Competitiveness and success

Image source - used with permission

Image source – used with permission

I’m a competitive person.

I like to compete. I like to succeed. I like to WIN.

But this doesn’t mean I like seeing others lose.

I like meeting other competitive people: the strivers; the doers; the achievers; the triers.

But I’m learning that there are two types of competitive people.

There are those who compete because they want to become the best. They want to get better at what they do. They see other people who are competitive – who achieve and/or succeed and/or simply try – and feel inspired.

Then there are those who compete because they want to be seen to be the best. They want others to think they are better than them at what they do. They see other people who are competitive – who achieve and/or succeed and/or simply try – and feel threatened.

And there is no limit to the areas of life in which they will compete.

Career. Money. Family. Even happiness – or perceived happiness, portrayed happiness – becomes a competitive sport. Some people resent contentment in others when they can’t find it for themselves.

This post isn’t an emo post. A version of it has been sitting in my drafts folder for an embarrassingly long time now. It’s not a reflection on any person in my life, nor is it a statement about my own life.

It’s a (possibly naïve) observational brain dump. And despite the seemingly negative tone, it’s a positive one. Probably a clichéd one. Because … here goes …

We can all be the first type of competitive.

Imagine if everyone in the world tried to be the best versions of themselves all the time. (Cliché!) Imagine if everyone saw other people’s successes as inspirational instead of intimidating or disheartening.

Imagine if people saw a life they would like to live, and set about trying to live a life like that. Imagine if people saw a life they wouldn’t like to live, and simply chose not to live a life like that, without casting aspersions or judgement.

Imagine if people didn’t let other people define success for them. (Cliché!)

Imagine. Just imagine. (Cliché. Just cliché.)

Some people say ‘fake it until you make it’. I think that statement has a lot to answer for.

Instead of that, I choose to say this: Be you. Know yourself. Define your own success. Redefine your own success as you go. Celebrate success in others.

Shun comparison.

Be competitive if that’s who you are. Compete with the yourself of yesterday. Compete with your past achievements. Compete with your ‘tribe’, and encourage each other.

And find happiness. Find contentment. Whatever that looks like for you.

All easier said than done. Of course. Isn’t that true of everything that’s worth doing?

I know I’m still on the path. There are plenty of ‘failures’ on the path behind me (although I prefer to call them lessons), and a few ‘successes’. And even success is fleeting, until you set your next definition of success.

But. No matter what that success looks like, it has nothing to do with what success looks like for others.

It has nothing to do with stopping others from achieving a similar success.

And it has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with what others think success should look like for you.

It has everything to do with what you think of yourself.


What does success look like for you, at this stage of your life?


  1. says

    This is so wonderful – “Be you. Know yourself. Define your own success. Redefine your own success as you go. Celebrate success in others.”

    I am in no way a competitive person – and frankly, I wish I had more of that mongrel in me – but ^^^ this is exactly what I try and live by too. I have to remind myself to define my own version of success, and to celebrate the success of others because there is room for ALL of us to succeed in our chosen ways. I try and make a point of cheering people on because you do tend to see that very Australian tall-poppy thing going on. It’s like we subconsciously decide at some point that some people have had “enough” success, and our support for them kind of tapers out. Stuff that.

    But yeah – I do kind of wish I had more ambition for myself, and a greater sense of competitiveness. The two seem to go hand in hand and I don’t really have a lot of either. It’s an intrinsic thing though, so it’s not something I can genuinely manufacture for myself.

    • says

      Thank you! I think you can strive for success without necessarily being competitive. A Facebook reader asked me about ambition over competitiveness, and it’s got me thinking some more. I’m not done with this!

      • says

        An interesting conversation you have going on here Em. As mentioned on Facey, I consider myself ambitious (run my own race) but competitive to me means I am influenced by others to get ahead or win first place. Which I find a bit “keep up with the Joneses” or “FOMO”.

  2. says

    I’m competitive too from a “being the best that I can be” point of view.
    I love hanging out with other success driven people. I love helping people achieve success.
    But you’re right – there are two types of competitive people. Yes. Now that I’ve read your post I am starting to separate the competitive people I know into the two groups. The second group isn’t overly attractive.

    Some of the best success books suggest that the most successful people in the world are those who collaborate with rather than compete against. Celebrate success rather than compete for it,

    You nailed it!

    • says

      People who drag you down so they can ‘win’ by default are just not nice to be around. Not worth it. I think I’ve found a way to switch off, but it still takes a while to realise that’s what they’re doing sometimes.
      Collaboration versus competition. LOVE IT!

  3. says

    I’m competitive but it manifests in a weird way. I also think we can all do well together – so when I enter writing or photography competitions, I let other people I know who write/photogragh the details to enter, because if I don’t win, I want someone I know to win. (and then it’s still a win for me, if you get my drift). But then there was that time I cracked the sads that everyone I knew had a book deal except me, which was ludicrous as I hadn’t written a book to be rejected…it’s a strange beast. But I like the ‘tide raises all boats philosophy’ so I’ll continue doing what I’m doing, and helping others along the way where I can…

    • says

      YES. Love it! I do that too, especially with publishers open for picture book submissions. I let everyone know, because whether or not we get published has nothing to do with what everyone else is submitting.
      On another note, I like how you asked if I got your drift before sharing the tide/boats analogy. Boom tish!

  4. says

    *Applause* This is great, Em. I have had the second type of competitiveness ruin friendships for me because I just have no time for it. We should celebrate each other’s successes and if it also inspires us to do something, that’s wonderful. But it shouldn’t be about doing something for the sake of jealousy. That’s not competitiveness- that’s mean spirited at best.

  5. says

    I’m competitive also – the first competitive you described – however I often withdraw from what I’m doing if others around me are the second form of competitive that you’ve described. I’ve had friends in the past and one right now that competes with me for no good reason because she wants to be seen as the best mum. She wants to be the most fun, she wants her kids to be the most outgoing etc. There’s nothing I do that she doesn’t one up me on. It’s not a bloody competition. Argh. Getting sidetracked here. At any rate, this is a great post and not negative at all. Definitely food for though.

      • says

        That’s interesting. I’m sorry that you feel you have to withdraw, but you have to do what you’re comfortable with. I withdrew in the past; in fact, in one instance, I beat a certain someone in my life to the negative comments about me so I wouldn’t have to hear them from someone else. Self-deprecation eats through you over time, though. (Now I’m the one getting sidetracked!) Thanks for sharing your tale. I hope it doesn’t make you feel like you’re holding back.

        • says

          I think it feels so predominant in creative circles. It’s very hard to find the balance between people who just want to be around other creatives, and others who want to succeed at the creativity by stepping on others. It’s why I like blogging so much, and why I’m put off by other creative things that I want to do as a hobby.
          I see a bit of the music industry via my husband and frankly, the way people act is a bit crap. I told him he needs to disrupt the attitude of the music industry and make it a bit more like blogging – while there are ups and downs to blogging, the community is generally really good.

  6. says

    Great post Em! I’m not competitive at all with other people, only with myself and often to my own detriment. I am always happy for the success of others. I see it as inspiration to help motivate me to keep trying. If they can do it – surely I can too … kinda thing. I do fall into the comparison trap a lot though – god dammit!! 😉

    • says

      I have no doubt everyone does. Even when I think I’m not comparing myself with others, it’s going on in my head and I’m making a conscious decision to (try to) ignore it.

  7. says

    Love your point of view Em. I read somewhere “The only person you should try to be better than is yesterday’s version of yourself”. I’m not as competitive as I used to be. I mostly beat myself up, rather than competing with other people! :-)

    • says

      Oh, I’m a definite beat-myself-upperer! Metaphorically, of course. I remember writing a post about it. My worst critic, perhaps? Will have to dig it out.

  8. says

    Dude, did you write this about me? 😉
    Seriously though, I totally agree. I’m super competitive but that doesn’t mean I want other people to fail.
    What does frustrate me though are people who lie about their accomplishments to make them seem successful. Just be honest about things!

    • says

      DON’T DO THAT TO ME?! Until I saw that little winky-face, I was mortified!
      Yep, I don’t get overstating your own accomplishments. I’m sure there’s plenty to be proud of.

  9. says

    Very thought provoking! I used to always define success by what others thought of me, or what they were doing. But as I hit 35 this year, success is about being the best I can be, and living life the way that I want to. Competing with me, or a lesser version of me, or what you might call it. Kind of reminds me when I gave the half ironman a go. I trained my guts out, knowing I was slow. I finished the 2km swim, 90km bike ride and the 21.2km run, in about the last 50 people (of about 3000). BUT when I finished, you would have thought that I had won, I felt amazing. That is what success is to me, beating your doubts, and yourself. :)

    • says

      You finished. You did a half ironman? FAR OUT! Yep, if I did a half ironman I’d be living off it for a VERY long time. Good on you for doing it! I’m sure you don’t measure success by what I think of you, but I’m impressed nonetheless!

  10. says

    Definitely agree with this. I’m competitive, but don’t want to see people fail at something I wish to achieve. It spurs me on to do better so I too can have the same or similar success. I think it comes down to start wanting what we want and not what others want and to stop worrying about what others are doing. I have a few goals this year that I want to chase, but I won’t get there if I’m sidetracked by others being successful with similar goals.

  11. says

    Love it Em and so glad you decided to post it! I know way too many competitive people and the ‘competition’ makes me feel bad about myself sometimes but that is the design! They are yelling ‘Look at me! Look at my success!’ but in reality much of it is for show. These days I try to celebrate small successes of my own and try and ignore what others are doing (while appreciating and celebrating the genuine successes of friends of course, just ignoring the show ponies!).

    • says

      Thanks Haidee. There’s sharing your success because you’re excited – and BRING THAT ON, PEOPLE! – and then there’s curating an image that is all about success regardless of the life and struggles behind it. That’s where I get frustrated.

  12. says

    I really like this! I have had a few of the second kind of people in my life and it really does take the shine out of success. I love celebrating other peoples successes and seeing the joy on their face because they’ve achieved something they worked towards. For me at the moment success is getting through the day relatively intact.

    • says

      I’m glad you’re getting through the days! And I’m sure that felt like a joke, but that’s a great example of success. Success for me this week has been eating well. Success for me next week will (hopefully) look a lot different. And a lot more ambitious. But that’s where I’m at this week.

  13. says

    I’m the first type of competitive. I’ve always had an intrinsic desire to succeed or be the best I can be. I think the people who put on a show and act perfect at everything have a lot to answer for. If anything they just make me feel inadequate for not being great at everything. I think social media does drive competitiveness like that though because everybody shows their highlight reel and not their failures. Success for me is getting through the day not losing my sanity thanks to the terrible two’s, I don’t have time to be the perfect pinterest worthy mum. {visiting from #teamIBOT too but I was going to read your post anyway}

    • says

      It must be exhausting putting on that show all the time. Effort better spent trying to make it rather than pretend to? Social media is definitely a highlight reel. But as long as we all know that, I think it’s okay and can’t cop the blame. Of course I’ll never put pics of my tantrumming kids online. Doesn’t mean they don’t throw tantrums.

  14. says

    I have only recently discovered that I do have a competitive streak, but it only surfaces when playing sport or competing at bootcamp. Then I really like to win! Otherwise my philosophy has always been to celebrate the successes of others, while running my own race. :)

  15. Mel Roworth says

    I never did get the whole “fake it til you make it” thing. Particularly when success rides on being genuine.
    How can you be genuine while faking it? Sounds like too much hard work for me!
    When there will always be people “better” or “worse” than you at any one thing, your success can never be measured against someone else’s.
    I love your thoughts on this Em xx

    • says

      I don’t understand how there can be enjoyment in faking it. Surely you’re just nervous the whole time, waiting to be caught out? Thanks for your words. x

  16. says

    I had to comment. See, some kind of competitive streak! Anyway, my thoughts about this notion of competitiveness from me, and about me! See, all about ME ME ME. As a first born I believe I was FINE until a sibling in the form of a brother appeared. Suddenly not the centre of attention. How will I get that approval now? In my case, as I am told by my parents I got it by being ‘the good one’. He apparently was the ‘bad one’ (infant sleeping pattern wise I believe) At primary school I did well in a regional city but was in ‘competition’ with 2 friends to be top of the class at exam time. In high school I was much, much more interested in…social life! I did get my act together enough to get to Teachers College where I loved what I was learning and did well with comparative ease. In teaching I loved the classroom but someone told me after about 8 years of my work, that “other people” were going for promotion. Well. That did it, if they could so would I. It was a healthy and professional level of competition in education and I am glad I had the pushes along that I did. I have never been a competitive parent nor grandparent (no such thing for me or those I mixed with) but I do think a little competition with myself keeps me motivated to get going in my life’s projects now where I have no external stimuli except my inner voice. I hope this makes some sense. Denyse x

    • says

      Really interesting! Thanks for this. You win the longest comment competition, ha!
      I had some fantastic, healthy competitions growing up. A friend of mine who also played piano and was a grade ahead of me, and always pushed me to get better. Not explicitly, just by being there and having someone similar in my class who didn’t think playing piano was BORING or a JOKE. I had similar academic inspirations/competitions in high school (the same friend in fact features there, too). The main feature of each of these is that we were (and still are) happy for each other’s successes. I knew that coming ‘second’ (or third or even tenth) to people of such calibre was (and is) nothing to be ashamed of!

      • says

        I know I did make a post length comment (LOLLLING) but I really did want to end up telling you where I was with the topic. You think up good stuff Ms Em and remember i have been around the earth 66 times (if that’s what a year is, I failed Science) so I have more life experiences to tell. D xx

  17. says

    I am the first type of competitive {except maybe when it comes to board games and Scrabble…then I like seeing others lose!} But generally yeah, it’s about trying to succeed in what I want and be the best in what I choose to be. Success is different for everyone as you say and just because someone doesn’t follow society’s norms of what ‘success’ is, doesn’t make them a failure or any less competitive.

    Great post Em!

  18. says

    This is so true. There is no limited pool of success. Someone doing well doesn’t lessen my opportunity to do well. In fact, I think in the case of blogging and writing it’s proof of open doors. Let’s all celebrate each other – it’s so much nicer – yes?

  19. says

    I think your argument shines through in this blogging world.
    There are fellow bloggers who comment with words of encouragement and share your work and then there are those that criticise and try to tear you down in their quest to WIN.

    • says

      Interesting analogy. Perhaps it’s a sign of my limited ‘success’, but I’ve not experienced much of the second kind. Directly. I’ve heard about GOMI, though!

  20. says

    I love this, Em. I am the least competitive person you’re ever likely to meet and I want to get MORE competitive, somehow. But the first type of competitive is the only kind I ever want to be. I think it comes down to people being honest with themselves about their motivations and not buying into society’s ridiculous ‘big, bigger, best’ mantra. Sadly I don’t think most people have the self-esteem nor the courage to pursue life in a self-competitive way. Most are externally motivated and that’s a crying shame.

  21. says

    How did I miss this the first time round. Love it. I’m a competitive person from an insanely competitive family – we are shameless. But – we were also taught to be the first kind of competitive. Something I am forever grateful for. It’s so much more fun racing to the top with someone than standing on someone’s head to get there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *