The Thrills of Competing

For achievers competition is a must...

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The Bridge Play Area in Bodø, Norway


Competition isn’t just about winning or losing. It’s about the lessons learned along the way. It teaches us to analyze mistakes, adapt strategies, and develop resilience.

Being competitive is not something we often celebrate. It’s innate in us to different degrees. And we compete in all spheres of life.  Siblings compete for their parents’ attention, students compete for the highest grades, and executives compete to get money and power. Achieving exceptional levels is not possible without competing.

Traditionally, competitiveness has been viewed as cutthroat or aggressive. However, it can be a powerful driver for growth and improvement. Why not teach kids to be competitive, not just in sports but in life?

Most commencement speakers refrain from advising graduates to uphold their competitive instincts, which will take them to places. The speakers themselves could share how they got to be at the podium today by competing.

Competitiveness tests out our inner strength. Last week, I competed in another brutal bridge tournament in Norway for eight straight days against top-ranked players, mostly from Scandinavian countries. Although I didn’t perform well, I still loved the intensity. Bridge is a workout for the brain, where victory and defeat are two sides of the same coin.

Fortunately, victory leaves a longer tail than defeat. I had a similar experience with my startup. Hard problems came at me daily, while the ah-ha moments were rare. But the wins kept me charging forward. The agony of defeat lights up the inner fire to do more and better.

Hard problems challenge me in bridge. One such problem I faced is called ‘squeeze’. Through a technical play, I could extract another trick from my opponents. It required visualizing card endings, which is not my strength. Facing a tough problem, I try to break it down into smaller pieces. What will prompt my brain to visualize like some others — we are all wired a bit differently. Diving in its cause is progress, which helps me rebuild my confidence. And tougher competition toughens me.

Further, a collaborative atmosphere helps healthy competition. U.S. policies and practices are rated second highest of 134 countries on the Global Talent Competitiveness Index.  “(That) enables a country to develop, attract, and empower the human capital that contributes to productivity and prosperity”. Russia and China are also competitive but through state-exercised controls. For example, the state sponsors its Olympic athletes. While in the US the athletes are self-motivated. The US creates a free and just atmosphere for them to prosper, a wholesome and valuable approach.

At an individual level, competitiveness should be encouraged, and kids should be guided to choose the battles they want to fight. We encouraged our daughters to go for any activity they chose to; rafting, judo, mountain climbing, water polo, dancing, math, and science. Fortunately, they turned out competitive but did not indulge in pettiness.

Exposing children to the differences between healthy and unhealthy competition is crucial which can harbor malice, jealousy, and envy. It can even be deadly. A recent story is a good example of what competition should not be about. Two Sherpas are reported to be outdoing each other by the number of times they have summited Everest. When it is 27 or 30 times, is it worth it?

Then there are even more valuable examples of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi who took competitiveness to new heights. They both had a burning desire to win, but not to kill.

Ultimately external ranking in bridge is still important to me, but now I find how competing against myself is even more rewarding which encompasses learning.

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  1. AGK

    Competing with self is the best way to learn and improve. Could not agree more on your closing statement.

  2. Vijay Gupta

    According to the theory of evolution, competition among species (and survival of the fittest) was the basis of human evolution. WIthout such relentless competition, evolution of human intelligence would not have occurred.

    Competition may be good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, but competition is here to stay. There is competition between individuals, between companies, between nations, and so on. Moreover, all these different forms of competition feed into each other.

    The important challenge is to leverage competition as a positive force while minimizing its destructive potential. Whereas competition has created amazing products like the GPS, it has also created big nuclear arsenals, and the bioweapon that caused the Covid pandemic.

    Will we ever create a world where the positive forces of competition have overcome the negative? Where people, who may not be the fittest, can not only survive, but thrive by simply competing with their former selves.

    1. vinitagupta

      Ditto, Vijay.

  3. M K Vasudevan

    Competition Vs Pursuit of Excellence vs pursuit of happiness. Does competing make one happy? The answer could be different for different folks. What type of competition makes you motivated, ethical, cutthroat or kill. Which type of competitor would you employ? What type of competitor does one like to hang out with/marry?



  5. RB

    Very true. Lot to learn from this insightful article. Sharing with my two adult children. Both successful in their respective fields.

  6. vivek

    Thank you for this article! I found it very insightful and loved your sharing of the joys and thrills of competing. My personal favorite line was the last line where you are also finding joy in competing with the self!

    Thank you again!

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