Last week as I was preparing to fly an aerobatic contest, the idea of competition ran around in my mind. I grew up playing competitive sports and as a younger man would be described as very competitive. I have since mellowed and find myself competing more with myself than someone else. Every now and then, however, old habits come to the surface and I find myself desperately wanting to "win" as I did this weekend. To be in first place when the competition ended was the goal.
I like to always keep an open mind and I asked myself the question, is competition useful? Is it more harmful than helpful? Let me tell you, from a guy with my background, this was borderline blasphemy to even utter the words. I am the guy that considers the new youth sports rules that prohibit keeping score a bunch of hooey manufactured by parents that want to protect the feelings of their entitled kids. In life, we are keeping score and there are winners and losers, the sooner kids learn that lesson the better. So, as you can see, I definitely fall into the pro-competition camp.
America and capitalism were founded on the idea of competition. Without it, our country and economy would cease to exist as it does today. Competition can be found in business, sports, games and even recreational activities. When taken too far, competition spawns greed, insecurity and vanity, none of which are helpful to society. What if we lived in a world of collaboration instead of competition? Look at Tesla's approach to sharing its patents with other businesses and consider would we be better off if all companies did this? Or do you think that healthy competition pushes us to higher levels of achievement? What about competing with your co-workers for compensation and promotions, is that in the best interest of the organization? I realize it sounds awfully touchy feely but I have to say, its not without merit to let the imagination wander into such a futuristic world.
In the book, "The Practicing Mind", the author talks of focusing on the process, not the product. When I locked in on placing first in the aerobatic competition, I strayed from this path. I lost the proper focus on improving my maneuvers (the process), being in the present moment and attaining a coveted state of flow. My distraction with winning (the product) was the direct result of my competitive juices taking over, to my detriment, I might add. I placed second.
I am still on the fence on whether we would be better off without competition. I do believe, when done properly, it can be a healthy and productive exercise and pushes us to greater heights. The problem lies in the fact that I think more often than not, competition results in more negative, rather than positive results. Think of the recent steroid scandal in baseball, deflategate in the NFL or the Enron scandal, all of which you could argue were the product of competition taken too far. Can you see greed, vanity or insecurity in these examples? If we can't manage this as a society (teach our youth), maybe its time to think differently.