Competing > Winning

Winning Vs. Competing

"I heard that sometimes the audition candidates put razor blades between the piano keys to thin out the other contenders" she said with feigned surprise. "Juilliard is really competitive. Some people will do anything to get in!"

The bleary-eyed agent mutters: "It can be hard to tell if someone wants to help you or shove a knife in your gut in New York. It's such a competitive market, I don't think anybody has any real friends."

The forlorn, frazzled Uber driver mourned: "I can't get any good trips because there are too many people just waiting to tap on the notification while I'm trying to drive safely"

Everything is just so competitive now...


Many people talk about how we "live in an increasingly hyper-competitive world" or how we must "compete in the global marketplace" or that "competition is what spurs our capitalist economic system to ever greater levels of productivity and prosperity." However, I very much doubt that we live in a truly competitive society. We live in a society where many people want to win, but I suspect fewer people actually want to compete. A society where everyone wants to win is not the same as a competitive society. The desire to win is certainly a component of the competitive spirit, but if it appears unaccompanied in an individual, it will more likely produce a desperate, avaricious striving for advantage in order to grab victory, rather than increased ability or competence.

True competition will increase competence in the competitors. A naked desire to win will produce greed, dishonesty, violence, and deception...all of which seem to be common behaviors among many of the supposed "winners" in our culture. Lying politicians, doping athletes, inside-traders, backroom monopolists, and even students cheating on exams are all examples.  Why is this? I believe it is because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to compete.

Two Kinds of People

I think there are two basic reactions most people in our society have to our misunderstanding of the nature of competition. 

The "good guys"

The first reaction is what I think many decent, hardworking, and honest people think about competition:

"Competitive people are jerks. I want to be a good person, and I don't want to hurt anyone. Those aggressive competitive types think they're better than everyone, and they're getting rich by taking advantage of others. Someday they'll get what's coming to them! I hope...maybe..."

I have encountered this attitude often. I think this explains our collective delight when celebrities, athletes, politicians, and powerful executives fall from grace or are caught in a scandal. We love to mock, laugh, judge, and scorn the rich, successful, and powerful when they fail. Our deep resentment and hatred for the "winners" finds a pleasurable expression in our ridicule and slander. We love it when Lance Armstrong is exposed as a doper. We feel a rush of vindication when it turns out that some great "winner" was actually a corrupt and evil monster, or really no better than anyone else anyway. 

An accompanying aspect of this attitude seems to be a kind of resignation. If one can't win and be a good person, one may as well not even try. This seems like a deeply sad way to look at life!

Charlie Sheen

The second type of reaction to our pseudo-competitive culture is what could be called the "Charlie Sheen." As a quick aside, one could rightly accuse me of indulging in the very same celebrity-hate of which I accuse others. But, I think this demonstrates my point quite effectively! Anyway, this attitude could be manifest in a statement like this:

"I want to be the best. I am a winner, and I'll do whatever it takes to get to the top! Nothing will stop me from achieving my goals. Even though some people think I am hurting them, really I'm [insert one or more rationalizations here] so therefore I am actually awesome and a winner."

This attitude is deeply self-destructive. The single-minded pursuit of victory at any cost whether personal or to others is suicidal in many ways. Even if one manages to remain sane while stepping on others on the way to the "top," it will be very lonely upon arrival. More likely though, a person will experience some kind of psychological rupture and come crashing down to earth, where the rest of us will then indulge in some delicious, morally-superior scorn.

Our cultural landscape is littered with "winners" who have destroyed themselves and others, causing much suffering and pointless waste.

I don't think it has to be this way! We don't have to be a "good guy" or a "Charlie Sheen." Instead, we can become true competitors.

What is Competition?

I have mentioned what I consider to be a "spirit of competition" several times. Let's get a working definition:

A true competitive spirit is a desire to triumph accompanied by a love of honor.

The ancient Greeks had a good word for what we're missing: Philotimia

Philotimia: the love of (or desire for) honor.

I think it is really that simple! It's a good thing to want to win, to want to be the best, to want to triumph over others and defeat them. However, this desire must be tempered and supported by an equally powerful desire to be honorable and to conduct one's affairs with honorable intent. It is good to want to be the best, but only when others are also at their best.  

A competitor can be a winner, but only if he or she triumphs over his or her rivals in a fair and equitable contest. By contrast, the one who wins an unfair contest cannot be rightly called a competitor, but a cheater.

Who is a Competitor?

A competitor is one who wants everyone to do his or her best, in the best possible circumstances, and still win. Competitors bring out the best in each other. Competitors push each other to achieve more, and to grow as human beings. Competition builds strength, confidence, honor, and achievement. Being in a truly competitive environment is a good thing for everyone. Yes, only some people go home winners, but everyone benefits from a truly competitive environment. The winner may take the coveted prize, but each true competitor has gained something much more valuable than any single prize.

In business, a competitor tries to find ways to serve the consumer better and cheaper. A cheater tries to find ways to block/undermine/slander rivals.

In sports, a competitor wants to face his or her equals. A cheater wants to gain an unfair advantage by doping or video-taping practice sessions of a rival team.

In the arts, a competitor is one who attempts to do his or her very best each day. A cheater slanders others and pays off critics. 

Be a Competitor!

I want to be a competitor because I believe competing is winning in the most fundamental way. I want to continue to grow, improve, and achieve throughout life. Even if I never win any particular contest or do anything outstanding, I want to achieve a most important kind of victory: self improvement.

What does this have to do with Real Estate?

Many people describe the real estate business as competitive, and are therefore afraid to get involved. Want to know the truth? The real estate industry is desperate for competitors. Consumers are begging for a competitor to help them sell or buy property. I don't think there is very much true competition in the real estate industry, but I do think there is plenty of room for true competitors

If you want to win at any cost, please stay away. But, if you love true competition, then come join the fun!

Jay Villella