Exercises in Self-Value: Escaping the Prison of Competition

woman on mountain top with her arms up

How do you view competition? Many see it as a necessary, even fundamental part of life – competition drives athletes to improve their performance, after all, and a successful candidate for a highly sought-after job must necessarily win against all other candidates, making them the losers. Therefore we teach children to compete, to strive to be the best in order to give them the chance to live a fulfilling, satisfying life.

What if this is innately harmful? You see, in establishing someone as your competition, you’re buying into a scheme that can only be either won or lost. You must beat that other person to win, which makes them your enemy in real terms. The more competitiveness we embrace, the greater the number of our enemies, until the most successful winners know no other type of person. Everyone around them, including those claiming to be inspired by them, would love to overtake them and become the winner, therefore making them the loser. Enemies everywhere! A life of false friendship and ingrained mistrust of almost all you know. That is where the model of success built on competition leads.

An insidious, ubiquitous poison.

My brother used to be my enemy. He is super smart, a fantastic doctor, an established thinker and voice in the medical field, a coach, and a published author, among many other things. He is also a wonderful dad and husband. As a youngster it was clear he was generally considered cleverer than me, and that cut deep. I was profoundly frustrated upon discovering I would never catch up on him in age. He would always be two years older than me, and while we were still growing that made him stronger and better at the games and sports we played. When we made up games round the house, I let him do all the make-believe and simply watched, considering myself to be insufficient for the task.

Children are innocent, and it is not their fault when they perceive the thoughts and beliefs of others (in this case, that my brother was the superior version) and take them on board. Children do not have the critical faculties to assess such thoughts and choose what they believe, and so this inbred, competitive need to beat my older brother at something carried on into adulthood, underlying a number of avoidable and painful fallouts at an age where both of us should have known better.

Breaking free.

Have you ever seen a truth as clear as day, and suddenly you are changed? That is what has happened to me, and as a result to my relationship with my brother. The truths I have understood are these:

-I am not in competition with any other human being.

-My value does not lie in what I am good at.

-My value does lie in being made in the image of God.

-I can choose to make the rest of the human race my comrades or my enemies. The choice is mine.

-Real growth comes from desiring and choosing to grow.

This last point is perhaps the most important. As stated in the opening paragraph, competition is often seen as a driver of growth and success, but in fact, all it does is put you at odds with those you’re competing against. Growth starts and ends with a simple commitment and desire to better oneself – not out of self-rejection, but because self-improvement is fundamentally healthy, and a natural desire. So I ask myself questions:

-Which areas do I most want to grow in?

-How is my recent progress?

-What can I do differently to continue to grow and develop?

That’s it. I can be inspired by those also operating in the same field without wishing to crush or defeat them. I can make the whole world my inspiration, my circle of friends, my comrades, and we can all inspire each other. This is not the model of ‘everyone gets a prize for competing’ that so many object to, fearing it will lead to stagnation and lack of achievement. I am presenting an entirely different model – one where we’re all growing, thriving, learning, inspired by each other, and encouraging one another on.

Having embraced this truth, I felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. I don’t have to beat my brother at anything. He is not more valuable than I, nor I than him. We can be comrades, not competitors (enemies who must beat each other to win). The difference in my heart of hearts is night and day. Bitterness and resentment have drained away, and instead I have a really rather wonderful friend.

There are other areas of perception in my life that are immediately and vastly improved after understanding these truths. For example, I know writers who have been more successful at getting their novels published. I used to feel jealous when I saw reports of them doing well, enjoying a celebratory publishing day lunch with my literary agent; now I see their journey as entirely separate from my own. My life is plenty exciting enough, and who knows what is to come?!

All three of my brothers have their own children; I have a stepson but no offspring carrying my genes. I won’t say this is a completely pain-free zone yet, but my feelings have massively healed in this area since embracing this new way of thinking. As a discipline, I remind myself that my life, my marriage, my family, is just as valid and blessed by God as anyone else’s, and that no two experiences can ever really be compared. Besides, I love my stepson with all my heart, and he loves me back. I choose to reject comparison, close down unanswerable what-ifs, and embrace acceptance.

What about you? What competitions are driving you crazy? Who do you feel you’ve got to beat? Who would you love to see fall flat on their face? What is the personal cost of all that negative emotion?

I invite you to step out of the competition model and accept that God loves you as you are, that your worth/value is defined by being created in his image (simply through existing as human being), and that you can learn and grow without all the poisonous pressure and hatred that competitiveness breeds.

I know there are some who will not be in a position to hear this message. They will discount it in a heartbeat as fluff. But my heart tells me there are also those truly ready to embrace this and break free. If that’s you, it’s time to soar. Happy, blessed journeys!

12/5/2022 10:41:12 PM
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  • Duncan Pile
    About Duncan Pile
    Duncan Pile is a writer, author and speaker, living in Derbyshire, England with his wife and stepson. His mystical approach to faith straddles the Evangelical/Progressive divide, and flowing from lived experience, he is passionate about the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Christian faith.