If you are born competitive, will you always want to win?
I was prompted to ask myself this question after reading a fellow (Irish) bloggers post one day.It was the blog Raising Elves, and in a post she asked, ‘Does winning or losing effect who you are?”Does winning well in childhood make you a more ambitious adult? Does losing in childhood make you give up or not bother?’
These questions really caught my attention. Reading them prompted me to wonder if in fact the opposite might be true. Does a childhood of losing make you determined to succeed as you got older? Or does a childhood of winning mean you no longer feel the need to? This final question is the one I can relate to the most, for I have changed immeasurably as I have got older,from the very competitive individual I used to be.
When I say I was a very competitive child, I mean very competitive.I would compete over anything and everything. First down the stairs. Fastest eater. First home from school. First finished homework. All very important competitions, to myself. When at the age of nine I took up swimming I had at last an outlet for this competitiveness.
I competed within the pool against myself and those around me. Every second was a competition. In training I’d race someone in the next lane, in and out of the turn, off the dive, fastest to finish. It was exhausting, but the drive to win was not something I could turn off. No one else in my family competed in sport, nor did my Mom or Dad push me in any way. It was what I loved to do.
One of my most memorable competitions was when I was fifteen. I was swimming in the National Championships. At the time Juniors were allowed compete at senior level also. I was small for my age, and underweight, but inside I saw myself as tall and as strong as anyone else. We were lined up for a final. I was not in the fastest three lanes. Waiting for the race I was nervous. I swam it a number of times in my head, and when I reached the third 25m in my imagination, I talked myself through the oxygen debt, the pain, and the doubts I might experience. Each time I swam it I saw myself approach the last 5m. I dug deep, kicked like crazy, held my breath and always won.
As I walked over to my lane I can remember thinking ‘yikes this is it’. I looked across at my fellow finalists and for a moment I was intimidated. Putting on my goggles, as the whistle blew, I stepped forward to the blocks. As I stood on the back of the blocks I looked down the pool and as I did so I felt a wave of adrenaline pass over me. I inhaled deeply and in that moment I had no doubt whatsoever that I would beat the other finalists. I felt calm, determined, and ready. I would beat them. My focus was aggressive. Not that I would win, but that I would ‘beat them’. I dived in and for almost 75m of the 100m I felt nothing. No pain, no oxygen debt, no panic. Nothing. I was in ‘The zone’. Coming out of the last turn I took a quick look across the pool, I was about a half a body length ahead. I was now definitely out of the zone, and the pain was beginning to seep in. With only metres to go I put my head down, just as I had in my fantasy race, swam many times before competing, and I managed to just hold on. I had thankfully ‘beaten them’.
That race took place a long time ago, and perfectly illustrates the person I was then. However it is a world away from the person I am now. I am still somewhat competitive in that I enjoy competition, and will try my best, but winning is now ‘nice’, not essential. I still do not like to be beaten, but I do not overly mind not winning.
I wonder sometimes is it that I have mellowed as I grew older? Has the need to win lessened, or am I just lazy now, not prepared to push myself or to hurt as much as I used to? Has my competitive nature died?
I play golf now, and recently someone commented that they thought I should be a much lower handicap than I am. They had managed the team I played on in mixed doubles. He said watching me he thought I was highly competitive and focused. As I listened to him I realised that he was right. In a team event I am that old person. I want to win for my team mate. I want to beat the others. I care. However individually I know I have lost the killer instinct, and you know what? I miss it.
I am not sure why I have lost it, or when. I know that last year as young Daniel was sick, and after he died, that I hadn’t the stomach to compete. Who cares who won or lost? It was only a game. Now I am back competing, and I can feel myself enjoying competition once more. However when it comes to that extra push, that moment when I must dig deep because I want to ‘beat them’ and win, I back off. I make a mistake and winning is over. And do I care, I mean really care? No. In my head I am disappointed, but deep down I just don’t care. It was only a game.
Writing this I realise that I miss caring. I miss the joy of ‘beating them’. I miss winning. I miss that determined lady I used to be. Maybe that lady has gone for good, but I hope I’m wrong. I really hope that some day I’ll find her again, and if I do I’ll let you know, and I wonder if I’ll still like her.