When Competition Wins, Everyone Loses.

Via Sara Avery
on Apr 26, 2012
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Runners effort - Michal Zacharzewski

12 years ago, my mentor and colleague Mimi Herrmann said to me, “You hate competition. But you’re very competitive.”

I quickly said something like, “Shhhhhhh!!! No one knows, and I’d like to keep it that way!” When you have my personality pattern, it doesn’t feel safe to be competitive.

In my first career as a professional violinist, I would go to symphony orchestra auditions, which are very competitive, and make friends with everyone, encourage them to do well, but be secretly thinking to myself, “But not too well, because I want to win!”

Since then, I’ve done a lot of work to unlearn my buried competitive tendencies, and I’ve thought a lot about this subject. As a violin teacher, I’ve seen the benefit of competition for students. Most kids won’t push themselves to master a something as hard as playing the violin without the incentive of “sitting at the front of the orchestra.” I certainly didn’t, nor have any of my students. And trust me, you don’t want to hear an orchestra full of players who haven’t pushed themselves towards perfection.

But then, I look at what I’ve gleaned from my own transformational work and that of my clients. There, I see a very different and detrimental aspect to competition. It is an issue that stands squarely in opposition to expressing your uniqueness. You can have one or the other, but not both at the same time. And expressing your uniqueness is what you’re on the planet to do, so maybe competition isn’t such a good thing.

Competition and uniqueness are built on different platforms. Competition is based on scarcity. There’s a winner and a loser for everything, and you either try to win it or bury that need to win it. If you’re one of the people who is saying, “But wait, I’m just not competitive,” you’re like me—you’ve buried the need to win. I chose a competitive field, so that buried feeling was revealed to me, but you may have it so under wraps that you’re not even aware of it. In any case, whether you compete or avoid competing, the way you relate to other people will very often be driven by that feeling.

Uniqueness, on the other hand, is built on a platform that is limited only by the number of souls in the universe. Each of us has a unique gift and voice that is ours alone. You can’t compete for something that is already yours, and no one can win it away from you. Nor can you take anyone else’s from them.

A bonus of the uniqueness platform is that it breeds cooperation and teamwork. Each person brings something different to the party, and everyone’s gifts work together. When I was a kid in orchestra, it was hard to see that. Winning the seat closest to the front of the orchestra was the only thing that mattered. But once I started playing in professional orchestras, it didn’t matter where I sat.

On a very practical level, nearly everyone was being paid the same, playing the same music, and dealing with the same work issues. And I started to learn that smart orchestras actually put some of the strongest players in the back of the violin section, because that helps keep everything together. So sitting in the dreaded “last chair” became an honor.

From some bad gigs, I also started to understand the importance of every single player doing their part. When only a couple of violinists in a section of 20 are playing the music well, the result is awful.

It might not be as glamorous to play in a violin section as it is to play principal flute, but a Brahms symphony only sounds good when all 80 people on stage are playing their own parts well. And of course, this counts for every position and job in society, no matter how humble it seems.

So, in the contest between competition and uniqueness, the latter wins for me, hands down. I know we’re not getting rid of competition in our society any time soon, but I think we’ll be better off when we do. We need everyone to bring their gifts to the table these days.

I’m curious about your thoughts on competition. Please share them in the comments below!


Editor: Kate Bartolotta


About Sara Avery

Sara Avery’s passion is helping people uncover the energy that creates their story and the uniqueness of who they really are. In 2001, she transitioned from her first career as an orchestral violinist to guiding people through the deep transformation of Quanta Change. Quanta Change identifies Learned Distress (the feeling that “there is something wrong with me” absorbed in the womb and early in life) as the source of non-well-being. This unique process works with your brain during sleep to permanently remove layers of Learned Distress, allowing your natural well-being to become the source from which your life is generated. Sara’s clients discover a new ease and joy in life that they’ve never experienced—in emotional, spiritual, and physical realms. One client said, “I’ve been seeking for 40 years, and this is by far the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.” Learn more on her website or read more from Sara on her blog. Or, connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.


11 Responses to “When Competition Wins, Everyone Loses.”

  1. thoreau9 says:

    I want to say the world would be a better place with more collaboration and less competition but something in me says that at times competition brings out the best in the human animal.

    Surely, without competition, we would experience less emotional highs and lows. But isn't it those highs and lows which define us as human?

  2. Sarah Joy says:

    As an ex-professional musician and a teacher I'm conflicted. As a professional, I sat in those cattle call rooms and was pretty flabbergasted to know only one of us would win (and totally thrilled when it was me…) – but I wonder if it's the threat or reality of exposure that gets us to work and practice to perform, not always competition. Many of us need real motivation to dig in and make a true change – is that competition to beat and perform better than others, or to do our best and not expose our weaknesses?

    Love the post!

  3. Sarah Joy says:

    p.s. favorite quote (I may have to use this with my orchestra students:

    "And trust me, you don’t want to hear an orchestra full of players who haven’t pushed themselves towards perfection."

  4. Sara Avery says:

    Thoreau9, thanks for your thoughts. This is a question I grapple with, too – the way I would phrase it is to wonder if competition is the only way we will push ourselves to achieve great things. I think we really don't know – I'm not sure we've had the opportunity to try a different way, so I'm just curious what that different way would produce. If, from childhood, our uniqueness could be THE thing that was championed, instead of better than/worse than, what would we be like? And then, would expressing our uniqueness then produce joy that would define us as human beings in a whole new way? Questions I most certainly don't have the answers to, but enjoy thinking about. Thanks!

  5. Sara Avery says:

    Thanks, Sarah Joy! You and I have those same questions. I really wondered if I practiced from a sense of joy for a single moment in my life, or if it was all about something else – the fear of being exposed that we aren't perfect, or competition, or promise of getting someone's approval (parent, teacher, conductor, audience, etc.). My guess is that every person has their own motivation for change that you speak of. I would love to see what a world is like where the motivation is joy of creation somehow, but I'm not holding my breath. 🙂

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  7. Sara_Avery says:

    Thanks, Bob!

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