This past two weeks the world has been watching a lot of competition with the Olympic games, seeing athletes from all over the world aiming to do their best to win Gold, Silver and Bronze.
For me personally, my own version of the Olympics is the World Championships of Public Speaking, run by Toastmasters International. Over 30,000 people each year compete through 6 rounds of competition for the chance to become the World Champion of Public Speaking.
I have now competed twice and have been fortunate to make the Semi Final both times. The joy of public speaking mixed with the thrill of competition, for me, is one of life’s most invigorating experiences. One of my big life goals is to someday earn the grand title of World Champion.
Competition is a very interesting thing, and I feel like it has two sides: it can challenge you, grow you and make you into someone you didn’t realize you could be. On the other hand, it can make you bitter, it can cause obsession and it can damage your happiness in life.
Throughout my time as a competitor, I have experienced both.
Initially I started as a competitor for fun and for the challenge of something new. I did pretty well as a result, and soon felt like I was meant to be at the top of the field.
But that was when the dark side started to set in. Instead of enjoying the experience, I obsessed about the result. I started to distance myself from people who were competing against me, and trying to find ways to edge out a win.
Needless to say, this made me ‘lose’. Not just the actual contest, but my joy for the contest itself.
Just yesterday, I had a revelation about all of this as I watched two of my friends earn Second and Third place in the World Championships of Public Speaking. Both of them were simply happy for the chance to compete, and to share an important message with the audiences they spoke with. And that, along with an incredible amount of hard work and preparation, I believe, is the reason they reached such lofty heights.
Watching them win yesterday made me see there is a distinct difference between needing and wanting something.
We as humans all have needs. We need shelter, safety, food, love, community, a chance to challenge ourselves, and to contribute to the lives of others.
But beyond these needs, there are only wants. Anything above and beyond is a desire borne out of an ego-driven desire.
The dark side of competition comes when we confuse our wants with our needs. Instead of wanting to compete and attempt something exciting, we start to need to win. The need to win starts to overshadow the simple joy of the experience.
This is exactly what happened to me last year in my second attempt at the World Championships. I lost sight of the true purpose of competition which is to grow, to challenge and to become a better person. Instead I thought I needed to win.
The feeling of wanting versus needing is very subtle. But when you start to think/feel that you need something that you actually only want, then it starts to warp your reality.
That’s when you go to the dark side.
For me personally, this whole experience has taught me that I need to take a step back and see that I already have everything I need in my life. I have food, shelter, clothing, love, community, a chance to do interesting work, and to contribute to others.
I am not saying that I will stop setting goals, or looking for ways to challenge myself. However, whatever goals I may set, whatever I may achieve from here forward, it is simply a bonus, as I already have all that I need.