I leave this evening for the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, a gathering I’ve been hearing about for years but never been able to attend. I’m eager to soak it all in, hear some inspiring speakers, deepen friendships, and network. If I’m feeling extroverted enough, my little box of Sabbath in the Suburbs postcards will be empty when I come home.
I’ve been to tons of writing things over the years: workshops, conferences and such. They provide a huge boost of energy and mojo. And if there is a lot of posturing and jockeying for attention, they can also bring out demons of competitiveness. I can’t account for why these group dynamics occur in some gatherings and not in others. Probably a chemistry thing—one or two people can really shift things into an unhealthy place. With any luck and grace, I am not one of those people.
However, there’s no denying that I am a person of ambition. I thrive on competition, particularly in academic pursuits. When this is channeled inwardly—when the competition is with myself—it’s a great source of motivation. When it’s not, well, let’s just say that Robert and I still do not speak of The Canasta Incident.
This has been a topic of discussion and reflection for me recently. You know how themes and ideas will keep coming to you when you’re working something out? That has happened to me. I appreciated this article by my friend Becky, who wrote about healthy ways to be driven to develop one’s skills.
And a friend shared this article about two best friends who are highly competitive in the area of Olympic-level kayaking. The relationship spurs them on to be better and better. I find this thrilling and hopeful:
Both Ashley and Caroline are training hard – the former near her home in Maryland, and the latter down in North Carolina. Caroline says it’ll be tough to face each other at the upcoming Olympic trials, since “we both want to be number one.”
But if nothing else, she says, it’ll strengthen their friendship… and their skills.
“It’s a very positive thing,” she says. “We push each other.”
Ashley agrees: “Ideally this year we’re pushing each other to get to that next level, to be able to compete with this international crew. Ideally, we’re training each other for the Games.”
I have been blessed to have mentors and spiritual directors who have said to me, “Stop trying not to be competitive or ambitious. Instead, keep pondering how to use that gift in a life-giving way.” Unhealthy competition means comparing oneself to others, making one’s self-worth about achievement, and being selfish and unsupportive. Healthy competition believes in abundance: one person’s achievement does not diminish another person’s; there is room for many offerings of gifts. It also means striving for personal excellence in one’s life, art, or whatever.
After all, competition is scriptural! Paul writes that we are to outdo one another…
in showing honor.
So be it.