Every weekend, during the winter at least, my gang of five drives up to our family country home in the Blue Mountains. It’s about a two-hour drive, which gives us ample time to engage in a wide variety of conversations. Some topics are mundane while others are too crazy to write about. The most interesting conversations happen between my husband, David, and our son, Matthew. The topic in the car for some of the drive Friday night: is everything in life a competition?
While David and Matthew did not dive too deep into this topic (they do get easily side-tracked and somehow often move over to discussions about war), it did get me thinking that competition really is a central piece of every part of our lives.
Think about how life begins. Millions of microscopic sperm swim around, moving as fast they can, competing to find and fertilize an egg. The one sperm that wins the competition and fertilizes the egg creates a new life. The millions of other sperm just disintegrate into nothing. In some ways, we begin life by winning our biggest competition – to create that life.
Once a baby is born, while he or she may not know it, the competition continues. If the baby has siblings, there is a competition for attention from the parents. The competitive nature of a human baby is quite limited, but what about animals in nature? Early on in life so many animals have to compete with the others to simply survive – to eat and sleep in a safe place.
As babies grow into children they learn the art of formal competition – how to win in an individual or team sport or beat an opponent at a game of cards or a board game. A driven student competes against his or her friends to achieve the highest grade on a test. There may be fierce competition to be accepted into the right high school and eventually the university of choice.
The older we get, the more competitions we must face. It may begin with a friendly wager between two friends about who can get the higher grade or be the first to snag a date to the prom, but as we grow up it gets more serious.
Who receives a scholarship or is accepted to one of the few spots available in an elite graduate school program? Does the girl pick you or the better-looking guy in the corner? Who will be the first person in your group of friends to get married?
When we enter the job market, either as a teenager looking for a part-time job or fresh out of high school, college or university seeking a full-time position, the real competition begins. We want to show off our best skills and be noticed. We need to convince a person or group of people to think, yes, she is the best choice. I want to hire her. The pool of applicants for one job can be enormous, and sometimes hundreds of people can be in competition for one position.
Once we have secured that great job, the competition does not end. We must compete to be noticed and work hard every day to move up in the world. And just when we think we have it all, it can come crumbling down. We may be forced to begin the competition again to find the next job. I know that I must never let my guard down and the next competition may be around the corner.
I believe that few things in life are just handed to us. It’s not just about hard work – it’s about the ability to compete and to try to be successful. How often do you hear about someone who “battled cancer” or “fought off an injury?” We compete with each other and sometimes even life itself.
And just because we don’t win every competition does not mean we are not successful. I understand that at the very beginning only one sperm can be successful to win the competition. But a baby will always get tons of attention from close family. 90% may not be the highest grade on the test but it’s still a good mark. We may not get an acceptance letter from our first choice for university but hard will work will bring us many other offers for an opportunity at an institution of higher education. It may take a while to find the perfect job, but with some patience and persistence we will get on the right career path. Competition is a part of life. And that’s okay.