Competition is Different than Comparison
I am a pretty competitive person. Like a “really shouldn’t play board games with my family because it gets too heated,” kind of person. Throughout my life, this competitive drive has been a defining element of who I am and how I chase my goals and dreams. And while some people can shy away from this sort of self-definition, I believe that God created me to be a competitor.
As athletes, competitive drive is hardwired into our DNA. You cannot be a successful athlete or a supportive teammate if you don’t face your opponents with the desire to overcome them- the desire to win. And while I truly believe this is a good and healthy desire, and an essential part of our makeup as athletes, I know it can be incredibly difficult to distinguish the line between competition and comparison.
Comparison is everywhere
Let’s be real, the opposing team isn’t the only thing we compete against as athletes. On a regular basis, we compete against our friends and teammates for the starting spot or the fastest time, and even for positions of leadership and favor from our coaches. In this setting, suddenly competition starts to look a lot more like comparison. We constantly evaluate ourselves against our peers to see where we land in the hierarchy and base our feelings of adequacy or inadequacy on how we measure up.
And this is just within our sport; we live in a time and culture that constantly pressures us to compare every aspect of who we are- especially as young women. We can save my social media rant for another time, but take just a moment to consider how much energy you spend managing and manipulating your social media presence so that you present yourself in a way you hope people will like and accept. Now consider how much energy you might spend being envious of some else’s online persona, feeling insecure when you don’t receive the response you had hoped for, or feeling validated when people offer their affirmation.
And this is just online! Then we have real life comparison that happens all the time. Maybe you have a “perfect” sibling who you feel pressured to live up to, or maybe all of your friends are getting into their dream schools and you’re still waiting for an acceptance letter. Our culture seems constructed so that our sense of worth and value is determined by where we land when compared to others. And for someone who likes to win (that competitive drive, remember?) our happiness or sense of self can very quickly become tied to coming out on top.
Comparison is always a problem
I love the way this quote captures the inherent issues with comparison:
“Comparisons makes you feel superior or inferior, neither serve a useful purpose.” – Jane Travis
Comparison isn’t just a problem when it makes you feel bad about yourself. It’s also a problem when it makes you feel good about yourself. Anytime our value or worth becomes tied to fickle external factors like other people and their opinions, we have forgotten where our identity and purpose truly lie. Further, anytime we put someone else down to prop ourselves up, even if its only in our head, we undermine their value and betray our own insecurities.
Paul says it this way in Hebrews 12:1-2,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and sin that so easily entangle. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Here Paul uses the language of a disciplined athlete. He talks about casting aside temptation, running with perseverance and embracing the race set before him. Most importantly, he talks about “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” In this passage, I see comparison as the sin that easily entangles us, that holds us back and distracts us from focusing on the race before us. When we cast off this sin and fix our eyes on Jesus, He reminds us of our value and our purpose (our “race”) and gives us the strength and courage to make it to the finish line.
God’s wants you to be your competitive self, but let’s stop the comparison game.
When we know that our worth and our purpose come from God alone, we can fearlessly pursue the path he has set before us and our competitive drive serves as a God-given gift that spurs us onward.
When we are confident in our own calling, instead of feeling threatened by other people we can celebrate who God created them to be and encourage each other in fixing our eyes on him. But when we compare, whatever or whoever we are comparing ourselves to become the benchmark for determining our value, and God gets pushed out of the equation. This robs us of our joy, distracts us from our purpose, and keeps us from loving others well.
I know that it isn’t always easy for competitive people to ignore the temptations of comparison, but I encourage you to remember that God has already declared you immeasurably loved and valued and that he has a unique purpose and plan for you. Instead of focusing your energy on where you stack up against those on your right and your left, fix your eyes on Jesus and make your pursuit of his truth and love your ultimate goal. And as you grow in God’s love and truth, you can share that with others.
Hey there! My name is Jenn and I am so excited to be a part of the FAM. I know that as female athletes we face unique challenges and unique opportunities, and that God wants to use both to grow us into the precious and powerful women he designed us to be. While I once was a Princeton volleyball player, these days I enjoy spin, yoga, boxing, and the occasional zumba class. I currently live in Chicago with my husband and, much to his dismay, our exceptionally fluffy cat.