In America, we have a philosophy that things must be ranked, optimized, put in order and our primary way of creating that order is through competition. We judge those who “win” as morally superior to those who “lose” in competition. If you lost a competition, you are encouraged to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again so that you can win next time. The world is divided into winners and losers and we are all part of the game, whether that’s the life we signed up for or not. The problem is that we also live in a society where the winners make the rules, and given enough time, control and power, they will inevitably write the rules to ensure they will continue to win. Losing becomes an identity that they cannot imagine associating with themselves. But that’s not what I actually want to talk about today. I want to talk about the choice of whether or not you even want to play the game.
Why not pick up your marbles and go home? If the whole game is set up as “heads I win, tails you lose,” why subject yourself to it in the first place? Because here’s the thing. The losers have power too; they can quit the game, in a block, denying the “winners” of superiority over anyone. If there can be nobody beneath you, how can you consider yourself “better than?”
You see, some people out there have fixed the game PRECISELY because they can’t appreciate life without competition. They derive their self-worth only through their status relative to others. They thrive in a competitive setting; even if they don’t win, they get a read on how they’re doing and size themselves up based on where and how they place in a competitive setting. This is fine… for some people. Others are not only not as keen on competition itself, but also thrive in more collaborative settings, focusing on their own growth, measured or not, and the relationships they build as a result. Both ways of being are perfectly valid and generally accepted, within reason. The problems, as with any dichotomous human trait, tend to come at the extreme poles, particularly when competition is forced on those who would rather not compete at all.
Competition can be horribly traumatizing for those who constantly try to get ahead but who aren’t ever allowed to win, due to the construction of the game. If the rules are aligned with one identity group in mind, your belonging or not belonging to that group determines the outcome of the competition, not your skills, abilities or even luck. There is not enough luck in the world to overcome the competition in a biased system.
There is another way. If, instead of winners and losers, we could all excel through helping one another, learning and teaching collectively, and working toward our collective growth and goals, there would be less stress on all humans. The American Dream used to be having a job that paid a decent wage, owning a home and having a family, but that is out of reach for too many people because of our over-emphasis on competition. We have all lost something in this situation because the inability of your neighbor to pay their bills with a single job also affects us. The whole neighborhood rises and falls together.
It does us no good to keep shouting about which way of doing things is better or worse because the answer is ALWAYS in the middle. It is the compromise that will lead us to the right answer and that requires listening, understanding, respect and honest brokers on all sides.
Take our employment system and all its problems right now. Companies are having trouble filling vacancies in a number of sectors and unemployment is also higher than it should be. What’s going on? The answer is not that individuals don’t have the right training or are getting paid too much in unemployment benefits. It is in the middle. Companies’ HR departments and hiring managers must take responsibility for poorly-written job descriptions and be transparent about the salary budget for a position. If there are technical requirements for a position and you have motivated and loyal employees in house already WHY DON’T YOU PROMOTE AND TRAIN THEM? If it is difficult to find a match, lower your standards and dare yourself to be pleasantly surprised by what someone is capable of. In this instance, Companies have the power to resolve this and yet, they blame individuals who are sick of applying for jobs only to find out after the third interview that the pay is substandard and not enough to support their family. If the company wants to build something amazing, talk about what’s amazing about it and how the candidate who fills the position fits in. And please, quit making the hiring process into something akin to the Hunger Games. The person you are looking for is going to work in a team, so they might have some weaknesses that can be covered by someone else you already have. Look for unique skills that will add value, that are not already common in the team. When building a team, “the best” candidate, either on paper or in person, might not provide what the team actually needs.
Whew, rant! Anyway, I just want to close all this by saying, we need to work toward making our systems a little bit flatter. In the corporate setting, I’m sure there are plenty of jobs I couldn’t do (sales and marketing, to name a few), but I would dare any executive team member or salesperson to do my job. It goes both ways and we are each filling a vital role. If my current role is seen by the powers that be as the only role I am capable of, I would say they are wrong. I am simply too tired to play the competition game that will only lead to my failure. I know I am not the only one.