November 14, 2013

I am not entering a competition

To what extent do you compete with other people? More specifically, to what extent do you think that your work or life is more or less comparable to competing in track running? In track running runners race over a specified distance on an running track at the end of which is a finish line which all runners try to cross first. Is this more or less comparable to the kind of competition you experience in your work, or in your life at large?

All of us are motivated to be competent and to become more competent and this desire to grow our competence is present across our entire lifespan. A feeling of competence contributes to our well-being. But we must be careful not to equate being competent with being able to compete in a contest. By perceiving our work as a running track type of context we reduce it to a MEGA situation (Kohn, 2001), a situation of mutually exclusive goal attainment. In such situations the success of one person depends on the failure of other people.

I argue that most of life and work is quite unlike a running track. There usually is no specified distance, there is no delimited running track and no clear finish line. Participants don't start running at the same time and they do no even run in the same direction. Also they do not participate individually but cooperate with others and help each other and depend on the help of others.

Yesterday, I came across a conversation between for comedians in which Ricky Gervais captures beautifully what I'm trying to say. Here is that interesting bit:

Ricky Gervais:
... I just don't want to be judged. I really don't want to be judged. 

Jerry Seinfeld:
Well, then you're in the wrong business completely.

Ricky Gervais:
What do you mean, though?

Jerry Seinfeld:
Well, you going up there to compete. No one is more judged in civilized society than a standup comedian. Every 12 seconds, you are rated. 

Ricky Gervais:
Yeah, that’s the feedback, that’s what it gives you. They laugh or they don’t. What I mean is, I am not entering a competition. I am not entering a popularity contest.

Chris Rock:

You are entering a competition.
Louis CK: 

Ricky has got a great attitude as long as it works. If he doesn’t care, and that’s funny to people, that’s making them laugh, that’s okay.

Chris Rock: 

Artistically, you are not entering a competition. You are absolutely right and you should write for yourself, blablabla. But when you play Radio City Music Hall, or Madison Square Garden, or whatever, you're competing with Led Zeppelin that was there the night before, or Prince, or whatever.

Jerry Seinfeld:
You’re competing with something to sell those tickets. You have to get to a certain level to sell a certain number of tickets.

Chris Rock: 

Every room you’re in, you’re competing with the people who played that room. And you have to be able to be at least as good as the other people that played that room.

Ricky Gervais:
The thing is, I don’t change anything that I wouldn’t want to do to find an audience. I do what I do and somewhere in the world, there’s enough people to come and fill that venue.

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