And the winner is…

IMG_0307My children are competitive – really competitive. They come by it honestly. My husband and I have long since reconciled ourselves to the fact that we cannot play board games together. The opportunity for rapidly escalating, unseemly conflict is just too great.

My children feel no need to deescalate the tension. To them, everything is about winning, even if what they are trying to win isn’t worth the effort.

About once a day, I hear myself saying to my charming brood, “(Fill in the blank) is not a competition.” Which is just dead wrong. It’s all a competition. Where you sit in the car. Who gets the last piece of cornbread. Who gets to shower first. They even compete to see whose grades are the highest, although I gotta say, sometimes the bar is pretty low.

An urge to compete can be good. It can propel you to success others only dream of. It can spur you to excellence. Or it can just be darned annoying.

The other day, when I remarked, in response to a conflict, that “You people could make a competition out of tying your shoelaces,” my daughter replied, “And I would win that one for sure.”

And the other night, at the dinner table, my oldest son remarked, “I know this is not a competition to see who can eat the fastest, but if it were, I’d totally be winning it.”

To which my youngest child responded, pointing to his sister’s plate, “She didn’t finish hers, so there is no way I’m not going to ‘place’ tonight.”

That’s right, folks. At our dinner table it’s win, place, or show for the glory. For you slack others, it’s just the last of the dishes.

My kids seem unable to comprehend a world that is not about winning. When I took the photo to accompany this blog post, my oldest son, asked, “What is this for?”

“For a blog post on competition,” I said.

His next question? “What do you get if you win?”

Uh, I’m sorry son, that’s “on competition” not “in competition”. Unclear on the concept, I guess.

#4: Life is not a competition

desertIt’s time for yet another installment of Search Terms of the Sad and Desperate, where I offer advice to visitors whose search terms hit my blog. Today’s topic: “Life is not a competition.

Au contraire. Everything is a competition.

I think most of us accept that humans have always competed at the most basic level for sustaining items like food, shelter, or mates. But when you become a parent, you realize that as a species, we are meant to compete for everything, and that sibling rivalry is a manifestation of survival of the fittest.

My children compete for all-important things like:

  • The chicken breast with the fewest grill marks.
  • The front passenger seat. (I have seen them nearly come to blows over this one.)
  • The best seat for viewing the TV.
  • Junk food, should there be any in the house. (They will even unabashedly steal this from each other and then deny it in the face of overwhelming evidence.)
  • Who had the best grades/at bat/season.
  • Who had the worst day/teacher/bout of strep.

And the list goes on. Feel free to add to it.

As a parent, my role seems to be to vindicate whichever party gets to me first and/or award privileges based on completely arbitrary criteria. The loser just has to take their lumps.

I figure it’s good preparation for their later life in the workplace.

Read the series:

Anxiety dreams involving my kids 

How do I talk to my surly teen? 

I have only one child but laundry and housework never end

 

A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.

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.

Learning to win and lose (a disclosure: I hate to lose)

After watching my young sons lose yet another lacrosse game, I worried that they were not going to be too enthusiastic about the upcoming summer season. But I was wrong. Thanks to a good coach and healthy attitudes, they were able to celebrate the fact that they’ve improved greatly as a team, even if the win-loss record doesn’t reflect it.

Maybe I was projecting because I hate to lose. I can’t even let my kids win in Scrabble. I’ll happily beat them by 200 points and sleep soundly after I do. Not a nurturing attitude, is it?

It’s sometimes hard to shake the feeling that winning isn’t everything, but people who must win at all costs sometimes do dumb things – cheat, bend ethical guidelines, hurt others. I can honestly say I’ve never stooped that low, but I have been known to stay away from certain pursuits (think golf) solely because I’m not any good at them. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed by it. I just don’t find it any fun.

But there’s no doubt losing can teach you a few things:

  • It can show you areas and skills you need to improve
  • It can steer you away from things you’re not good at, and toward things you are good at
  • It can remind you that you’re human – and that others are, too

The lesson I try to convey to my kids about winning is to celebrate, but be gracious about it. Don’t be arrogant, don’t talk trash, and don’t take success for granted. The difference between winning and losing is often one goal, and you can easily wind up on the other side of the equation.

Of course, winning feels better. I’m not denying that. But if you’re going to have a rich human experience,  prepare to lose. But maybe only once in a while. And not at Scrabble.

What have winning and losing taught you? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature  your business.