I have a bit of a confession to make, which in all actuality is probably one that many people could make. I am motivated by competition. I always have been. When I was little I loved playing soccer because I enjoyed winning. In school I worked as hard as I could to get good grades because I wanted to be top of my class. And when I started photography, I wanted to take the best pictures because, well, it is in my nature. My friends and family have always called me competitive, and I always saw that as a good thing. I thought being competitive meant that you were motivated and a hard worker. While this is often true, I was overlooking the biggest mistake I could have made: I was motivated for all of the wrong reasons.
Don’t get me wrong, I mean none of this maliciously. My desire to win is ingrained in me, but I never wanted to win at someone else’s expense. I don’t like the fact that someone has to lose. But nonetheless, my desire to win kept me going and was a motivational factor my whole life. Towards the end of 2012 I started to rethink this part of myself. Instead of seeing it as a good thing, I quickly and suddenly recognized it as a personality flaw, and a big one at that. Suddenly the thought of competition felt dirty to me. It felt wrong. The heart of what I want to put into the world is that we don’t need competition, and that there is room for everyone in all facets of life. Yet there I was, motivated by the very thing that pollutes and discourages.
The next thing that I did after realizing how ignorantly competitive I had become was to try and pinpoint each time I felt a pang of competitiveness. Every time I felt the need to be better or do more I questioned where that feeling came from. Was I trying to do my personal best, or was I trying to be better than someone else? If the answer was the latter, I tried to change my attitude. Instead of seeing an entity as competition, I reminded myself that just about every single person on the planet is unique and worthy in their own right. There is no me vs. them, there is only a collective togetherness that can only be kept up if people recognize it. I started noticing. I started caring more. I started investing in other people’s lives in a way that I had not before. I loved. I struggled. I became very sensitive to how I motivated myself. I stopped doing all of the things that made me feel competitive. I started doing things that washed it away. I sent nice emails. I recognized other people’s achievements. I stopped saying “I” so much and started thinking in “we”. I started taking away jealous thoughts, and especially jealous actions. To put it simply…I tried to change.
The worst thing we as a community can do is to see one another as competition. I’m not talking so much about business, but about the human connection. There will always be competition in our lives: from the portrait studio down the road to the girl in school who dresses better than anyone. And there is no reason why anyone needs to stop playing the game…unless the game is why you are playing in the first place. If someone else achieves something, that does not make your achievements any less special. It means that there is more room for celebration. Learning how to celebrate other people and their accomplishments is one of the most important lessons I have been teaching myself. My success does not depend on anyone else, and it is not qualified by anyone else. I make my own successes, and I celebrate them the same as I do all other people. Sometimes we are so caught up in the “whose who” that we forget that everyone is someone, and all people should be celebrated. My achievements make me no better than anyone else, so why do we let them define who is better and who is worse?
I was recently at a certain gathering of photographers for a few days, and in the time that I was there I was inspired. I was not inspired by their pictures, their skills, or their accomplishments; I was inspired by their openness, their willingness to love, and their community spirit that I believe is unrivaled. It was an experience for me that sealed the deal on how I view the world from now on. No longer do I feel jealousy or competition brewing inside me. I simply feel calm.
This is a blog post that I have tried to write many times over the last year. I made a New Year’s Resolution at the start of 2012 to be less competitive, but I did not feel that I made any leeway until the very end of the year. So many times when I tried writing this post it felt contrived and insincere, so I did not go through with it. Now, though, sitting here writing to you, I feel so much ease and motivation to say these words. I believe there is nothing more important than to love and accept one another. It is healing, not only for myself but for many others as well. Let yourself be motivated by the competition within. Define goals for yourself and meet them. Ask yourself how you want to live your life, and then live it. Don’t allow others to dictate your mood or your success. Be your own person. Love.