I’ve mentioned it a previous post, but I’ve had a handful of people over my life who were convinced that I’m competitive. I’m really not.
Yes, I’m a hard worker. Keep myself busy. And I am very driven.
But I tend to not to find competing fun. I don’t really get joy out of besting other people — and I dislike when other people are sore losers or winners (both seem to happen just enough to be annoying). In general, competition just seems very zero sum sometimes. I’m just not a huge fan of it.
And yet, people always think I’m very competitive. Today, it finally dawned on me why (I think). I had part of it — the drive, the work ethic. But I was missing a very important second piece: I’m very hard on myself.
As I mentioned in another recent post, I feel very strange and rebellious whenever I spend my time doing something that I’m not good at. Recently, this has been pottery. I’m awful at it, but I love it. It’s very relaxing for me. My pieces are janky. They take me too long. And I certainly can’t sell them. But I keep doing it.
I found myself amused at this reaction. I certainly don’t have this expectation of other people, that they’re only allowed to spend time doing things that they’re either good at and/or are somehow productive. So why did I feel that way? Where did I get that idea from?
The obvious culprit is capitalism, I suppose. But if I’m really digging deep, this comes from my parents (who were working very hard after their own childhood poverty to achieve upward mobility). I showed promise in a few fields as a young child, and I was pushed very hard to succeed in those areas. And yes, I was entered into competitions by them, many of which I won.
Here’s the kicker: I always felt like love from my parents was contingent on these contests, my grades, and my general social reputation. If I was doing well in these areas, they loved me. If I wasn’t, they didn’t. I wasn’t deserving or worthy of their love.
For me, it was never really about besting the other people. It was about earning my parents’ love. Unfortunately, they didn’t like to talk about emotions (and I’m a words of affirmation person), so I didn’t get a lot of praise. And they were always moving the goalposts, I think in an effort to keep me moving and growing, but from my viewpoint, it always felt like it was impossible to please them. That no matter what I did, it wouldn’t be possible to make them proud of me or, in other ways, to be good enough to love.
Anyway, I think I learned somewhere along the way that love is something you earn by being useful to other people — doing things for them, making them look good, pleasing them somehow. So I’ve always worked quite hard at whatever I was focused on at the moment and find it difficult to relax in any offtime (and yes, rebellious if I do something frivolous simply because I like it).
It’s like an infinite treadmill that goes to nowhere. Because I never quite feel like I’ll earn that love.
Anyway, the good news here is that becoming aware of this script is the first step in addressing it. I’m sure the road is long from here. But I’m at least conscious of it.
And yes, I suspect this is why people think I’m competitive, even if the only person I’m really trying to best is myself.