I have long had difficulty understanding people's aversion to competition. Coaches are always asked, “when should I start competing,” and with a few minor exceptions not even worth noting, the answer to anyone who expresses interest is, “right now.” I think many people are afraid of competition or think they're not good enough. The rebuttal to anyone who isn't “good enough” is simply to point out that competition is against the person you were yesterday, no-one and nothing else. It's hard or impossible to avoid fear, but it might help to remember that life is competition, and playing a sport is actually the safest way to compete. You get to choose the time, event, location, and to a certain extent who you compete against perhaps based on age or skill level. Life isn't like that. You're happily working away, you get called into the boss's office, and it's game on. You didn't know it was coming, you didn't get to prepare, and you don't even know the rules, but suddenly you're competing for a raise or maybe even just to keep your job.
Lately I've competed in three sports. I'll briefly run down how these sports are looked at, how I look at them, and why they might matter.
What it looks like from the outside: a bunch of guys and a few women trying to lift as much as they can in the squat, bench press, and dead lift.
What it looks like from the inside: you versus “can't.” “Can't” comes in many forms, fear, dis-belief, unwillingness. I guarantee that at the bottom of a heavy squat, you'll meet “can't” head-on, and you'll conquer it or get smashed.
Why it matters: How many times “couldn't” you do something? What was it, public speaking, meeting a longstanding problem you were avoiding, tackling a project you put off for months? Maybe like me you've had days you “couldn't” get out of bed. Get on a platform and lift more weight than you did yesterday. Start proving to yourself that you can.
What it looks like from the outside: men and women pulling like crazy on an indoor rowing machine, an “erg,” sometimes for a set time, sometimes for a set distance, commonly 2,000 or 500 meters.
What it looks like from the inside: you versus pain. In the 2,000 meter race pain comes like a relentless stalker. You go 800 or maybe even 1100 meters looking over your shoulder knowing the inevitable pain is coming, and it does. Then you have 900-1200 meters left to try to make friends, because pain will be there until the end. The 500 is more like running a gauntlet with a flying start. If you're good you get 200 or even 250 meters before you even get hit. Then you get hit, and get get hard. No problem, you just go like a maniac for 250-300 more meters because if you slow down at that point it just hurts worse.
Why it matters: sorry, pain is a part of life. You really want help getting on and off the toilet because your hip or knee hurts? Why not make friends with pain now? He'll be around.
What it look like from the outside: two men or women grappling and trying to win by choking the opponent unconscious or breaking a limb.
What it looks like from the inside: you versus a real live opponent who is not only trying to stop you from doing what you want, he's trying to do something worse to you first. It can be fun if you're winning. If you're losing, prepare for a claustrophobic nightmare.
Why it matters: I don't make lemonade. Life doesn't hand out lemons, it hands out people who want to oppose you or get in your way just for the hell of it. It's good to learn early to win the fights you can with the least possible energy, and it's good to learn how to lose as you sometimes must. If you're losing, fine. Learn to lose by referee's decision, not by being choked out.
I don't have any formula for getting on the podium, as I've rarely been there. I've watched awards ceremonies from the furthest corner of the room, and I've missed some entirely when it seemed to me I had to get out of the room as soon as possible.
It's okay. The person you were yesterday wouldn't have entered the arena. You've started the winning process. If you make to the podium someday, congratulations. If you never make it, congratulations. You beat the crap out of the person you were yesterday, and that's all and everything you can possibly have any control over.