The Urge To Compete

We human beings are social creatures. Constantly attempting to assess our place within the hierarchy, who we are better than, who is better than us. How we determine our placement on the social ladder controls how we give ourselves permission to behave. If we can look around and see we are of significantly higher value than those around us, we will be more confident and dominant. If we feel of lower worth, we will be hesitant and withdrawn.

There are three ways to approach a situation when you feel someone else is doing better than you, or has achieved more than you:

  • feel worthless, hunch your shoulders, and shuffle away
  • delude yourself that you’re actually better than them, and live in ignorance
  • allow it to inspire you to redouble your efforts, and not just match them, but mercilessly smash their level into the dust beneath your feet

90% of the population will take the first or second option. The second option might actually have some merit if it were possible to utterly and totally convince yourself of the truth of your delusion – but then these pesky things like “reality” and “other people thinking you’re a contemptible twat” have this nasty way of intruding on that.

So then, as motivated driven men, the only real option available to us is the third one, if you want to attain any kind of lasting peace of mind. We don’t live in a vacuum, the world around us is very real, and we must face up to its realities and master them if we are to feel good about ourselves.

Now the thing to bear in mind here is your environment, and how it relates to getting your competitive juices flowing. It is quite possible to live your whole life in a tin pot little town, where no-one has achieved much, and rise to the top of the pile with minimal effort, feeling very smug about yourself. This is called “big fish, small pond”. You can take that same fish however, and put him in an ocean by displacing him into a major capital city where there are 1000s of people way better off and more successful than him, and he will feel worthless. It’s all relative.

So is just staying away from large hubs of other successful people a workable solution to being happy? Perhaps, but only if you a) accept full well what you are doing, and don’t kid yourself, or else you’re no better than the delusional twats of above and b) aren’t the kind of person whose ambition demands that they have to pit themselves against the best the world has to offer in order to feel a sense of satisfaction.

I fall firmly into the latter category, which was what was behind my decision to move to London, which ultimately proved to be the biggest catalyst on my self-development I’d ever experienced in my life. Could I do this again? Potentially, yes – moving to somewhere like Monaco, where nearly everyone is a millionaire, would place me firmly back on the bottom of the pile again. Do I want to do this, having already attained a level of personal and financial success greater than 99.9% of the rest of the world? At this stage, I don’t think so. The higher you climb towards the top of the tree, the fewer the branches, the harder it is to progress. Is it worth the monumental effort I’d have to put in to accomplish getting to the top of that pile again? Perhaps, but satisfaction from such things, as everything else, is on diminishing returns.

Your ambition will determine how far you rise in life, and how many times you are willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone and put yourself into an environment where your competitive urges can spur you on to be the best you can be. What that level is differs wildly from person to person. You might be happy in your small town, or your medium-sized city, or you might not be happy until you are a billionaire. We’re all different, shaped by the experiences of our childhood, and how you feel now is not necessarily how you will feel in 5 years time. I was convinced I wanted to go all the way to the very top of the pile, but I’m starting to mellow now I’m getting at least somewhat close to it, and beginning to prefer the notion of just heading off in my own direction and living an extremely comfortable, rich and rewarding life.

Because don’t forget – continually comparing yourself to others, despite leading to increased competitiveness and pushing back your boundaries of achievement, will also lead to permanent unhappiness and lack of peace of mind. There is always someone better, or richer, or stronger, or better looking, with a hotter wife and a bigger house and more Ferraris than you.

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10 thoughts on “The Urge To Compete

  1. Good food for thought. Success isn’t the same thing as achievement in my eyes. I know a lot of people who have achieved so much, yet aren’t what I would call successful because they aren’t happy, and it’s because they are constantly trying to keep up with someone else.

  2. Great post. I’m not wise but lately I’ve been thinking about meaning of life in the broadest, non-philosophical sense. I’ve come to the conclusion that ambition, status, wealth and so on can be good things, especially if they force you to achieve something. But I don’t think they contribute that much to person’s happiness, or at least nowhere as much as inner peace, healthy relationships and enjoying life as much as one can. To cut my ramblings short, and since you’ve posted that awesome picture by Frazetta, I’ll quote Conan/Robert E. Howard:

    “Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content.
    […]
    I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

    I don’t think it’s about getting to the top of the pile, I think it’s about the rattle of the dice and the zest for life. At least that’s the path I’m trying to follow – what use is the wealth, the girls, the status if you don’t know how to enjoy life? Granted, I’m poor and I don’t have a hot girl under my arm but I would never trade my freedom for that. If you have to trade your freedom/health/time to achieve something, is it really worth it? Again to quote REH (it seems appropriate):

    “In the last analysis, I reckon, I have but a single conviction or ideal, or whateverthehell it might be called: individual liberty. It’s the only thing that matters a damn. I’d rather be a naked savage, shivering, starving, freezing, hunted by wild beasts and enemies, but free to go and come, with the range of the earth to roam, than the fattest, richest, most bedecked slave in a golden palace with the crystal fountains, silken divans, and ivory-bosomed dancing girls of Haroun al Raschid.”

    • I think you raise a salient point about the process of striving for something being generally better than the actual achievement. My happiest, most driven and productive periods are when I am embarking upon a new sphere of study, absorbing everything I can on a given subject, and then putting it into practise and beginning to reap the rewards. Soon enough, you’ve maxed it out, the joy subsides and you need to find something else to move on to.

      The more you attain, the harder it becomes to find different things. I envy those with a truly deep passion for something in life, as they always have something to live for.

      • Of course – but how to find it? Something which gives a sense of purpose, an overriding goal, may give satisfaction one day, and then not the next. The constant reassessment and resetting of goals seems required, unless as I mentioned, you’re one of those people with a deep lifelong passion for something, like art.

      • As a christian I find it easy. But otherwise I do not yet have the answer. A lifetime of seeking truth has me where I am.

        Perhaps you can be a seeker of truth. To uncover the mysteries of the universe. Uncovering the absolute truth bit by bit. It is perhaps is impossible to discover it whole. But to uncover more of it is divine.

  3. Pingback: “Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries…” | The Lucky Lothario

  4. Ya, I see what you mean; it’s balance. During periods when mortality is more obvious, getting that balance right seems more important. I don’t want to kick off while working hard for a tomorrow that never comes.

    Enjoying ones work is a good solution. Lately I’m acting semi-retired and sponsoring others to build new businesses, and I’d recommend that option for those who can swing it. Livelyhood can be a real bitch though – in my twenties it was something I did in order that I could do something else. Now I do it because I want to; I’d still work no matter how much money I had.

    I see what you mean about ambition being double edged sword, and I agree that it can be used positively.

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