Who wouldn't want to win a crystal on The Crystal Maze?!
“You’re SO competitive." Of all the words used to describe me in my lifetime, “competitive” has to be in the top five most common. Perhaps top three.
I see “competitive”, I think ambitious, driven, committed, a thirst for knowledge, desire to keep improving, never satisfied with the status quo.
Citius, Altius, Fortius. The very essence of competition is weaved into the wording of the Olympic motto, translating to “Faster, Higher, Stronger”.
An athlete doesn’t achieve a Personal Best and then retire. Where would the fun be in that? No, they push themselves even further, training harder, committing more and more hours – doing whatever they can to eke out those extra milliseconds that may make all the difference on the world stage at some point in the distant future. After all, it’s not beating one’s own time or record that is the ultimate goal, it’s beating everybody else’s too.
By their very nature, the majority of video games are born to satisfy that same innate desire to be the best, whether by vanquishing fictitious enemies on the journey or defeating real-life opponents by posting the fastest lap times, scoring the most goals or dodging enough bullets to stay alive for a few moments longer.
And yet outside of sports and gaming, a competitive nature is often viewed as a negative trait, even so far as being used as an insult.
Quizzes are a prime example. Openly admitting you compete to win in a quiz is tantamount to you being “too serious” or “no fun”. Instead, by default, quiz players should maintain the dignified position that “it’s the taking part that counts” at all times, and to not curse every dropped point or forgotten answer, because “it’s only a game”.
Except it’s not only a game – it’s an opportunity to learn, to deduce, to be challenged, to collaborate and be a team player. Sometimes it’s a platform for debate, other times an exercise in memory retention. There will be questions that evoke memories from childhood or snippets from University textbooks. Geography rounds will teach you about the world. History rounds will teach you about the people in it. There may be a current affairs section, ensuring you keep abreast of news events. Or a picture round of sporting heroes, famous monarchs or musical masters. Whatever form a quiz takes, it presents a chance to work closely with your teammates to decide upon a course of action to achieve the best possible result.
In my 10+ years in marketing and communications, that pretty much sums up every single role I have held to date. There have been varying degrees of collaboration from team to team, but the end goal is always the same – to achieve the best possible result.
It’s not surprising that you’ll often refer to colleagues as “team” members, or a part of your team, or their team, or so-and-so’s team. You’re all on the same side, trying to outwit or out-do your “competitors” in the market using this or that tactic.
“Competitive” is not a black or white description, but a sliding scale which determines how focused you are on achieving results that are better than others, but not necessarily at the expense of others.
Take The Crystal Maze, for example. As the team leader, you have the option to "rescue" a trapped teammate in exchange for a hard-earned crystal. Each crystal is worth valuable seconds in the Dome during the finale, offering a greater chance of winning the grand prize. There are four remaining teammates who can do the remaining tasks. The trapped teammate is not indispensable.
A "competitive" person may choose to keep the crystal safe and leave the teammate trapped, knowing that the extra few seconds in the Dome could make all the difference. Alternatively, the boosted team morale and extra pair of hands during the finale may be what clinches it.
I, for one, would choose the latter. You win together or you lose together, there is no in-between. Being "competitive" shouldn't mean you lack morality, or care or respect for your opponents. In the working world, as in life, there are multiple losers for every winner. For every hired candidate, there may be 10+ rejects. By all means, personal successes should be celebrated but never at the expense of those further down - or off - the podium. You never know when you might be looking up at them in the future.
For me – as a remote freelancer - participating in weekly team quizzes helps no end. It provides a chance to collaborate face-to-face that I’d otherwise miss completely, buried away behind my laptop for much of the week. I also experience what it feels like to win, to achieve the best possible result and to be proud of my input. I learn from my mistakes, and grow in knowledge and confidence with every passing week.
If that’s the end result of being “competitive” then I’ll take it. I’m a better worker for it! And the prize money comes in handy too…