Being competitive can be a gift. I mean, Serena Williams didn’t get to where she is today by being chill about everything, right?
According to Gallup’s “StrengthsFinder,” competitive people are driven and easily motivated. Hell, being competitive is what got me to start writing. I saw my friend get published and thought, “I can do that.”
But doesn’t everyone have that one friend who’s so competitive, it’s kind of terrifying?
The one who practices honing his or her beer pong shot, and may have even broken up with someone because of a Words With Friends game?
For many of my friends, I am that person.
I'm trying to learn how to embrace my competitive side while avoiding the pitfalls, of which there can be many.
Here are some of the ways being competitive can get the best of you (we can’t have that!), and some advice on controlling these urges:
1. Competitive driving
I wouldn’t say I particularly get road rage. But I do get road competitive, which, as I have learned from the numerous defensive driving courses I have had to take, is not the safest way to drive.
If someone driving like a jerk gets ahead of me, I want to do everything in my power to get back in the lead.
However, it is not always important to get there the fastest, no matter what that Ludacris song is telling you. As someone whose car recently almost crashed, trust me when I say it’s not worth it:
The cost, the hassle and the almost-dying are not worth the five seconds of glory when you pass that ass.
My mom taught me to be zen about the situation. Think of the road as a river, and everyone has their own journey down it.
Or just pretend all the drivers ahead of you are your sister, or on their way to save the world from aliens. Whatever works for you.
2. Relationship battles
God help you if you date another competitive person. My boyfriend and I had to set ground rules when we realized what we’d gotten ourselves into. Rule number one: No Words With Friends.
We always play on the same team and never against each other, which is probably a good relationship habit in general. We never get upset about who’s right and who’s wrong, and we respect each other's ideas.
But there are slip ups. What started as doing the Sunday New York Times crossword while snuggled on the couch has devolved into both of us downloading the app so we can screenshot finish times.
Hey, we are who we are. (For the record, he usually beats me. Somehow, we’re still together).
3. Easy manipulation
Once your friends stop being terrified at your laser-focus on your flip cup game, they realize they can use your competitiveness against you. I know someone who can be goaded into doing literally anything with the phrase, “I bet you can’t.”
Your lazy friends know you will do all the work to organize a game if they just drop a hint about playing.
When you feel the competitive side of you telling you to go all-out, just think, “Is this really something I want to do, and is it worth my efforts?”
Being manipulated is almost as bad as losing.
4. Being a dick
I don’t mean this in the sense of being a sore loser or winner, as competitive people aren’t necessarily like that. But we can be pretty self-centered and may not be the best team players.
There can only be one winner, and you want that winner to be you, right? Who cares who you have to stomp on along the way?
Obviously, this is not the best way for humans to interact with each other. You need to see how your actions affect the whole. While learning compassion and empathy is not easy, it helps you get a better idea of the big picture. (Brene Brown’s books may help with this.)
5. Not trying new things
One of my major roadblocks to trying new things is knowing learning curves are real, and knowing that for a while, I will look very, very stupid. If I can’t be good, I don’t want to do it (this is called self-denial).
It took me a month to work up the courage to start doing yoga (even though it’s the least competitive sport possible) because I didn’t want to be the least bendy person in class.
I’m so glad I did because it has helped me focus on myself. I have a better mindset about competing. You can’t learn if you don’t try new things.
6. The little things
Your friend got hit on instead of you. Your coworker got praise in a meeting. There are so many stupid little instances of this that make life unpleasant.
I recently made brownies for a friend’s birthday, and I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little miffed every time someone ate the store-bought cake pops instead. If you feel your urges building up over something silly, just think to yourself, “Will I remember this in a month?”
More often than not, the answer is no. Save your competitive energy for the big battles.
7. Life satisfaction
Extremely competitive people are bombarded with “trials” every day. I'm constantly thinking about my salary, my article stats and the fact my ex-boyfriend dated not one, but two women on the “Forbes 30 Under 30” list. These things get under my skin because, in the age of the Internet, it’s easy to see how many people are better than you.
Competition is rooted in comparison, so I’m always looking at where I stand.
I could have a personally fulfilling job, but if my salary is lower than my friends’, I will fixate on that deficiency without taking the full picture into account.
To be honest, I still struggle with this every night. Psychology Today advises acknowledging the feeling, then letting it go.
Just because you're competitive doesn’t mean it has to run your life.
Remember, being competitive is a good quality to have. Just be sure you’re being fair to yourself, and it’s bringing out the best in you.