I’ve always been super competitive. I want to come out on top, I want to win, I want to be the absolute best.
My favorite class in college was on systems administration. It was my favorite because we had anonymized public grades, and I almost always maintained the highest grade on every test and most assignments. I was the best in that class, and I knew it. It was great. One of my other favorite classes had to have been the business capstone. It, too, had anonymized public grades, and I often was in the top tier.
It was also in the capstone class that I learned the modern business wisdom that businesses should focus on the things they can be the very best at. I believe that’s a Jim Collins quote.
I’ve always bought it. I’ve always focused on the things I could be the best at.
I could be the best student. So I was.
I could be the best systems administrator. So I was.
I could be the best student ministry leader. So I was.
And then I threw away the things that I couldn’t be the best at:
I couldn’t ever be the best photographer. So I stopped taking pictures.
I couldn’t ever be the best bicyclist. So I stopped biking.
I couldn’t ever be the best developer. So I stopped coding.
I couldn’t ever be the best guitarist. So I stopped practicing.
And then, in the last few years, more was thrust upon me. It’s easy to think you can be the best when your pool is small.
But then I ran into students better than I ever could be.
And then I got a job working with better system administrators than I.
And then I got involved in a student ministry with leaders that run with greater passion, ferocity and excellence than I ever could.
I’m running in circles with people that are not only better than I am, these people are better than I could ever hope to be.
It’s one thing to look out in the distance and imagine that there have to be people out there better than you, it’s quite another to know them personally, and interact with them week in and week out.
I strongly believe that my competitive streak has made me a richer person — it’s made me grow, expand and learn new things at a faster pace than I ever would have without it. My motivations may not be pure, but the results can be pretty great.
But it’s also made me a far poorer person as well — there are a lot of things I love that I just don’t do because I know I could never hold a candle to anyone else. Competition robs the joy out of things, even the things I do well, but especially the things I don’t do well.
And I have to think, when did my heart get polluted? When did it become all about being the best? When did it all come down to the praise, the glory, the honor of doing it the best? When was I polluted?
Let me tell you an example of a polluted heart: I was watching a few student leaders do their thing. And I got kinda angry and bitter internally, because they were doing it at a higher lever and with greater excellence than I could.
And instead of celebrating what God was doing through them, instead of celebrating the growth I’ve seen from them, instead of praising God for the leaders He’s building … I began to plot how I could do it and do it better.
Sick, I know, right!?
Yet, it gets worse. At a certain point, I inevitably get sick of it, decide I don’t want to compete at all, this is stupid, what am I even doing, and if I can’t be the best, why even bother at all!?
Somehow I ended up smack in the middle of the Five Stages of Grief. I guess I skipped mentioning the first one, which was that I thought what they are doing is stupid. (denial) Then I got mad. Then I started to bargain. Now I’m moving into depression.
I’m now grieving. Because. Someone. Else. Had. Success.
Not that I had failure.
Just that they did better than me.
(I’m a terrible person! I don’t even know why you’re reading this.)
This happens to me. All. The. Time.
And you know what? It sucks. I want to take photos and not care if they’re the best. I want to bike, and not care if I’m the fastest. I want to play guitar. I want to live my life. I want to do the things I do and do them well, but I don’t want to always compare myself with others. (and it’s so hard to not end that sentence: when I come up short)
I’ve been polluted. Polluted with an idea that will destroy me if left unchecked.
I don’t even know where I got it, exactly. Colossions 3:23 is one of my favorite verses, it says to work at whatever you do with all your heart, as if you’re working for Jesus and not for men.
Somehow, somewhere along the way I decided I really wanted to impress him and be the best. Instead, he wanted my best without worrying about if it’s the best.
Turns out Jesus is pretty smart.