When M and I first starting dating, I was legitimately concerned when we were invited to our first game night. I mean, it was a perfectly harmless date, right? M was prepared for some fun times with our now best friends that we both love and get along with perfectly.
The poor guy didn’t know any better; he didn’t see anything coming. I should have warned him, but it was month one and we were still pretending that we both had immaculate housekeeping skills no matter how busy we got, looked flawless at all times, and never went number two.
Here’s the problem: Whenever there is an ounce of competition in the air, this typically bubbly and cheerful delight of a human being that he was growing to love turns into someone else completely. One of my dear friends/former roommate sent me this quote once, saying she had found the definition for my life:
If you’re not prepared to lose every friend you have over a board game, you’re not playing hard enough.
That about sums it up. I have this insane competitive streak. It gets pretty childish at times, and I hear myself saying things like, “We are going to rock this Cloodle, hop on the fast track, and beat your ass to the giant purple brain, son!”
This competition embedded deep into my psyche affects every aspect of my life. At work we completed StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. The results really hit the nail on the head for me. Basically, it assesses your top five strengths and shows you how you can use these to your advantage, and how to work with others. My number one was, of course, Competition. I love his description so I’m going to share the whole thing because, well, I can.
Competition is rooted in comparison. When you look at the world, you are instinctively aware of other people’s performance. Their performance is the ultimate yardstick. No matter how hard you tried, no matter how worthy your intentions, if you reached your goal but did not outperform your peers, the achievement feels hollow. Like all competitors, you need other people. You need to compare. If you can compare, you can compete, and if you can compete, you can win. And when you win, there is no feeling quite like it. You like measurement because it facilitates comparisons. You like other competitors because they invigorate you. You like contests because they must produce a winner. You particularly like contests where you know you have the inside track to be the winner. Although you are gracious to your fellow competitors and even stoic in defeat, you don’t compete for the fun of competing. You compete to win. Over time you will come to avoid contests where winning seems unlikely.
If I could have defined my entire outlook on life, it would not have been as accurate as those words. I remember as a kid, teachers would think I was looking off other kids’ papers to cheat. This was not to glean the maybe correct answers from the C student next to me, but rather because I was adding up the correct v.s. incorrect answers off his paper to compare our grades. I got a rush, even then, from winning. M, please don’t leave me…
This same competitive streak has been a helpful edge in my work life. It ensures that I am constantly trying hard to stay on top of my game, thus earning the loving nickname A Game/Big Time (thanks Lar-Bo).
Where it tends to bite me back is when it comes to my personal life. Being in a constant state of comparison has left me pretty down on myself in the past, especially during that whole college/immediately post-college phase. Dangerous waters, my friend!
That new-ish tv show Go On, the one with Chandler playing Chandler but with sports, had a very pertinent quote in it the other day.
You can’t seek happiness from outside sources; happiness comes from within.
My measure of success had always been placed on outside sources. If I’m going to do something, I want to be the best at it. The thing about fitness was that I’m not really the best at anything. I am not the fastest runner. I can’t lift the most weight. I’m not the most flexible. I don’t have the most Latina hip-shakin’ moves. It’s a hard world at that gym for a competitive mediocre athlete.
Learning to stop (ok let’s be real, lessen my obsession with) competing with others and start competing with myself has saved me much grief. It’s also been a fun way to track my progress. Celebrating mini-victories, like shaving seconds off my run times, or, as of late, my newfound ability to begin doing some yoga, have been ways I can still celebrate winning without the risk of falling into a comparison trap.
I have embraced the rush I get in competing while maintaining my sanity. Don’t get me wrong, nothing quite beats that adrenaline rush from actually winning versus others, but it has been a great way to keep my motivation up.
Game nights? Well, that hasn’t changed. UNO!