I have a freakishly competitive nature. It will lie dormant for months then suddenly erupt, usually during a benign activity that doesn’t require the intensity I bring to it. Once, after a game of dominoes, my good friend Bob said he would rather break his own arms than play with me again. Others (including my husband) have shared similar sentiments, thankfully without the violent imagery.
I spent 12 years in sales. There, the competitive spirit is encouraged and rewarded. I was in competition with my team mates, other offices, divisions and states. Not to mention the competitors. The corporate language gave value to blood sport. We were encouraged to kill our numbers. We were also reminded in meetings, with heavy handed analogies, that sharks die if they stop moving. So, I moved. I really hustled.
Until I didn’t want to anymore. I grew weary of chasing an ever growing quota. As competitive as I am, that is not all I am. So I made a change. I got my teaching degree and went to teach High School English. Turns out, competition comes in many forms. Drop a competitive person into any environment and they will find a competition. This is not a bad thing. My last year at the school, the seniors voted me and the math teacher “Co-Teachers of the Year.” I’m proud of that.
The people I practice yoga with include marathon runners, college athletes, financiers and CEOs to name a few. These are people that deal with intense competition in other parts of their life. They are not shrinking violets. Yet, as far as I can tell, none of us go to the studio to compete with each other. Speaking for myself, my time on my mat is for me. If I am taking on a challenge, it is the challenge of an asana and it doesn’t matter what anyone else in the room is doing. Although, it wasn’t always like that for me.
When I first starting practicing yoga, I would have an internal conniption fit if I couldn’t perfect a pose. I was constantly comparing myself to my classmates. I saw it as a failure to take a modification. Forget taking child’s pose, I was going to push through my muscle fatigue. Before I built my upper body strength, I was furious that I had to use my knees during the push up in chaturanga. Don’t even get me started on my epic journey into crow. It’s hilarious looking back at myself. Did I expect to jump in at an advanced level?
I guess I did.
It makes me wonder, where else have I done that? When have I grown frustrated with something because I wasn’t (what I perceived to be) the best at it? The answer to that is a long and sometimes frighteningly petty, list.
I ask the question, not to beat myself up, but to make a point. Competition is imprinted in our human DNA. Competition is why people play sports and have game nights. It is why people excel in their professions and hobbies. It is why the phrase “the thrill of the hunt” was coined. Competition is where we learn how far we can jump and dream. Our survival as a species was successful because we are competitive.
But let’s face it. I’m not out on the Serengeti trying to outsmart a lioness. Surviving, for a suburban yogini, is pretty easy.
That doesn’t make the competitive spirit go away and it shouldn’t. Competition is a good thing. We learn from it. Because in competition, there is a chance you might lose. Our life’s lessons are written in our losses. There have been some amazing trajectories born from significant setbacks.
Let’s go back to my first hyper competitive attempts at yoga. My failure there was really only in my head. But it was a real failure in my head. I was missing out on the true nature of the practice because I was so busy trying to “keep up” with my neighbors.
There are many moments in life that we should relish the opportunity to jump into a competition. There are other times that our drive should take a backseat to what is important in the moment.
The trick is figuring out which moment is which.
Obviously, in the case of Bob and the dominoes, I might have made the wrong choice.