Updated: Sep 22
I’m going to get a little “rant-y” in this article, so be forewarned. 😉 But I hope to provide some inspiration as well.
The topic of competitiveness comes up pretty often on women's group rides. It can be subtle, yet on other occasions, not. Sometimes it comes up in conversation, other times it shows up in someone's behavior or what they say about someone else. One thing I know for sure from observation: a lot of women don't want to be labeled as competitive. My guess is that the reason for this is complex- and deeper than it seems at first- and likely extends into the framework of our society as a whole, and I can't help but want to write about it.
A quick internet search turns up this definition for “competitive”:
<- If you're competitive, you want to be the best. No one likes to lose, but if you are a competitive person, it will be especially disappointing to see someone else win. ->
Wow! No wonder we don’t want to be labeled as “competitive”!
Then, this side note accompanied that definition:
<- People who are competitive like to compete — to find out who knows the most, runs the fastest, can eat the most hot dogs, and so on. Some people are competitive about everything. You'll know them by their constant comparing themselves to others and trying to find out what others have and do — in order to be sure they are still "ahead." Competitive can describe any contest, like a competitive sandcastle-building event. ->
Hmm, disappointing. By this definition, a person like this would be unsatisfied until he/she competed with and then "beat" everyone in the whole world at everything. What a disappointing approach to life. So, then what?
Well for one, in my opinion, this is just another example of a sociological tendency, to define and limit by definition. People like categories and labels, to understand (and thereby exhibit a mild form of control of) the world around them, BUT ironically, simultaneously don’t want to be labeled.
Labeling creates a sense of a lack of freedom.
Let’s break down the first statement above a little further.
“No one likes to lose, but if you are a competitive person, it will be especially disappointing to see someone else win.”
Really? This statement does such a disservice to the fun to be had, and feelings of personal fulfillment that you can attain, in sport!
According to this statement, a person cannot find joy or fulfillment in a competitive event by simply participating and creating the best result for themselves that they are capable. You might even derive from this statement that a person cannot show up with a healthy competitive attitude, bang out an amazing result for where they are at in their fitness, without feeling like a loser if they don’t win.
Really? I call bullshit.
And even if we’re not talking about sport, for instance, if we’re talking about not getting a job offer that you really wanted… what then? Are you a loser to not get the job out of 100 applicants? Are there not other jobs out there you can apply for? Does every single job or athletic event define a person? Sounds like this person is going to spend a great deal of their life feeling disappointed.
Why set yourself up for a life like that?
I am simply arguing that a person can be competitive, win OR not win, and still be functioning from a healthy place. Some might argue that it takes an especially competitive attitude (as described above) to win, but I want to argue that it takes an iron will, determination, and a willingness to learn from mistakes, coupled with a little bit of luck.
Again, as always, it comes back down to your mindset.
First and foremost, we have to remember the context of our society when we get into topics like this. We are very fortunate to live in a society full of opportunity.
Not only is there “enough” to go around, but our basic human needs of survival (food/water/oxygen/sleep/shelter) followed by those of personal safety are met without question and considered “basic human rights”. In fact, other people can be prosecuted for threatening our basic human needs at this level.
Because our society thrives at such a high level, we have the opportunity to not only attain these needs, but in turn, focus on higher level needs such as love/belonging, connection, freedom, personal strength, and finally capping our pyramid with attainment of each individual’s personal highest level of fulfillment, or “self-actualization”.
The fact that we can even have a discussion around whether or not someone is competing for the right reasons is a product of our society thriving. I bring this up only because it’s important to keep this perspective when facing the world, our lives, and our circumstances.
In my opinion, it's not the competitiveness that's the problem, but the mentality with which one approaches competing.
Enter abundance mindset.
Abundance is defined as: “plentifulness of the good things of life; prosperity”. And in some ways, everything is “good enough". And why wouldn't it be?
Wanted to win, but you didn’t? Good enough! Showed up and fell a bit short of your goal time? You still learned a lot! Event day ended up being a shit show? It happens! And the best part? You don’t have to let that deter you from continuing to do what you love or trying again when you're ready. Our failures do not define us, our determination does, and our shortcomings are merely opportunities for learning and growth.
A famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man/woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man/woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends him/herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he/she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his/her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
In conclusion, keep your head straight about it, shoot for your own personal goals, including the win if you feel compelled, but know that really, it’s all beautiful in the end. All of it, the goals, the drive, the determination, the will, the process. It’s all a part of the human experience in which we are so very fortunate to be able to participate.
And don't let some silly definition prevent you from rocking your life to the fullest.
Talitha Vogt is a certified endurance and wellness coach with an elite racing background. She has 22 years of experience as a mountain biker, including 12 total years of racing and other events. Leveraging her wellness coaching experience, she provides custom-tailored training plans and accommodating coaching for women locally in the front range of Colorado and online for anywhere else in the world.