This isn’t going to be an easy post to put out there. If the title didn’t already give it away, I’m about to get honest with the whole of the female Minneapolis ad community—and probably with myself. I’ve never thought of myself as a competitive person. In high school, I was in band, drama, speech, etc. Though each of these had their own competitive aspects, one-act play competitions and the race to first-chair flute don’t get the adrenaline flowing the way anything with a ball does.
Even in Knowledge Bowl (the only real competitive event I participated in), I was on the slacker team. We viewed the tournaments as the most goodie-two-shoes way to get out of school. The cut-throat team was comprised of student-athletes and, while I loved them, I couldn’t identify with their need to win.
As I emerged into adulthood I thought I knew who I was. Because who we were in high school defines us forever, right? I was a rural German girl (a truly original Minnesota trait) who worked hard but wasn’t necessarily striving to win anything.
Eventually, I began having a hard time reconciling what I believed to be true about my uncompetitive nature with twinges of jealousy I’d feel when I saw others achieving more. That’s a gross sentence. It’s uncomfortable to admit I compare myself to others and feel ugly things when I don’t measure up. But it’s true. And I’ve had a really hard time making sense of all this because it forces me to admit that even though I don’t Sports™, I may just have a competitive streak.
This connection I’ve drawn between being competitive and sports is a dangerous one. Not only because it made it impossible to recognize an aspect of who I was for a few decades, but because this viewpoint automatically means if someone else wins I have to lose. That’s how sports work. There is no shooting for the moon and landing among the stars when there’s one trophy.
For a long time, I was able to ignore this stark win/lose view I had of ambition. I kept my head down, worked and silently beat myself up if I felt I was losing in some way. It was effective to some degree but incredibly unhealthy. It became something I absolutely needed to address as I became more involved in groups of women supporting women. Supporting other women was easy when they weren’t my direct competition. It feels incredible to help someone find a job, polish their portfolio or nail a project when that someone has an entirely different skill set.
Whenever the someone seeking help had the same talents to offer that I did, I’d feel a strange panic and an immediate need to lay out our individual achievements in my mind to determine if I was winning or losing. That is also a gross sentence. I’m a gross person. It’s easy to support a person playing wide receiver, but a challenge to support someone who shares my position as quarterback (note the subtle sports reference). The win/lose understanding of my purpose meant there was only one spot open.
As I began to unpack these emotions I felt awful. What kind of a woman looks at another woman and considers them a threat to her own success? It’s archaic. We’re not living in the one-seat era. There is room for everyone at the table. That’s the mantra of our generation. Feeling anything that contradicts that notion is incredibly distressing. Grotesque. And honestly, a little ridiculous.
I’m not vying for CEO of the world. Just some semblance of success in my own career. Try as I might, I can’t write every single word ever or strategize every single website ever. There has to be more women like me or I would die of exhaustion. I know that’s an embarrassingly obvious statement. But it’s oddly easy to forget when faced with a portfolio that’s stronger than my own.
Of course, there’s a place for competition. Without the drive for triumph, it’s unlikely I’d achieve anything. What’s unhealthy is the inability to see achievement as anything other than win/lose. I recognize this, but it doesn’t mean the gross feelings don’t continue to rear their monstrous heads from time to time.
I think as women it’s harder to make peace with our competitive natures. We’ve seen women get passed over and we don’t want to be part of the problem, but we also don’t want to be the woman who is overlooked. Even though we’ve entered a time where we’re fighting to make room for a multitude of women at the top, we’re still fighting. This makes it hard to turn off that win/lose aspect of our competitive natures.
There’s no real conclusion to this confession. I don’t have step-by-step instructions for overcoming the darker side of the climb toward our own little versions of success. I think we just need to acknowledge the flawed aspects of our drive to win. That way we know how to handle it when our first instinct is to make black and white comparisons to the achievements of others. We can remove the power from the instinct and make room, instead, to find little ways to lift each other up, even if we share similar talents. We can forgive ourselves the not-so healthy competitive feelings and embrace and encourage the ones required to get us off the couch and conquering the world.
/written By Eliza Green
/photo by Sasin Tipchai