In recent times, competition and winning have developed a bad rap. Some argue that competition is destructive and undermines cooperation and respect within society and organizations. It’s not the winning, but the participation that matters, is a justification frequently advanced for not succeeding. In schools nowadays we see prizes being awarded for coming in tenth place.
While winning isn’t always everything and attempting to win at everything, aside from being an ego-driven strategy, is a surefire way to achieve burnout, there can be little doubt that succeeding in what’s important to you, matters greatly.
Whether it’s getting the job offer or promotion, raising venture capital or a family, winning in the boardroom or more importantly on the battlefield, winning can be the difference between depression and happiness, bankruptcy and solvency and in some cases life or death. The harsh reality is that there are rarely any meaningful second prizes for simply participating or practicing.
This is not to say that attempting to win by ‘any means necessary’ is acceptable.
Playing by the rules and respecting your competitors provides valuable learning and growth and helps maintain stability within societies and organizations. Cheating is nearly always ultimately destructive–just think of Enron and Lance Armstrong.
Competition is the route to winning and of itself provides many benefits including being an engine of the global economy, raising standards and quality and spurring innovation. Studies have repeatedly shown that in a competitive environment, most people improve their effort and performance.
Attempting to win means we get better as we inevitably try harder and perhaps more importantly, we inspire others to seek to do better. We just need to remember how inspired we feel when we watch an Olympic athlete win the gold medal or watch our team win the Super Bowl. We admire their mental toughness, resilience and determination.
When we have the courage to go for gold and be the best that we can, we and others win, even when we lose.
Image Credit: CC by Adrian Valenzuela