Is competition bad for you?

RadReads - Is competition bad for you?

Two merchants are competing at a market.

An angel comes and offers the first merchant any outcome he wants.

But there’s one caveat.

The competitor gets double.

The angel explains:

“You earn 5 gold bars; they get 10.”

“You own one ship; they’ll own two.”

“You live to be 100; they live to 200.”

The merchant thinks intensely.

“Make me blind in one eye.”

The firefighter and the MBA

I know what you’re thinking.

“I’m not a ruthless sonofabitch who takes pride in beating others down.”

And you’re right. You’re far removed from the cutthroat open-air medieval markets.

(You’re more of a Post-Achievement professional.)

But even our MBA friends have a healthy dose of that competitive mojo in their bloodstream.

Look no further than a research paper Choice as an act of meaning: The case of social class, summarized in this Rob Henderson tweet.

The study goes as follows:

Firefighters and MBA students were asked how they’d feel if they bought a new car, showed their friend, and the next day, the friend bought the same kind of car.

This shows the percentage who’d feel upset:

Firefighters: 3%
MBAs: 47%

And these show the percentage who’d feel betrayed:

Firefighters: 13%
MBAs: 47%

MBAs are y’all ok?

If you’re reading this, I know you’ve got that competitive fire in your belly.

You may throw a few elbows as you go for that big promotion.

You may feel that pit of envy in your stomach when your friend sells their company for 8-figures.

Or maybe you’re ruthless during an innocent game of Monopoly.

But let’s unpack your competitive drive for a second.

Do you compete in order to outperform your own standards?

Or do you compete to watch others lose?

In my post titled Are you a Post-Achievement Professional, I call out the dangers of being extrinsically motivated.

If you need to beat someone to feel good about yourself, you’re likely to:

  • Perform well on routine tasks but experience diminishing performance when the rewards are removed.
  • Be more prone to “surface learning,” where the primary goal is to meet the external requirements (rather than to understand the material deeply)
  • Be less fulfilled over long periods of time since they always need a new reward.

Plus, you’re likely to strain relationships (by being that person), experience burnout (since there’s always someone to beat), and lose joy in the process (by immediately seeking your next win).

So when that angel presents you with the offer, which one are you gonna take?


Should we work together?

Are you an ambitious professional with an unhealthy relationship to competition? We feel you – it’s a pretty normal trait. Join a group of like-minded Post-Achievement professionals looking to navigate career transitions and redefine their relationship to competition by applying to our group coaching cohorts.

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