Competitive Nature: Good or Bad?

It has never been a big secret that I’m a naturally competitive person. It doesn’t matter the topic, the event, or the situation – if there is room to turn it into a contest of some sort, you can bet money that I’m the person pushing for it.

While physical challenges are enjoyable, I’m normally pretty certain that I’m not going to win any athletic competition I enter. Not that I’m not physically fit or anything; I’m just working against a major height deficit [5’2″ with abnormally short legs] and lack of motivation to train the way a true competitor should. I hit the gym regularly but never have a PR in mind, so while I like to enter a competitive race now and then, I rarely expect to be in the top 20% of the participants.

However, when it comes to nonphysical challenges, I take my involvement very seriously. Trivia night at the bar? Oh, it’s going down. A bake-off among my coworkers? Prepare for a sugar coma brought on by Tori’s killer cupcakes. Which, if anyone has followed my blog for a few weeks, actually happened in early December. I took 2nd place. NOT COOL.

My coworkers found my competitive nature [re: baked goods] so amusing that they made me this Second Place certificate and hung it on my desk at work. I've left it there - a reminder of my baking inadequacy.

My coworkers found my competitive nature [re: baked goods] so amusing that they made me this second place certificate and hung it on my desk at work. I’ve left it there – a reminder of my baking inadequacy.

Yeah. I take it pretty seriously. I’m pretty sure it’s an illness.

But then the question arises: where did this competitive nature come from? I do not have siblings, so it wasn’t like I was fighting for my parents’ attention growing up. Academically, I was always in the top of my class, so it wasn’t as if I felt the need to push myself harder to stand out. Yet, despite this, I insisted on signing up for every Quiz Bowl, Academic Bowl, etc and would spend hours pouring over sheets of useless trivia. I HAD to win. My team HAD to win. It really wasn’t an option; it was a necessity for life to go on.

Neither my mother nor my father are very competitive by nature. And my grandmother is so laid back, she’s practically going through life on a recliner, so I couldn’t have inherited it from her. Is a competitive nature even genetic? I’m not sure. I would assume it is, though, as a competitive nature was probably pretty helpful back in the paleolithic days when you were fighting for the last wooly mammoth or something, right? Who knows.

The reason I question my emulous nature is due to the fact that so many people view it as a fault. That seeking out rivalry and competition is actually a character flaw and that I should work to overcome it. Is it truly a sin to enjoy that sort of thing? I’m torn.

I would think that a competitive nature would be a positive thing, as long as you know how to reign it in. As a result of my drive, I often push myself harder than others. I study more, read more, and practice more frequently than those who don’t enjoy competition. Is that a bad thing? I really can’t believe it to be.

However, I’ve seen my own competitive nature ruin relationships when I was younger, so I can see the harm it can have if you do not know how to reign it in. Especially in a professional environment, particularly sales, where everyone is struggling to shine – a highly competitive nature basically can build a bad stigma against you. While most of my competitive nature is self-focused [e.g. exceeding my previous performance, not someone else’s], I can definitely understand how my drive could leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth – especially if they are directly punished for their lack of performance in comparison to mine.

For that reason, I really try to contain and limit my competitive nature in the office. In fact, I intentionally took a leadership position about 18 months ago as a means of getting out of a sales-minded environment, which has helped my professional relationships dramatically. In fact, our company has us take personality tests every few months or so and my aggression, competitiveness, and proactivity scores have all come down noticeably since the transition, something that has been noted by many of my coworkers, so it’s more than just a change on paper.

And you know what? At the end of the day I’m much happier as a result of the position move. Now, instead of competing against my coworkers to be in the top of the department, I can work to help them get there. I can nurture, train, and encourage them without any conflict of interest for my own personal performance and, as a result, the entire company benefits from my competitive nature. The skillset I developed in my aggressive days now can be shared with everyone, allowing even the least competitive people exceed their own expectations.

So, with that said, I’m not necessarily convinced that having a competitive nature is an innately bad trait. I think, if well-controlled and applied, it can actually be a very beneficial quality. It pushes me to go beyond average in practically everything I do and, hopefully, brings others up with me. While I don’t expect to make athletes, cut-throat salesmen, and avid trivia kings around me, it’s nice to know that some people benefit from my drive and the flame from the torch burns a little brighter when it’s shared.

The other added benefit? I’m going go be baking up a STORM to try and reclaim the first place prize for my cupcakes in 2013. And that’s a win:win for everybody. Except those trying to lose weight. But really… why would anyone want to lose at anything? WINNING!

Optimistic for a win in 2013,

~ Victoria Elizabeth Ann

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