why I feel that way. Though my answer is usually, “I don’t know, I just like to win,” I have to wonder why everyone competes.

In “Games Climbers Play,” Tejada-Flores talks about why rock climbers follow the rules of climbing- to feel a sense of accomplishment. They want to beat the rules, they want to win. Elite climbers follow the strictest sets of rules, and amateurs, or those who climb just for fun, follow a much looser set of guidelines. While each subset of climbers enjoys their climb, I would argue the elite climbers feel the most accomplishment following completion of one. An amateur, or someone who climbs for fun, may enjoy the climb they’ve completed, and they probably want to do it again, but better, faster, or a harder version.

The more I think about Tejada-Flores’s article, the more I think the reason we compete is because we enjoy being better than ourselves. It’s been said by many people that we are our own greatest competition. Sure, I’m upset when I go to a ice skating competition and I don’t do well. But at Nationals last year, my team came in 4th. That’s definitely not first, but I was so ecstatic,

Standing on the podium at the 2014 U.S. Synchronized Skating National Championships. (A dream come true) Source: my photo

Standing on the podium at the 2014 U.S. Synchronized Skating National Championships. (A dream come true)
Source: my photo

not because we came in fourth place, got the pewter medal, and then I got to stand on the podium as a team captain with one of my best friends (though all of that was pretty darn awesome), but because we had our best skate of the season, performed all of our elements to the best of our abilities, got our best score of the season, and made our coaches cry (always a goal at competitions). I didn’t care that three teams in the nation beat us, I cared that we did our best as a team. However, earlier in the season, we had a competition in which we came in third. That’s great, right? One whole spot higher than at Nationals. But we had a pretty awful skate, and we were so upset. We knew if we had performed better, we could have easily been higher in the standings, but we weren’t angry at our placement; we were angry at ourselves.

Similar to an elite climber, who challenges themselves by beating their own set of rules too confusing for me to understand enough to write here, skaters challenge themselves. We try to do the most difficult elements the best we can. Climbers try to follow the strictest rules and do a climb the fastest they can.

So why do I enjoy competing? I enjoy being a better version of myself every time I do something. No one sets out to do worse on the second test in organic chemistry than they did on the first, the same way I don’t want my second attempt at a jump to have the same mistakes as the first attempt. I’m always trying to improve, as is everyone. My greatest competition is myself; whether it be on the ice, at conditioning (I really want to be able to move up to doing exercises with bigger weights and to be able to do pull ups without needing assistance), in school, at ballet, or anywhere else.

With that in mind, I think I’ve been answering my parents question wrong all this time. They wondered why I couldn’t just enjoy my time in the pool, and I thought I needed to win. Truth is, I just needed to do the best dive I could do. I’m sure at age eight I probably would’ve been upset if someone beat my dive (the truth is, I really don’t even remember the exact outcome of that competition), but I would’ve been crying as soon as I got out of the carpool back home if I hadn’t done my best dive (I don’t remember that happening, so I think I was okay).

Spelling bees, aka the pinnacle of academic competition. But do you really want to beat the kid next to you or do you want to learn how to spell new words? Source: Wikimedia

Spelling bees, aka the pinnacle of academic competition. But do you really want to beat the kid next to you or do you want to learn how to spell new words?
Source: Wikimedia

Competition is everywhere in life. It’s in sports, politics, school, even in clubs. And it’s important to realize that we don’t need to beat everyone else, but we need to do the best we can; we need to improve ourselves. Without that realization, people do pretty crazy things to each other, whether that be politicians using negative campaigning, instances like the infamous clubbing of Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, or high schoolers creating real-life “burn books” because they want to prove they’re better than others. So, my parents will probably be happy to hear that after 18 years, I think it’s time to take a step back from my need to be the best at everything and realize that I just need to be the best me I can be.

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One comment

  1. prvalera · November 14, 2014

    I really liked your post because I felt that it was very relatable. I’m sure almost everyone played a sport as a little kid and loved the feeling of winning the game, race, and every competition they participated in. We were told over and over again that winning isn’t everything and that we should just enjoy playing the sport. That, of course, is true, but nothing could ever beat the euphoric feeling that comes with being the best. I agree with your point that ultimately we want to be the best we can be. I swam competitively for about 9 years and while it is true that I wanted my own teammates to succeed, beating my previous race time or swimming a personal best was always one of the most important things for me to accomplish. Improving our performances should always be priority number one, and beating other people in games should be number two. If your own performance improves, defeating others that play the same game will come naturally.

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