Today, I’d like to tell a story. This story has come up for me multiple times in the last month, and you know what that means. Time to share.
A few years ago, when I was still working at the library, a management position became available. There had been one librarian who was the supervisor to all other librarians and the customer service staff. That position was being split into two roles, due to the sheer volume of staff we had at the time. I was qualified to apply for the customer service supervisor position, but I did not apply. It just wasn’t what I wanted.
One of my co-workers caught me in the office one day and asked me why I didn’t apply. I told him the truth. I was only interested in continuing my work in the Indiana history department. I didn’t want to manage customer service staff. His response was that I should be more competitive; that I’ll never get ahead if I don’t compete with everyone else. I reiterated that my goal wasn’t to get ahead, it was to continue the work that I was doing. He told me that all life is competition and then he asked, “When you play board games, don’t you want to win?”
I was stunned for a minute. Winning had never been the reason I play games. My reason was always to have fun with my family and friends. I replied simply, “No.”
“No?!” he exclaimed. “You mean to tell me that you don’t want to win when you play?”
“Exactly,” I answered. “If I win, that means everyone else has to lose. I’d rather that they win. I just want to play. I just want to be included in the fun.”
He was very evidently taken aback at that response and didn’t seem to have anything else to say on the matter. He left the room.
I think about that conversation often. In fact, it came up most recently this past week in my new job. I had my 90-day review with my boss. The very last question was “Do you have any comments, questions, or concerns?” My only comment was to say that I am so happy to be working for this company and on this team in particular. I feel like I fit in and everyone is so supportive and helpful. I told this story to my boss and explained that I have never been one for competition. I want to help others succeed. He said, “That is exactly why you fit in, because the culture of this company is to help each other succeed. When one of us wins, we all win. When one of us loses, we all lose.”
Ironically, I recently listened to Robert Waldinger on one of Jay Shetty‘s episodes, wherein he said the above quote. Which is exactly what my boss said to me, only phrased a bit differently. The episode is titled How To Nourish Your Meaningful Relationships & The Power Of Quiet, but a lot of the conversation is about comparison and competition. It’s a fantastic episode and I highly recommend it!
Now, I’m not saying that competition is inherently bad. Competition can be good for us. It can inspire us and drive us to excel. I am saying that not all life is competition. There should be a balance. We should compete when necessary, but we should also look to see where we can help others succeed and what will be best for our own growth.
I know myself. I need some degree of anonymity and a good work-life balance to perform well. If I had applied for that management job and been chosen for it, I would still be doing it today out of a sense of obligation. And I would absolutely be miserable for so doing. Not taking that route, not competing for it, afforded me the opportunity to leave the library and start this new journey. This new journey feels right. I did what was best for my own growth at that critical juncture and it was the right decision for me.
The lesson I learned from all of that is that I don’t need to take every opportunity that comes along. I just need to take the right ones.