Competition is motivating to a lot of people, but many feel it’s just unhelpful and destructive. But hiding your competitive side may be hurting you more than you realize.
Competition is another one of those things that seems binary: I’m a competitive person or I’m not.
Do you think you don’t have a competitive side?
Competition is Baked Into Us
It’s hard to separate competition into what it says about us individually because it’s what so much of Western society is based on. It’s Capitalism, right? It’s patriarchy. It’s anything that pushes us toward a hierarchy. It’s wrapped up in ambition as well.
For many, they see it as a key motivating factor in bettering themselves. Some don’t believe that there would be any motivation for growth without it. People strongly motivated by their competitive side can’t believe that someone could be motivated by anything else.
Sports are almost always one person or team against another and the whole point of the sport is for someone to win. We have our kids play team sports to learn a skill, to learn to be a part of a team, but also to learn to lose well. But we turn other things into competitions as well
- Singing competitions,
- TV shows
There’s all kinds of rewards for things that don’t need the competition in order to be. We go to a movie and enjoy the movie, not in order for this movie to win best movie. The movie wasn’t made to be best movie, it was made in order to tell a story. Except with the money that needs to be made, with the future careers on the line, yes, the movies are often made to win. And just to get made someone needs to award money to this or that studio, and director, and writer.
It seems impossible to get away from competition so those of us who don’t like it are really at a disadvantage. But is there an inherent competitive side to these things that isn’t so bad?
I Pretended I Didn’t Have a Competitive Side to Avoid Shame
I’d be a good case study for someone who allegedly disliked competition and said I didn’t have a competitive side. I was very open about that growing up, but what I realized as an adult (and others realized well before I did) was that part of me was so worried about the sting and shame of losing maybe I could bypass the possibility if I just gave up on competition.
- “I’ll let you decide.”
- “I’ll let you win.”
- “Whatever. I’m good.”
And our friends and partners hate this about us.
Far be it from me to say that it’s impossible to ‘not have a competitive bone in your body’, but I often meet the guy who’s trying to escape the possibility that he will overstep, that he will show his aggression, that his desire will be exposed—and that his lack of showing his competitive side is just a tactic to avoid shame.
And it doesn’t fully work.
Not putting your needs and wants out into the world may protect others from seeing you try and fail, but it eats away at your sense of self and turns into resentment. It begins to make you feel like you deserve things and are entitled to them because you weren’t that Alpha male who demanded them.
Feeling and expressing your competitive side and what you’re competitive about exposes what you want. There’s a difference between being aggressive and demanding something (aka being entitled) and putting your vulnerabilities and desire out there in the world.
We can try to hide it, but it’s not going to make us feel any better in the long run.
Interested in talking more about this? Want to get in touch with what your competitive side is telling you without it becoming destructive? Shoot me an email or give me a call to schedule a free phone consultation.
Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert based in Brooklyn, NY (and online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be. He works with all men but has a particular focus on providing counseling for fathers (and guys hoping to become dads!)