Don’t Let Competition Consume You
A little competition never hurt anyone…until it breeds comparison, jealousy, unkindness and exclusion.
One of my weaknesses is competition cooking shows. I suppose you could call me a Food Network “junkie.”
Whether it’s streaming an old season of “Cutthroat Kitchen” or tuning into more recent episodes of “The Great Food Truck Race,” I love culinary rivalries. There’s something about the spectacle of contestants battling it out over a cutting board and a mixing bowl that I enjoy.
The funny thing is, my favorite moments aren’t when the competition is at its most intense. They also aren’t when the elimination round arrives. They’re not even when an underdog overcomes an impossible obstacle.
Instead, they’re when one contestant temporarily puts aside their aspirations of winning to help out a competitor in need. It’s in these moments that kindness and community beat out competition.
When competition turns everyone else into a threat
We live in a culture where competition extends far beyond network kitchens. It’s practiced in the academic classroom and the office boardroom, on the sports field and the stage, and even in our living rooms as we play fun but sometimes heated games of Scrabble or Settlers.
The fact is there’s nothing innately wrong with competition. Competition is often good. It pushes us to work harder, study further, and practice longer. Competition encourages us to bring our personal best and feel satisfied when we do.
But sometimes competition gets the best of us. This happens when our focus shifts from personal excellence to jealousy-driven comparison. It’s when we move from, “I want to work hard and be the best at ________” to “The only way I can win is if you lose.”
It’s in this mindset of “I win when you lose” that we start to view others as constant competition. Rather than valuing and encouraging those who share our same passions, talents and interests, we feel threatened by them. And when we see others as a threat, we struggle to know when and how to choose kindness and community over competition.
So, how can you and I keep competition from getting the best of us? Here are a few practical ways.
1. Actively appreciate the gifts of others
During my community college days, I spent several Easter seasons in the cast of a local Passion play. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, small church theatre production. There were professional singers and dancers, flying angels, and even a live tiger. And, in case you’re curious, my first-year role was ensemble. I sold spices in a Jerusalem market.
Now, if you love theatre as I do, you know there’s nothing quite like the stage to highlight the gifting of others. Whether it’s a vocalist who perfectly belts every note, or a dancer with flawless technique, we have no issue recognizing and appreciating their talent. After all, that’s one of the reasons we attend the theatre: to actively applaud the gifts of others.
But’s if “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” as Shakespeare wrote, why is it so hard for us to do the same with people in real life?
It’s this issue of comparison. We often allow our recognition of others’ strengths, talents and abilities to make us feel “less than.” When our friend receives higher praise on a paper than we do, we focus on how their success makes us feel like a failure. Or if our coworker is trusted with a project we wanted, envy keeps us from applause. We allow ourselves to focus on our perceived deficiencies when measured against someone else’s achievements.
So how can you and I stop making other people’s gifts about us and instead genuinely start to celebrate them?
This battle between envy and appreciation starts in our hearts —so that’s where we need to start too. Scripture reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, we can’t trust our emotions — not without first weighing them against what God tells us in His Word. Which means you can actually teach your heart to applaud others.
The next time you sense envy instead of appreciation rising up, remind yourself that God is writing a unique story for each of us. Your opportunities and successes aren’t meant to be identical to someone else’s. God has specific purposes and plans for you. When you remember this, you can celebrate what He is doing in someone else’s life, thanking Him for the way He’s uniquely gifted or blessed them.
2. Freely give praise
It’s often my words that clue me into the condition of my heart. When I find myself critical of someone else, I’m learning to step back and evaluate if my critique reveals jealousy.
I hate to admit it, but I recently saw envy rear its ugly head during the height of vacation season. Because finances are tight, there’s no travel line item in my family’s budget. So as I scrolled through my Instagram feed full of vacation pictures, I struggled to be excited about others’ adventures. Instead, jealously influenced the way I talked about their photos or status updates.
The thing is, cultivating appreciation for others may start in our hearts, but it continues with our mouths. And let’s face it: Sometimes our hearts don’t fully embrace the practice of celebrating others until we use our words to applaud them.
Freely praising helps us actively fight against our tendency to compete because of comparison. As you and I teach our hearts to intentionally applaud those around us, we also need to train our words to do the same. Speaking praise is an effective way to kill the selfish desire to build ourselves up by putting those we feel envious of down.
But here’s the thing: Most people can tell when we’re faking it. They know when our words are empty and forced. So we can’t just throw out generic praise. Instead, we need to be genuine with our appreciation.
How can we do that if praising others is a struggle rather than a joy? We look at what we envy.
- Do you wish you could sing as well as her? If so, share with her what you admire about her voice.
- Are you jealous that your apartment or house isn’t decorated as nicely as your friend’s is? Next time you visit, compliment them on their style and décor choices.
- Would you love to finish a 5K as quickly as he does? Affirm him and ask for tips on how you can improve.
Actress Tracee Ellis Ross once said, “I cheer for people. I was raised to believe there’s enough sunshine for everyone.” When we freely give praise, we’re teaching our hearts and our mouths to believe and practice this.
3. Make room for others
Comparison-fueled competition can cause us to hoard opportunities. After all, if we share them with someone else, maybe they’ll be better than we are. Even worse, maybe they’ll be so much better than us that we’ll be forgotten.
I love what Lisa-Jo Baker writes about this in her Bible study, “We Saved You a Seat.” She says:
Comparison is exhausting and self-destructive. The cycle is vicious and viciously effective. And it relies on a lie — the myth of scarcity. Because in Satan’s kingdom, where we each want to be our own gods, there is no room for sharing, there is never enough to go around, and everything must be grabbed and hoarded to make sure we survive. [But] God’s kingdom is about abundance, about multiplying, about giving with shocking generosity and still having leftovers.
In my early years of writing, I realized how competitive the craft was. Yet I didn’t want to constantly view other writers as competition. So I made a conscious decision to not only appreciate and praise the other writers I knew, but to also make room for them. I looked for ways I could strive to be intentional about sharing opportunities.
You may not be a writer but, like me, you have an area of life where you are tempted to hoard opportunities out of fear. If so, take a moment to step back and consider ways you can make room for someone else. Ask yourself how you can encourage another’s gifts and talents — and then take practical steps to do so.
When kindness and community win in real life
Competition may be a part of our day-to-day lives. And, when practiced in a healthy way, I love how it challenges and helps you and me to better ourselves. After all, as they say, a little healthy competition never hurt anyone, right?
But like on those cooking competition shows, what I love more is those real-life moments when we know when and how to choose kindness and community. There’s just something to relish about appreciating, praising, and making room for others.
Copyright 2019 Ashleigh Slater. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Ashleigh Slater is the author of the books “Braving Sorrow Together: The Transformative Power of Faith and Community When Life is Hard” and “Team Us: The Unifying Power of Grace, Commitment, and Cooperation in Marriage.” With over twenty years of writing experience and a master’s degree in communication, she loves to combine the power of a good story with practical application to encourage and inspire readers. Learn more at AshleighSlater.com or follow Ashleigh on Facebook. Ashleigh lives in Atlanta with her husband, Ted, and four daughters.