by Andrea Chilcote
On a lark, I entered an amateur photo contest, Howling Dog Alaska’s shout out for fun pics of dogs wearing their awesome gear. To my surprise, my photo was chosen as a top 15 finalist. The winners were to be selected through online voting. “Okay,” I thought, “this might be fun.” I posted the link on my Facebook page and emailed a few friends asking them to vote for my shot. I was only mildly engaged and soon it was off my mind.
Until my husband, Arthur, got involved.
Arthur is a retired sales executive and race car driver. I tend to forget about his competitive nature, as it’s not something that shows up in our day-to-day relationship. Competition has a place, and our marriage is not one of those places. So in telling Arthur about the contest, I didn’t realize I had unleashed a force.
He went to work immediately, calling and emailing friends, asking them to vote. So far so good. Then I learned he was asking my friends (who love him and smiled when sharing this) to ask their friends and family members to vote. This was a little over the top in my opinion, but no harm done.
As days went on, three top contenders emerged. My photo was one of them. Arthur became relentless, checking standings and appealing to mere acquaintances for votes.
Puzzled and little concerned, I asked him why this contest was so important to him. With a huge grin, he replied: “Because I like to win.”
To win means to succeed or triumph – a constructive thing for sure. Yet, in my life and in my work, I have seen misplaced competition destroy relationships, teams and businesses. There’s a team exercise I lead in which the object is to work together to achieve an outcome. Almost without exception, members of the group work against one another, competing vs. collaborating with other team members. In doing so, they inevitably lose the game.
Winning and competitiveness are highly misunderstood. Even the dictionary’s definition of “competitive” seems pejorative: “Inclined toward wanting to achieve more than others.” Competition’s synonyms include words such as “rivalry,” “opposition” and “war.” Ugh.
I view real competitiveness, the kind that my husband demonstrates, as a drive to win – not a drive to destroy someone or something else. I asked him what he gets out of winning – what it does for his psyche, if you will. He told me he gets a tremendous amount of satisfaction knowing he has done all he can, knowing he’s done his best.
Yesterday, as the race heated up and the end drew near, I decided to test that. I said to Arthur, “Let’s suppose one of the other contenders owns a small business, of, say 50 employees. And let’s pretend that on the last day of the contest, she asks all her employees to vote, rendering you out of the running. What then?”
His reply: “If that scenario actually happens, then I’ll be satisfied because I’ve done my best. It’s not about what the others do, Andrea, it’s about what I do.”
I was reminded of the famous (and controversial) saying attributed to sportswriter Grantland Rice: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
How do you play the game of life? Do you view competition and winning as a negative thing, and in so doing give away your power to succeed? Or do you compete for the sake of it, using up your resources in an effort to win at any cost? Take a lesson from the photo contest. Challenge the notion that if there’s a winner, there must be a loser.