Being competitive. Is it a genetic or a learned behavior? Competition can be a game, a fight, a sport, a struggle or all of these things simultaneously. Like it or not, life can be a jungle and being competitive gives you a machete.
I understand competition and I have never shied from it. In life, and fiercely so in younger years, I behaved as if I was hard wired for competition, but as I age I recognize the chase no longer gives me a buzz. The arena of winners and losers has become dated, stale and if I have anything left to prove I don’t seem to remember what it is. Somehow, somewhere along the way, I have shed that skin and as a result, get to spend more time in the present and less in the past.
When I can now so easily jettison a competitive mindset it makes me doubt that I was hard wired for the game and suggests instead, a learned behavior one honed in childhood and probably in the family home.
My childhood was not chaotic or unsafe, it was far from the misery that many endure, but it was uncertain. In the early years, my family was composed of three separate camps held together by a common thread: my mother and myself; a stepfather with his two children and my mother’s and step dad’s son; we were a loosely bound amalgam of strangers. This was not a storybook family but it was a real one, typical of our time. Individual members came with burdens — death of spouses and parents, illness, grief, and at first, we were bound to each other, defined more by what we had lost than what we had gained.
It is hard to get attention in a melded family unless you compete. And so I did. The tools I had were a modicum of athletic ability, a decent mind and the ability to work hard. I flogged these tools and never stopped; at school, university, medical school and in sports. Competition morphed from a tool into a lifestyle. Reflecting on the circumstance years later, I realize that as a child, the purpose of all that effort was simply to answer two questions in the eyes of others, Am I enough?, and sadly, buried deep in the heart of the first question something more pressing, Am I worthy of being loved?
Every human is born with these questions in the soul. Life is the journey we undertake to answer them. Being competitive is a tool we employ to prove to others and ourselves that we are enough, but eventually one may confuse being victorious with being loved. I have come to believe that while competition increases one’s chances of survival, it separates the self from others and makes us more alone, more in the past. When we are born, we are already enough and worthy of love, although it often takes a lifetime to arrive at this understanding. A life well-lived is one that ends with shedding the competitive skin of youth and replacing it with the mantle of self-acceptance and self respect. It’s been there all along — you just have to put it on.
Dr. April Sanders writes on a variety of topics for The Morning Star. She is a physician at Sanders Medical Inc. Vein and Laser in Vernon, B.C.