Let Me Compete, Let Me Win, and Please, Please Let Me Lose


We don’t actively notice how big of a role competition plays in our culture. We go about our days like normal, ideally trying to do and be our best, not noticing the amount of times we get taken advantage of or take advantage of a situation or someone. I have the belief that we’re all trying to win one thing or another. It simply makes sense, doesn’t it? That we want the best for ourselves and those around us and if we’re put to test, we’ll do our damndest to ensure that it’s happening, even if it means that someone gets the short end of the stick.

Except, there’s an increasingly large part of the population who wants to loudly declare that we’re all winners.

I wouldn’t be aware of this had I not spent this summer working with children entertainment. What seemed like a good opportunity to relax a little and make some money during the free months I had is turning into an incredibly tiring but intensely rewarding experience, where I’m learning things I didn’t think I would, exposing myself to ways of thought I didn’t think would be there and as is always important, meeting people and discussing things I never imagined would be relevant.

One of those discussions started a few weeks ago when I was organizing a small “olympics for children” with my coworker. After getting through the games that we would play and how we would split the work, we get to the prizes.

I opened the cabinet and showed her what sweets we have. She accurately points out that we wouldn’t have enough for every child competing.

“So?” I ask.

I’ll spare you from reading the rest of the conversation. Suffice to say that I was against giving out “participation medals” and she wanted to make sure every child felt like they had won something.

Now, this might simply be a matter of differing backgrounds, she is undergoing vocational training in children education while I’ve been inserted in business and economics circles since before finishing high school.

And I believe business and economics to be a better indicator of behavior than anything else, at least in the stage of civilization we’re in.

Don’t get me wrong, each parent should raise their kids as they see fit and in this story, I didn’t let the discussion go on for very long before giving in, it’s the society we’re in and this society gives out participation trophies.

However, I believe that to be dumb and counter-productive.

When I’m leading a team, I’m not looking for entitled people who believe they “deserve” something simply because they exist. When I’m leading a team, I’m looking for people who will work their asses off to be the best and beat the competition.

That sounds incredibly aggressive, but it’s a fact that we live in a competitive world and that the easier it gets for people to start working, the more people we have in the marketplace, and the more people we have in the marketplace, the more competitive it’s gonna be. I don’t see companies handing out participation trophies, I see them handing out promotions to those who are capable, to those who go beyond what is expected of them, to those who are willing to put in the hours and improve, to the winners.

And here’s the thing, if we don’t allow those kids—and ourselves—to lose, they’ll grow up thinking they’re all winners and being as they are is good enough. That’s damaging in several ways, not the least of which to their self esteem. I think back to Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, where he exposes that the most surefire way to find happiness is by doing something we’re really really good at.

Are we robbing those kids of the joy that is growth and self improvement?
Are we robbing them of their happiness?