Be my friend, lover or family member but please don’t be my competitor.  I will run from you if I feel you are in any way interested in one-upping me.  This is the ultimate turn off for me.  I will not relax in your presence.  I understand that competition is invigorating and natural for many but for me it is a challenge that invites critical and judgmental thinking.  It squeezes out being and focuses on doing. Intellectually it emphasizes facts and downplays questions and wonder.

Competition pushes me outside of my introverted comfort zone.

Competition Within a Relationship

Ironically, I married one of the most competitive people in the world. It was incredible at first because he could compete in intellectual arenas where I stood tongue-tied, desperately trying to formulate perfect answers. He liked going into battle and I liked encouraging and advising him from the sidelines. Then somewhere along the line the tables turned.  It felt like he was competing with me on everything from cooking to parenting (even if his intentions were only to join me in the activity). I wanted him to be with me (non-competitively) or let me be. Feeling constantly challenged I put up my guard. I closed off.

I never would have linked physical affection with competition but I’ve noticed as I have rejoined the world of relationships that I am surprisingly open to touch.  I never realized I was missing it.  I believe the reason for the openness is that I am relaxed and don’t feel I am competing with my companion. There is an availability and vulnerability that did not exist in my marriage.  I am not giving in, just giving.  There is an equilibrium. Acceptance. We are equally in charge of our experience.  For me, there’s a hunger and a gentleness but no fear of losing myself to another’s will.  No one is better.  We just are.

Competing with Family Members

As a young person, I deliberately stayed out of spaces my sister dominated.  I did not want to compete.  I wanted to be different, not better or worse. She pursued traditional athletics.  I focused on pom-pom and cheerleading.  She was Daddy’s girl.  I was Mom’s.  Looking back, I see how this subconscious maneuvering shaped much of my future.  I made decisions based on avoiding confrontation with aggressive people and I chose an aggressive teammate ( my husband) to shield me from the rest of the competitive world.

Sibling rivalry – the ultimate competition.  I see my kids scramble among themselves to gain my attention.  Look at me!  Look at me!  It’s draining choosing who to listen to.  Who to praise.  Who to ask to remain silent while the other speaks.  I believe they feel like they lose something vital if I grant attention to something or someone other than each of them.  It’s like a thousand small defeats every day. I’d much prefer to work all together or work one on one. The only way I have found to handle the rivalry (and yes, I know it is common and can even help children grow into stronger people) is to celebrate each of their strengths (granted it took me a while to figure those out) and to emphasize that each of them is different not better.

Strive for Excellence Not Dominance

Why is it difficult to rest in being?  To be content with your abilities without having to smash someone else?

I am all for challenging myself. I will enter writing contests or 5K races but they are for my own improvement and enjoyment. Sure, I’d like to win but I have no agenda for defeating anonymous competitors.

I have no desire to beat anyone, only to learn and accomplish.

Competition Introvert Style

According to Nancy Ancowitz, author of Self-Promotion for Introverts, introverts are often perfectionists. They strive for excellence not dominance. We tend to go deep into a problem, subject or activity.  We enjoy spending time (alone) perfecting a strategy, an ability or a product. Feedback is essential but intellectual jousting is not. The activity itself is the reward, not winning.

Similarly, in Ancowitz’s Psychology Today article, How to Compete with Your Frenemies, she says introverts are just as competitive as extroverts except we go about it differently.  We spend more time perfecting our craft or competing collaboratively – working toward win-win results. In her book, Collaborative Competition, former Goldman Sachs leader, Kathryn Mayer, contends that competition is an opportunity – a chance to learn, evolve and excel. I would argue that most introverts prefer to see competition in that light.

Are you competitive? If not, why? If so, how do you compete? Intellectually? Collaboratively? Against yourself? Like a warrior? 

Related Articles:

Introverts: Manage Your Perfectionism and Reduce Your Agita! (Self-Promotion for Introverts)

Introverted Not Incompetent:Validating Softer Life Skills (space2live)

Working Through Conflict with Passion and Compassion (space2live)

Self-Actualization and the Suburban Mother (space2live)

There’s Nothing Wrong With You.  You’re an Introvert. (space2live)