Yesterday I said something to a classmate that made me pause for a moment. I heard myself say that "I am not competitive, except against myself." I got the weird, "you're crazy" look from her. In fact, she might have said it out loud, but I got the meaning either way. But the truth is that I have always been in competition with just myself. Or, perhaps, against the curve as a whole. See, I don't care what Dick & Jane are doing, or how they are doing. I only care that I'm as close to perfect as I can get. I expect myself to be better than average, but I'm not comparing myself directly to them. I don't feel like I've got to beat them.
Not surprisingly, I have gotten myself into hot water for saying things that I hadn't thought out... Case in Point: In my freshman year of college, I put in no effort to write a paper for my English 201 class. The night before it was due I just drafted it from my head to my Smith-Corona word processor, spit out a copy and turned it in the next morning. At the next class, the professor handed back our papers, face down. I peeked at my grade and laughed out loud. The professor (he requested he be addressed as that, as if it somehow elevated his rank at the community college - he was a pure hippy) asked me why I was laughing. I said, frankly, "I put absolutely no effort into this paper!" He asked what my grade was, and I answered "An A!" It was more of a scoff, actually. I immediately felt daggers being stared through me. It was that day that I learned that Professor Hippy graded on a curve of 1 A, 2 B's, 3 C's and the rest D's and F's. I'd written something with no effort that was better than 90 percent of my class, who probably wrote out drafts in pencil and then proof-read and agonized and used a dictionary to correct spelling. Yes, I'm old. This was 1996 - there wasn't all the nice built in tools we take for granted as I'm typing this now.
But the point is that my expectations were so much higher for myself. I knew I'd be able to do better if I'd bothered to put in the work. But I also realized, hey, I'm better than the rest of these guys without even trying. I hadn't realized it before. I didn't care about it. I was in competition against myself. I want to be perfect. And I hate the term perfectionist, because it sounds like I think I'm better than everyone else. Or that I think I'm perfect. If someone asks/accuses me of being one, I will deny it. But I have OCD. I need to be exemplary. I don't care what anyone else gets, as long as I get the A. We took our final exams in the nail program this week and I couldn't care less what anyone else got, I only cared that I got a 92. It also makes me not want to be a part of team activities unless I know I'm going to be really good at it. I don't want to be a detriment to a group of people whose success is hinging on my being good at something. I remember playing softball in elementary school and being so relieved when I wasn't going to be the 3rd Out of the inning. Like I would literally yell, "YES, I'm not the 3rd Out!" before I picked up the bat and walked to the plate. Because I knew I sucked, and would end up striking out. (If I was lucky, which was quite often actually, I got Walked to First.)
Quite frankly, I find competitiveness among people annoying. Instead of trying to beat people, I'd rather they try to help each other get better. I think it's the heart of bullying, which there is a movement against, even as professional sports and music and movies and just about everything is in competition to be better than everyone else. Even if the difference is just the Olympic millisecond difference between 2 athletes, which, let's be honest, they're all phenomenal. By constantly measuring yourself against other people, you're saying to someone (might even be yourself) You are worse. That they are less. And nobody likes that feeling.
I'm more like a gymnast or figure skater than a swimmer or runner. I don't care who gets there first, as long as all my judges are holding up 10's.