Under the Influence: Competition
Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless–like chasing the wind. “Fools fold their idle hands, leading them to ruin.” And yet, “Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”
Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 (NLT)
I am a naturally competitive person. A few years ago at work, my team participated in a series of personality assessments, with the goal of identifying what motivates the various members of our team. My biggest motivator was competition. I scored a 10/10 in competition. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t competitive.
I have an older brother, and growing up he was better than I was at everything. Well, I was better at spelling and basketball, and the only reason I was better at basketball was because he never bothered playing it. I cannot tell you how many years I spent wasting my life trying to be better than my brother at his interests. My brother was the senior patrol leader of our Boy Scout troop at age 15. I took it upon myself to become the senior patrol leader at age 14. If my brother had 50 merit badges, I needed 60. My brother started playing violin at age 9; I decided to start at age 6. I didn’t even like playing violin, but I had to be better than my brother at it, and at a younger age. Heck, I got baptized the same day as my brother. I was 8, and he was 11 or 12. Yeah, I believed in Jesus, but that was not the reason why I did it. The thought of my brother taking communion while I sat and watched absolutely disgusted me.
While I competed with my brother in every area of life, and in some instances it produced good results (i.e., doing 3rd grade math in kindergarten and knowing all 50 state capitals by 1st grade), I often fell short. Partially, because he is 3.5 years older than I am, and partially because I was chasing down his interests. Many times when I could not beat my brother at something, I just gave up. I carried an overwhelming sense of disappointment in myself, and that was two-fold: (1) I had the realization I wasn’t as good as he was in certain areas; and (2) I didn’t pursue things that interested me.
When he left for college, I really got into a destructive period of my life because I did not know who I was without my brother. I had no idea what interested me, so I quickly found an interest in drugs and alcohol. I became determined to drink more than anyone and to consume more drugs in a given afternoon than anyone I was with. Drugs and alcohol were areas I could compete and win in. It sounds nuts, but in my head, I wanted to be the best pothead out there.
Unfortunately, my competitive streak did not end there, and it almost cost me marriage. While in law school, I became determined to be the best law student out there. I was fixated with finishing at the top of my class. Spoiler alert: I didn’t, and even if I did, it would not have been worth the cost. I left my wife isolated for 3 years because I did not want my classmates to beat me in the rankings. Seriously, I almost threw away my marriage for class rankings. Again, working hard helped me get a good job later on, but I know it wasn’t my credentials that landed me a job. I got it because I surrendered my life and job search to Jesus. When I do things out of competition for myself, instead out of glory for God, I mess up. My head gets too big, and I alienate those around me. However, when I’m under the influence of Jesus, I compete hard to bring Him glory.
Today’s Training: Competition is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it becomes a bad thing when it becomes our primary motivator. Everyday, I have to check myself to determine if I’m doing something out of my own competitive nature or if I’m doing it to glorify God. If you struggle with competition, check your motivations, and surrender those motivations to Jesus. It’s something I struggle with every single day. I try very hard to be viewed as the best at almost everything I do; however, I do not need to worry about how others see me because Jesus already sees me as my best.