Saturday, April 2, 2011

Missing the Killer Instinct

I've come to face a truth about myself recently.  I am a lousy competitor.  There must be a fundamental gene that is switched off in my DNA because I really don't thrive on competition.

Recently, I threw my hat in the ring to back Harry Potter in Educlaytion's March Movie Madness.  I entered a March Madness bracket, despite knowing next to nothing about basketball that wasn't gleaned from my high school cheerleading days. (So, in a word, little.)  The husband and I went bowling last night.  These mundane details all have one thing in common: I decided to "compete" at something.  Results would be tallied.  Rankings would be made.

The results:
  • Harry and I lost to The Lion King in the first round so GO PRINCESS BRIDE!
  • My quirky and completely uninformed bracket strategy quickly shuttled me to the bottom half of the pool standings. 
  • I was reminded that I really, really suck at bowling.
The revelation here is, although I wasn't a great success at any of these recent competitive efforts, I really didn't care.  Sure it was mildly disappointing, but had I succeeded in winning, I would have struggled with the discomfort of beating someone else.  How would they feel, being in a losing position?  In my own twisted mind, the desire to be liked means not making others feel bad, and that is in direct opposition to my pallid desire to win. 

My supreme lack of coordination means I've never been on a sports team faced with the opportunity to make a clutch play.  But had I been so, I would most definitely have choked.  I don't have that killer instinct, that mental toughness that says "I want to win and I'm not going to let ANYTHING stop me.  Now, self, let's MAKE THIS HAPPEN."

My husband and I play a round of Tiger Wood's Golf on the Wii every Friday.  To keep it interesting, he generously handicaps me by playing on the advanced level while I play easy.  I've gotten a lot better with practice, so I regularly find myself in front.  However, the husband is a competitor.  Sometimes if he's having a particularly rough game and I get on a roll that handicap starts to feel a little unfair. Even though I don't deliberately throw a game - he would hate that - my concentration falters and I start making bad shots too.  It's like I can't actually make myself go for the jugular.  Even when we're talking about an electronic stand-in for a game that some would argue is barely a sport considering how unfit an excellent player can be in real life.

I have known some ultra-competitive souls in my lifetime, and I see how invested they are in the result.  They are intense, irritated when things are going poorly, elated when things are going well and it all just seems so exhausting to me.  I wonder whether my indifference to competition is born of mediocrity?  Do I refuse to care simply so I won't be too disappointed if I don't succeed?  Perhaps.  I get frustrated enough engaging in activities I'm bad at - it would only be worse if I also cared that I'm not as good as someone else.

For me, life isn't about competition, it's about excelling myself.  When I bowled, I achieved improvement and even managed to break 50 in the third game. (Yes, I really am THAT BAD.)  I knew to stop when the score dropped in game four due to the fact that I couldn't grip a ball, or indeed even a doorknob, anymore.  Simply improving was enough for me - and it had to be when I was playing against a man who had only bowled once more than two decades ago but is good at everything.

Thanks to a free subscription to the daily newspaper, D recently rediscovered an enjoyment of crossword puzzles.  He starts them and if he happens to get stuck, after a while he'll hand it over to me.  I hate not finishing a crossword puzzle and I'm not above resorting to google to suss out a clue.  I try to resolve it through research, not just finding the answer.  Invariably I'll stumble across someone on Yahoo answers who has posted a question that could only have arisen while trying to solve the crossword.  Invariably there will be correct answers provided.  I love this - crosswords as a global team sport.  I'm not competing against, I'm competing with people.  When D hands me a crossword and I can unlock it solely through my own efforts, I'm stoked.  I proudly hand it back to him and say, "I did it!"  I feel that I excelled, but I didn't have to beat anyone else to do it.

It might mean I'm a loser, but at least I am an excellent loser.

So tell me - are you a competitor?  What's it like on the other side?


  1. I used to be the same way and still am to a certain extent. I don't naturally delight in defeating others unless they are really scumbaggy. Much of my like winning wasn't always an option, but when I got the point where I could lead more than follow I still have that same thing that you have that keeps me from crushing people and if I do from being gloaty or scumbaggy.

  2. Yeah...I'm not super competitive. I have to really care to compete. So, I mostly play to have fun. And Sam and I rarely keep score. ;)

  3. I'm not much into competition either. I'm too easy going to compete. Although, on the very, very rare occasion some things really get to me and suddenly I'm in it to win it - and most of the time I do.

  4. Educlaytion - scumbaggy people are definitely worth being gloaty to if one has the skilz to beat them.

    Nicki - wise woman. I've seen bad things happen when couples keep score.

    Botut - being easy going is a far more attractive quality than being competitive, in my book. Rocking it when you do decide to bring the heat is a big plus.

  5. You bunch of softies!

    I'm competitive. Quietly. But I like to be the best at things. It's a strength and a huge weakness too.

    My daughter has a psycho competitive spirit. Thankfully, she's very athletic. I'm hoping raising her doesn't kill me in the process.

    But. I am not competitive at fun things. Whether it's MMM or rec volleyball or parenting, nope.

  6. Ah, Leanne, I was beginning to think only nancy-pants like me read the blog. If Vivian is highly competitive, she's got a built-in live-in foe in William, no? Does he have similar tendencies?

    Dialing down the competitive urges for fun things prevents them from become vastly less, well, fun.

  7. I'm hyper-competitive, but mostly with myself. I LOVE seeing others succeed (thank goodness- I'd be crappy at my job if I didn't), but I also work VERY hard at being VERY good at everything I do - And I'm constantly trying to challenge myself and learn how to be better at... everything.

  8. Natalie - I agree with you there. Striving to succeed, and celebrating other's triumphs too, is a great way to flex your competitive spirit.

  9. Um.. yeah..

    I'm a wee bit competitive. I'm sure you haven't noticed my massive campaign to propel The Princess Bride into the winner's circle over at Educlaytion....

    I thrive(d) on competition. When I did sales, the weeks I was pitted against someone else, or winning a prize, I was at my best.

    I admit, I am not above gloating, although I try to do it in a that teasing of a good friend way, versus the stick your tongue out and say "Nananananana."

    My drive to win, is because I hate to lose. It doesn't matter if it's luck (or lack thereof) in a drawing, or playing volleyball or a strategy game.

    My son, who initially loved Candyland (and was remarkably blessed with multiple winning streaks) now breaks down into tears when he loses to Daddy (who used to have THE WORST luck in that game).

  10. Dances - I couldn't help but notice your Princess Bride campaign and love you for it! ;-)

    I think the difference between you and me is you thrive on that drive to win/hate to lose thing.

    There is much I'm good at, but rarely the kind of thing one "wins." So my defense, apparently, has been mentally checking out of the competition.

  11. I am so so so not competitive. It stresses me out, and not in a good way. I have been known to maybe nudge up the settings on the treadmill a bit if I notice some floozy next to me is running at a faster pace, but I feel no need to run faster than her. I just use someone else's performance at times to motivate me to boost my own, to see how close I can get.

    For example, if someone tells me that they can do more pushups than me, I'd be uninterested in finding out if it's true or not. I just don't care. What I DO care about is how many I can do. So I'll push myself to see how many "real" ones I can do before I have to drop down to the girlie ones. The next day, I might see if I can do the same number and try to push it one further. Or I might not be in the mood to push and I'll just do the girlie ones and be satisfied that I still got some exercise.

    I think for me it comes down to a control issue. I can only control myself, no one else. But in a competition, I'm focused not only on my behavor but what my competitor is doing. I want to control the other person's behavior so I can win. But I can't. But I want to. But I can't. But...I think you see where I'm going here. It all just gives me agida.

  12. Aww KB you are like me. Its not about beating someone else to me its about improving on my last attempt. Besides you are obviously a champion at the crossword, something not a lot of people can lay claim to.
    I hate competing because I am totally unco uncoordinated) as my son tells me when I trip up the stairs at home at least 3 times a week. My next house wont have stairs.

  13. I'm not competitive, and competition makes me really stressed out. And I get annoyed when someone competitive tries to turn something we both happen to be doing into a competition. Like you, I'm a good loser. I'd much rather enjoy a game than be in a competition.

  14. Leonore - You summed up my feelings on the issue so well. The point you make about only being able to control yourself, no one els, is spot on and I hadn't ever thought of it like that.

    Go-Betty - It's been a while since I tripped up the stairs, but I'm constantly tripping over my laptop cord. Grrr! Crosswords are fun when D and I play as a team. I play "cleaner" on those occasions when D gets stymied by our American crossword clues.

    Lemon Gloria - Ooooh, the dreaded "pop-up" competitor. That's a quick way to suck all the fun out of a situation if they are serious about so-called winning.

  15. Aha! Yes, this too!

    I don't have that killer instinct AT ALL. I tend to do the least work possible to still skate by (please see my undergrad GPA).

    Except in trivia games. I refuse to lose trivia.

  16. Sadie - It's nice to know I'm not the only one. (Though my undergrad GPA revealed rather more effort than I now wished I'd made - it matters not one bit!) Remind me never to get into a trivial pursuit with you. :-)

  17. Ok since all the comments on here are from women let me add a male perspective.I'm 49 years old and I definitely do not have a killer instinct.I sucked at sports and always choke when I was put in a game. The highlight of my whole sports life was hitting one HR in little league baseball and that was pure luck.I always feel sorry for people when playing any type of game and end up losing to them because of that.I also cannot kill an animal, never once had a desire to hunt although I have no problem with people that do for the food aspect.I was raised by my mom and grandmother, never knew my father so that could be a cause why I haven't got a killer instinct.Basically I feel your plight. Just thought I'd share mine.

  18. I came across this posting in my search for "killer instinct". I coach basketball and my son is on my team. He has been taught the entire skills set to become an incredible basketball player. He is now a sophomore in high school and is doing OK but not good enough to maximize his potential. The truth is, that he does not have the "killer instinct" necessary to be great at this sport. He can drive by people but chooses not to. He can shoot from anywhere at anytime in someone's face and chooses not to. He does not like to embarass his opponents. He does not like to see people destroyed. I love my son dearly and he is a joy off the court. On the court, he will never be great at basketball because he refuses to "pull the trigger". Fact is that a "killer instinct" is necessary to succeed at certain things and some sports like basketball requires the necessity to have no mercy on your opponent. I am depressed about my son's basketball limitations and lost potential. Off the court I love him dearly. On the court I am simply disappointed in him. I am just now accepting that he won't go far in this sport. I now fear that he will be limited in life as well.

  19. Anonymous II - I found your comment quite touching, and I hope that you come back to read this reply. It must be hard to see that your son is quite different from you on the court - especially since the sport something you care enough about to invest a significant time in coaching. I can tell you love your son and that you have fear, as a loving parent, that his lack of killer instinct could impact him off the court as well. It may - no strike that, it undoubtedly IS - a bit different for a male out there in the real world, but I have been really successful in my life and career... as much due to my personality as my talents. People really enjoy working with me because I'm a "nice guy" and I back that up with solid business skills. If I went for the jugular, people might respect me, but they wouldn't go out of their way to work with me. The fact that I am pleasant means that, although I've been laid off twice in two years, people I've worked with made sure I got hired at the next place they landed.

    Everyone has their own strengths, and I'm sure you're son will find a way to play to his too.

    Many blessings to you and your family.