Humans are competitive.
We compete all the time. In sports, in games, at work, in significant others, in our ideas, beliefs, passions, in our companies and organizations, in our governments, for our countries, our economies, in our achievements, and in many more simple ways throughout our everyday lives.
Is it really beneficial? If so, when?
The question I’m really getting at here is to think about when competition may be beneficial and when it may be harmful for you as an individual. I’ll quickly describe a seemingly timeless economic concept that gives a broader perspective, and may help clarify how it relates to your everyday life. Ultimately, it may help you to answer this question for yourself (as I am attempting to as well).
Coming at it with an economics background, I immediately think of the name Adam Smith and his concept of the invisible hand. For those of you who aren’t familiar, over 200 years ago the economist, Adam Smith, explained a concept that is still applicable in our everyday lives today, not only for our national and global economies. Your time is valuable, and it’s a matter of understanding two important factors, so I’ll keep it as simple and as brief as I can. Feel free to Google and learn more about Adam Smith’s concept if you’d like.
Self-interest is the motivator. It drives what we do and why we do it. Whether that action we take is creating a new product, volunteering to help others, beating out our peers for the next role at work, competing for a spot on a sports team, and even something as simple as grocery shopping. It is in our self-interest to create, make money, feel better, help others, eat food, and achieve. When it comes to an economy with a free market, competition is seen as the regulator. Competition allows for others to enter the market and ensure that one player’s greedy self-interests aren’t coming at the expense of others. Together these two factors form the invisible hand, which guides resources to their most valued use for everyone in an economy. So, we can all pursue our self-interests while competing to make sure everyone has a fair shot at getting what they want. Cool, great, you may see how this makes sense for an economy as a whole…but how does this relate to our everyday lives?
Without getting into more detail on how government regulation and monopolies can come into play, it’s more important to also consider competition and self-interest in our day to day.
When we compete with others we must first compare. And, to compare, it means that we are spending valuable time trying to find commonalities and/or differences between us and other individuals. We are spending valuable time focusing on another individual or other individuals other than ourselves. As I mentioned in my previous piece, Breathe, we are all unique so this might not be a beneficial usage of time. We all have unique perspectives, backgrounds, and self-interests.
So, why then should we compete and compare with someone who is absolutely completely different from ourselves? Or, if that person is so similar in their why for what they do, why can’t we work together to create something even more useful/beneficial/effective/impactful? Is this a good use of our time? It may be important to decide on a case by case basis. And, it could be useful to entertain the thought and answer that question.
If you find yourself unintentionally competing with someone else because of what they have or what they are doing, compared to yourself, stop, and think. Ask yourself, is it a good use of your time? Why are you competing? Are you both competing, or is it really just you? Is it helping you to accomplish where you want to be? Use your time, resources, and creative thinking wisely. You have too much unique talent to waste.
Don’t be afraid to collaborate with others. It’s possible that the more we all try to go off on our own path too much, the more we will need to help others in the future, and the more we will need others to help us, since we aren’t doing it as much now. We can’t all go it alone.
Compete for the betterment of others, and consider letting that drive your self-interest. Collaborate at any chance you get for your self-interests and others. Find those sitting at the table around you (as I mentioned in Breathe). Or, chart your road alone. That is ok too. Just be aware of the costs and benefits to every action, to every self-interest. We all have self-interests. We can work together to achieve them together. There is room to share, otherwise we wouldn’t be in situations where we can volunteer to help others. Help others around you now, while you keep learning, experiencing, and helping yourself.
All I’m asking myself here is when to compete, and when to collaborate. I think it’s possible that the more we collaborate, the less we will feel the need to compete, which might put us all in a better situation in the long run.
Just a thought. It might be in all of our self-interests to consider it before we compete.