It’s Okay: To Be Highly Competitive
In It’s Okay, we defend our most embarrassing, unpopular opinions.
Competitiveness has gotten a bad rap — it has evolved from an annoying character trope (cue Monica’s personality in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.) to the illogical, unhealthy, and less viable alternative to collaboration. In male-dominated workplaces, in which women, trans, and non-binary people are made to feel unwelcome, collaboration and kindness may actually be better than aggressive competition, and that makes the demise of competitiveness a valid, progressive outcome. But hear me out — it may not be time to ditch competitiveness altogether.
We associate competitiveness with being aggressive, rooting for another’s failure, and a general in-your-face-ness that can get old and annoying very quickly. It’s especially seen as petty between women, who have been conditioned to measure themselves up against each other, with their tendency to compete being equated to envy and insecurity, and an all-around unfeminist phenomenon. So, at the risk of eye rolls and whispers behind my (and possibly your) back, what if I tell you being highly competitive is okay, and can even be healthy?
Studies show competition improves a person’s motivation, productivity, and performance because it provides a social drive to exercise effort toward a task. This increases perseverance and confidence, as competitive people are seldom entertaining second thoughts on their abilities while facing any kind of competition head-on, behavioral specialist Kelly Benamati writes for HuffPost.
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The problem with being competitive, largely but not solely, lies in how others perceive competitive people — as annoying, self-absorbed, contentious, combative, and often passive-aggressive. These, however, have more to do with how a competitive person views winning and losing than it does with the concept of competition itself. Winning but not gloating, losing but not complaining or sulking, can retain the benefits of competition — striving to be better (both than one’s own past self, and other evenly-matched people) — without rendering it as the inherently negative idea we’ve come to view it.
As leadership expert Tim Lebrecht puts it in Harvard Business Review, “when faced with defeat in one arena, consider moving to a new field of competition. Second, focus on mission and team and play for the enjoyment of playing, not just to win. Learn how to fail fast and slow … know when to surrender.” Taking the unnecessary pride and shame away from competition can help people see what competition actually is — a social motivator that helps drive people to improve, without the baggage that makes it untenable for many.
This is, again, not to say competitiveness delivers benefits for everyone — studies show competition advantages people differently, and depending on personality and gender, can even deliver more disadvantages than advantages. We’ve successfully moved away from regarding a competitive spirit as a mandate, as we should. But if you choose to embody its remnants — hopefully the healthy kind — moving forward, well, that’s okay too.
You’ll be alright.