Compete. It’s a word that you hear more and more out of the mouths of coaches, athletes, and even announcers. The word calls up an image of two individuals or teams battling back and forth, doing everything within their power to come out on top. When the dust settles, there is one winner and one loser. One has “out-competed” the other.
But the true roots of the word, compete, contain a contrast that is subtle yet profound. The word we know as “compete” comes from the Latin word competere, which means “to strive with”. To strive WITH. This definition brings to mind a very different image - two adversaries pushing each other, still striving for a lofty goal but not necessarily at the expense of the other.
Don’t misunderstand me - I’m not making the case that competition should be divorced from results, or from the desire to win. My point is that competition is at its finest when it is bringing out the best in both (or all ) competitors. Anyone who has played or coached at a high level knows intuitively that a challenging opponent is much more likely to bring out your best performance than an overmatched foe. There is something inside each of us that can only be drawn out in the heat of truly challenging competition.
So with that in mind, I offer you my own picture of what it means to compete or be competitive.
You have a passion for pushing yourself to the outer edges of your potential. This passion generates an insatiable curiosity - a need to know, “How far could I/we take this? What are my/our limits?”
You embrace testing yourself against the most challenging opponents, circumstances, and obstacles. You simply love challenge. You have developed something shown to be a better predictor of success than talent or intelligence, called grit (the intersection of passion and perseverance - see Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk)
You take on a process-oriented approach to performance, as opposed to becoming fixated on results. You channel your competitive energy into the confines of what is controllable.
So whatever your arena, I hope you’re able to bring a fresh perspective on what it means to compete. There is a crucial difference between striving against and striving with, and those who can appreciate this will unlock a new level of performance.