I guess if I am completely honest in Western society competitiveness is everywhere and can take on many different forms. From the moment we are born, if we have siblings or relatives we are subject to some form of competitiveness and rivalry, even subtly. As we grow up and start going to school, we are encouraged to compete with our peers for achievements and recognition. We compete for academic achievements, Sporting achievements, competition for jobs and partners, and the list goes on. It slowly but surely becomes a way of life. Am I successful enough? Am I smart enough? Am I good enough? Am I wealthy enough? Do I have the most attractive car? The most attractive mate? and so on and so forth. Sometimes competitiveness can destroy families, destroy relationships and destroy personalities; and that’s where we see it at it’s true ugly self.
I am sure that I was no exception in the past and have wanted someone’s job and wanted someone’s lifestyle but nothing could prepare me for the experience’s that were to come. Having already lost quite a few friendships and family to the green eyed monster, I decided at an earlier age that the best way to win was to not compete. Step off the round-a-bout and let people who enjoy and thrive on such behavior go their own way. I decided some years ago that the only person I wanted to be better than was the person I was yesterday. Always learning and always trying to do my best. I guess the mistake I made years ago is thinking that it was going to be easy and it was going to be a one way direction heading up; I was wrong.
Since starting this long and painful journey with illness and disability, I was shocked when I realized that competitiveness had followed me to this difficult place. There was still acts and examples of competitiveness from the able bodied world when they saw that I was struggling. I would be being reminded of some peoples lumbago, told how some people cured themselves with will power and various potions, I was reminded that there was nothing ‘special’ in my suffering or ‘at least it’s not cancer’, I have been dismissed as being attention seeking and I my unpredictable diseases has suggested to others that my character is unpredictable and lacking also. Some people, well some people just don’t even ask how you how you are doing, seemingly not able to share the attention even for a mere moment and preferring to keep all conversations focused firmly around them.
I turned to online support groups and was shocked and horrified to discover that competitiveness had permeated into these so called ‘safe havens’. I have even had to leave some groups because I felt that it had become over run by members convinced that somehow suffering was a competition and that their circumstances (whatever they were) was worse, more important, more difficult than anyone else. I am the first to admit that amongst the Autoimmune, disabled and chronically ill there is a whole spectrum of challenges. We are all so different in our circumstances. There are indeed some ‘high functioning’ people as well as those who maybe at the more severe level, but is it contest? I personally don’t think so. These days I try to look for sites, situations, people, relationships and groups where no one is ‘racing’ you to an imaginary finish line. There will always be people who are smarter, prettier, wealthier, taller, more famous, more artistic, healthier, more ‘something’ than you. So what? It doesn’t make your journey any less valuable and meaningful. The only person I want to try and improve on is myself, whilst still accepting that I will never be perfect, because there really is no such thing.
Today when I find myself around people who start competing, or if I find myself in conversations which have a competitive overtone or I feel someone attempting to drain my energy and strength with their need for more attention or more recognition I will simply smile, stare and walk away (wheel away). It is my way of saying ‘I respect myself and my journey too much to compare it to yours’. I encourage you too to think about how you want to spend your energies and efforts in this life. On your death bed will you want to know you had a better life than someone else, or will you take comfort in knowing that you had the best life you could give yourself? I no longer need the validation from others to know that the life I have and the choices I make are relevant to me and those who share my life. Once I let this thinking in and embraced it I can truly empathise with others, I can truly appreciate others and I can honestly celebrate the milestones of both myself and other people without giving up any of my own power or dignity.
And the winner is…. all of us.