I was eating breakfast with my brother-in-law this morning and at one point in the conversation, he asked me, “Are you competitive?”
This got me to thinking about how competitive I’ve been at different times in my life, and in what circumstances. And it turns out that this is an important thing to contemplate after one’s long career.
Think about it: first, you compete for grades in high school and college. Then you compete for job advancement and likely also job assignments. Eventually, competition for a spouse — an effort ongoing in nature a gazillion times a day. Maybe along the way you played competitive sports. Perhaps you play(ed) an instrument competitively, whether as your work or not. It might be that you’re even competitive in conversations, trying to make the best or last point. That’s decades of competing, and an ingrained competitive mindset. And some of it goes along with Jung’s view of the phases of life, proving one’s competence and one’s usefulness to society.
After your long career, you may find yourself without a life full of the need to prove yourself, without a lot of situations that call for you to be competitive. What will you do with the competitive part of you?
It’s entirely possible that along the way, you may have morphed from a competitive drive to a more collaborative outlook, more of a desire to share and mentor than to compete and beat. Or perhaps you’re still deeply imbued with a desire to outdo others or yourself.
When you complete your long career, the thing to keep in mind is that the playing field of the past few decades has changed. If you’re still strongly competitive in many ways, you’ll need to find new places to apply that competitiveness. This can either be with others — sports, hobbies, performances, new part-time or full-time work, etc. — or against yourself — achieving new personal bests at an number of things. If you don’t find new places to apply your competitive spirit, you are at risk of finding yourself competing in unhealthy ways with the people around you, perhaps the people you love.
If over the years you’ve become more collaborative, more of a member and team player, you may find that completing your long career leaves you bereft of people with whom to be that way. You may well want to seek new milieux where there are others to work with, lest you feel lonely and become depressed. This could be anything from team sports to new work, to volunteerism, to coaching and mentoring of people of a range of ages.
I answered my brother-in-law’s breakfast question by saying that I am very competitive, but not so much on an ongoing basis. In me, it comes out suddenly in odd places. I remember a time a few (more than a few?) years back when my wife and I were playing charades (for the first time in decades) with several other couples at a get-together. Man! Did I ever get competitive, snarling at friends and seeking to best the other couples. It was awkward and embarrassing. Most of the time, fortunately, that doesn’t happen.
Another awful time, I was following a person going slower than I like on the way to our swim/tennis club. I pulled around their car like a madman, got to the club, and parked only to have the slow car park right next to me, and a Minister we know get out and ask me “What was that about?” I looked at her like a deer in headlights…
Not sure why that part of me jumps out at times, but I do know that the competitive part of you needs to be addressed mindfully after your long career comes to a close and life’s venue changes for you. You may want to consider putting suitable Tapas in place, if you’re assembling a Tapas Life, as to be appropriate places to exercise your competitiveness.