Friday, October 5, 2018

Competitiveness and Identity


Competitiveness: the drive to push yourself in order to win.

Competitiveness can bring out the worst in people. It can push people to break the rules in order to get ahead. It can result in “sore winners”: the people who rub their win in your face, or those who think winning is the only way. It can also create the kinds of people who don’t have fun unless they win: the sore losers.

Competitiveness brings out the ugly sore loser in me. I don’t see a loss as one of two inevitable end results of a competition: I see it as a frustrating failing on my part or an unfair game.

But neither of these is correct thinking.

Sore winners and sore losers share a common flaw: they place their identity in the results of a competition. How silly! We’re worth so much more than whether we win or lose. Even something as big as the Olympics is just a sport; it has no bearing on who we are. It doesn’t add or detract from our value depending on whether we win the gold, silver, or bronze.

Think about participants in any competition who give their all: the ridiculously-outmatched underdogs who still pour the best of their efforts into participating. Even when they inevitably lose, it can still feel like a win. Why? Because the results have no bearing on their worth and the value of their efforts.

So we’re not failures when we lose; losing doesn’t mean we’re losers. But what about when games are poorly built and just aren’t fair?

When we do poorly in a game through no fault of our own but rather due to poor game design, it’s frustrating. But few games are truly poorly-designed. I don’t usually lose because of that; I just don’t play well.

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash
This tends to happen more often with video games than board games for me, because I’m more of what video game enthusiasts call a “casual gamer.”

I don’t try to collect every single do-dad and achieve every challenge. I don’t try to figure out the inner workings of the game to achieve the best results. These all end up being too much work for the payoff to be worth it for me.

The results? I tend to be terrible at games, at least compared to people who play them more seriously.

Which means if I play games against others, I lose. A lot.

And then I’ll be a sore loser. I’ll get moody and upset. I won’t have any fun; not even in the experience playing.

But I don’t want to be this way! So I have three choices: get better, don’t care about the outcome, or don’t play.

I didn’t want to take the time to get good enough to stand a chance against good players.

I didn’t think I could change how I felt about the outcome.

So, because I hated the ugly way I reacted to losing, I just stopped playing competitive games.

But I realized that not playing any competitive games wasn’t just a way to protect the world from myself; quite the contrary: it was a way for me to run away.

It was a way for me to ignore my flaw and refuse to deal with it.

It’s fine to not like playing a game a certain way. But to give up because I hated to lose...? What an absurd solution. What a sore loser I was still being, even without playing the games!

I was tying my identity into how I performed, just as I do with so many things: what I did while I was in school (anything less than an A was horrible because of course I could do better; I’d done better in the past); at work (if I got corrected for even the slightest mistake, I nearly felt sick I’d get so upset); and just in life itself. If I failed at something or made a mistake, it was because I was a terrible person. If my writing didn’t turn out perfect, it meant I was a terrible writer.

But that just isn’t the case.

Tying your identity to anything on this earth is dangerous. It ensnares you. It limits you to a thing to be rated and discarded if you don’t perform perfectly every time. We don’t even treat appliances with that kind of disrespect!

We need to find our identity in something immovable, constant, unchanging, and outside ourselves.

Because we’re flawed. Broken. Human.

The great news is, our identity isn’t in us or how we perform or what our tastes are; it’s in the one who created us. Whatever value the all-knowing, truth-speaking Creator puts on something, that’s its real worth. Our value, our identity, is what God says it is. And if God himself thought you were worth dying for, I’d say that’s a pretty high value. A priceless identity.

That’s where our identity lies. Not in whether we win or lose a game.

When competitiveness is no longer tied to our sense of identity, it can bring out the best in us. Competitiveness pushes us to improve. It teaches us to work hard toward a goal we want to achieve. It teaches us to persevere and not give up just because we’re losing. It tells us to do our best.

And when we’re doing that, we can enjoy the ride whether we win or lose... because we know that we did our very best. Even if our loss is a brutal loss... it’s still a win, because it grows us. We can learn from that loss. It drives us to do better, to not give up, and to try harder than ever before.

The drive to push yourself to win. When not tied down by our search for a sense of self, competitiveness can truly grow us into better people.

From Him, To Him

7 comments:

  1. Competition can be a frustrating thing which I do agree. I didn't realize you reacted that way in various games. I do agree that people can tie their identities in Ws and Ls. For an extreme case of someone going too far would be what happened at the Jacksonville Madden tournament. I do have to prove myself to show that I'm competent, but I feel like not enough people cared whenever I would win something.

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    1. It can be frustrating, but it can also really push us to become better! Strange it can affect us in such dramatically different ways.

      That's terrible that you feel you have to prove yourself and that you feel not enough people cared when you score a win in life. Everyone should feel respected for succeeding, but it's not healthy for us to fear failure (as I do) either! It's tough!

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    2. Sure thing. I can see that even when I don't know if that has ever happened to me.

      Yes, it's very rough. I know I've had a few successes, but I haven't been able to show it more often than not (not being on social media certainly had an effect that way as selfish as it sounds).

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    3. Remember though that whether others acknowledge our successes or not, they still exist. They're still there. You still accomplished them. To paraphrase Paul, we don't live for others' approval, but God's.

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    4. That's something I still have to tell myself. I have to stop caring about what others think so much.

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    5. Saaaame here, my friend. As my former fiance once said, "If we all took our own advice, the world would be a better place"!

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    6. Gotcha. I think I've heard that quote somewhere before, but I don't know the source.

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