Imagine, you’ve been working hard the last few months to get a promotion. On a regular basis you cancel on social commitments because of work. In the weekends you often skip your gym session as you want to finish a few more things. Your partner is frustrated yet tries to be supportive of your ambition. Finally, it happens. All your hard work has paid off and you get your promotion. However, the high of your achievement fades quickly as you already start to wonder how you can achieve the next promotion. I would consider the person in this scenario to be highly competitive. Someone who perseveres until they reach their desired goals. They do whatever it takes to fulfill their goal and once they have reached that goal they will strive to be better than that. The goal post keeps moving.
When somebody would have asked me in the past if I were competitive, I would have answered ‘no’. Until the day somebody held out a mirror to me and made me aware that I see myself differently to how others perceive me. About two years ago I realized I was constantly worrying about work. I was constantly seeking perfection in all my projects. The workload kept growing as I kept driving myself to perform at an “exceeds expectations” level. Even in my acrobatic classes I could no longer find enjoyment as I moved into a group with more experienced gymnasts around me. In the weekends I would have this heavy weight on my shoulders which kept me from enjoying the small moments with my partner. At night I would wake up thinking of emails I had to send out the next day. When that person held out a mirror for me, I became aware of my competitive nature. I learnt that I made a challenge out of work, hobbies and everything else I did. It can of course have its advantages. It helped me become the person I am today professionally. It kept me from giving up easily and strengthened my determination to get what I wanted. However, what I soon discovered was that I put the bar too high. As soon as I reached one level, I would want to achieve the next one. What was happening was that I was beating myself up for not achieving my high standards, while not appreciating all the things I had done or who I was. I had to learn to find a balance between doing things for fun and things I wanted to achieve.
That moment of self awareness brought a new perspective to my life and I could look back at previous life experiences and see how my competitive nature could be felt in everything I did. For example, during the performance review at work I wanted the acknowledgement from my boss and peers that I had done a brilliant job, but brushed it off when I got it. Instead of soaking in the positive words, I honed in on the improvements that needed to be made. I would give myself a tough time instead of reflecting on my success and learning how I could replicate that success in the future. In my personal life I would not be able to let someone else win a discussion. I would be that person who had a discussion in the morning over breakfast and later in the day would pull up the google answer to showcase that I was right and they were wrong. Luckily my friends and partner have taken me as I am, but I can see how being overly competitive can harm relationships with the people who matter to you most.
I learnt how competitiveness operates within me by becoming more self aware. A technique that helps with my competitiveness is celebrating my strengths. To start off, I made a list of my positive achievements and skills. Next came reflecting on those elements and letting them sink in. Being aware of all the things I have done and acknowledging the hard work I put in to get there. Another technique I used was to determine where my competitiveness served me and where not. I would make a list of my week’s activities and divide which ones were for pleasure and which ones were for work. Any activity labeled pleasure, I had to stop myself seeing it as a competition. E.g. in acrobatics I would stop comparing myself to the other participants. I would focus on how far I had come and be happy I was able to do this. I stopped seeing the others as my rivals and learnt that they were on their own journey. Next time I have a performance review I will not brush off the positive feedback. I will take it in and learn from it in the moment. My competitive nature does not control me. I consciously chose towards which goals my competitiveness can help me. I am not perfect and that’s okay. Learning to be okay with losing and being free from the need to compete all the time, is giving me the opportunity to enjoy my life more.
Author: Sabrina Vande Cotte, Google Ireland
"My travel lust has led me to live in several countries working in Business Development. Four years ago I joined Google Ireland, where I am a People Development Program Manager. My passion is to empower people and help them to realise their potential. This motivated me to become a certified professional coach. I love facilitating learning programs and enjoy helping people improve their public speaking skills. I am an avid reader and love to go hiking in the hills on Sundays."