Is Competition Good or Bad for You?
17 years ago, a shocking paradox was revealed through my Quanta Change Sensory Quotient®: I hate competition, and yet, I’m very competitive.
When you have my personality pattern, it doesn’t feel safe to compete. In my first career as a professional violinist, I would go to symphony orchestra auditions, which are very competitive, and make friends with everyone, encourage them to do well, but be secretly thinking to myself, “But not too well, because I want to win!” (You can find out your personality pattern by taking the free Sensory Quotient test.)
Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to unlearn my buried competitive tendencies, and I’ve thought a lot about this subject. As a violin teacher, I’ve seen the benefit of competition for students. Most kids won’t push themselves to master a something as hard as playing the violin without the incentive of “sitting at the front of the orchestra.” I certainly didn’t, nor have any of my students. And trust me, you don’t want to hear an orchestra full of players who haven’t pushed themselves towards perfection.
But then, I look at what I’ve gleaned from work on my own competition issues and those of my Quanta Change clients. There, I see a very different and detrimental aspect to competition. It stands squarely in opposition to expressing your uniqueness. You can have one or the other, but not both at the same time. And expressing your uniqueness is what you’re on the planet to do, so maybe competition isn’t such a good thing.
Competition and uniqueness are built on different platforms. Competition is based on scarcity. There’s a winner and a loser for everything, and you either try to win it or bury that need to win it.
If you’re one of the people who is saying, “But wait, I’m just not competitive,” you’re like me—you’ve buried the need to win. I chose a competitive field, so that buried feeling was revealed to me, but you may have it so under wraps that you’re not even aware of it. In any case, whether you compete vociferously or avoid it like the plague, the way you relate to other people will very often be driven by that feeling.
Uniqueness, on the other hand, is built on a platform that is limited only by the number of souls in the universe. Each of us has a unique gift and voice that is ours alone. You can’t compete for something that is already yours, and no one can win it away from you. Nor can you take anyone else’s from them.
A bonus of the uniqueness platform is that it fosters cooperation and teamwork. Each person brings something different to the party, and everyone’s gifts work together.
When I was a kid in orchestra, it was hard to see that. Winning the seat closest to the front of the orchestra was the only thing that mattered. But once I started playing in professional orchestras, it didn’t matter where I sat. On a very practical level, nearly everyone was being paid the same, playing the same music, and dealing with the same work issues. And I started to learn that smart orchestras actually put some of the strongest players in the back of the violin section, because that helps keep everything together. So sitting in the dreaded “last chair” became an honor.
From some bad gigs, I also started to understand the importance of every single player doing their part. When only a couple of violinists in a section of 20 are playing the music well, the result is awful. It might not be as glamorous to play in a violin section as it is to play principal flute, but a Brahms symphony only sounds good when all 80 people on stage are playing their own parts well. And of course, this counts for every position and job in society, no matter how humble it seems.
So, in the contest between competition and uniqueness, the latter wins for me, hands down. I know we’re not getting rid of competition in our society any time soon, but I think we’ll be better off when we do.
Sara Avery is the Executive Director of Quanta Change, and she’s been guiding people through this process for the past 16 years. Click to get your free, personalized SQ report and to sign up for a free, 30-minute call with her to understand what negative role competition might be playing in your life and how that can change.