Life is not a competition. Or is it?

About once a day I find myself telling my boys, “Life is not a competition.” This is usually in response to a) a fight; b) someone bragging; or c) the constant one-upmanship that occurs in our household – my day was worse, my math score better, my defensive play more aggressive. I find the constant, competitive banter exhausting.

My spouse disagrees. To him, getting up in the morning is a competition that I either lose by getting up first, or lose by getting up last. (Yeah, I see the problem in that statement.) And while he doesn’t openly encourage the competition, he makes no move to squelch it either.

If I’m honest with myself, I can’t put the responsibility for the competitive nature of my kids solely on him. I’m also competitive. I think of the early years of our marriage as a battle for supremacy. (Who won? Depends on who you ask.) It’s not realistic to assume our kids will be that different from us. And my husband’s competitive nature works to his advantage in his sales career and that, in turn, makes my self-employment possible.

I’m conflicted about the whole thing. In some respects, I think it’s stressful to grow up feeling like you have to be faster, smarter, better…but on the other hand, if you don’t have a competitive sense, how do you achieve excellence? The very root of excellence is that you must excel – that is, be better than everyone else – to succeed. And I also think because of the self-esteem movement, we’ve raised a whole generation of individuals for whom excellence is highly subjective – and man, are they ever hard to manage.

So what do you think? What role does competition play in our lives and workplaces?  How have you or your kids benefitted or suffered from competition? There has to be a line somewhere. I just don’t know where it is.