In my journey through life, I’ve been struck by the near universal existence of the competitive spirit amongst people. Even people who claim not to be competitive in nature are seemingly competitive about how uncompetitive they are. I’m more uncompetitive than you. We find it everywhere, between old friends and perfect strangers alike; during official tournaments or imaginary ones. The Commuter Grand Prix is a perfect example as the hairy-legged, YJA-wearing horde thunders from stop light to stop light, each trying to beat the others to some imaginary finish line.
It’s a curious thing where this competitive drive comes from for each individual. It appears to me that there are two principle types of competitive energies: one which burns by a flame borne of a desire to become the best and one of a desire to be better than others. It seems on the surface as though those are the same thing because competition is always about fighting over a single place within a hierarchy. But some people seem to compete out of a desire to be as good as they can be and use winning as a measure of success. Others seem to compete out of a desire to demonstrate that they are the best and use winning as proof positive. I admit it’s a hopelessly thin line, and I’d forgive you if you stopped reading right now, if you’ve even managed to wrestle your way this far.
I’m not a psychologist, but as a Dutchman I understand perfectly well that being loud and stubborn is all you need in order to talk about things you know nothing about. Both types can be incredibly fierce competitors, but those who focus inward often seem able to find a sense of satisfaction in defeat when they’ve competed at their maximum and come up short. They may well be disappointed or even angry at the thought of losing, but they will try again, and they will keep fighting and work to get better based on a willingness and desire to overcome their failings in previous attempts.
Those who focus outwardly typically hate losing, no matter how well they performed. Excuses will be made and others will be blamed in an attempt to justify to others (if also themselves) why they lost. I might even be tempted to perform the Standing Broad Jump of Logic (if you can accuse any of this of being logical) and suggest that externally focussed competitors are more likely to cheat than internally focussed ones because an internally focussed competitor would feel first and foremost that they are cheating themselves before others.
As Cyclists, we fly like moths to the fire of competition. The Pros are the extreme, and I personally wonder if the choice to dope or cheat is fundamentally made easier or harder based on where the core of each individual’s competitive spirit rests. We know now that all sorts of athletes dope and cheat, but how close we fly to the flame and what we are willing to sacrifice along the way to winning might be a function of where we find satisfaction in competition.
I love the heat, I love the things that I forgot
I loved the strings that tied me down and cut me off
I was a king, I was a moth with painted wings made of cloth
When did the flame burn so high and get so hot?
– Chris Cornell, Moth