Tuesday, August 08, 2006

On Competitiveness

A friend's mother recently passed a casual comment in my direction about how she apparently views me as competitive. I shrugged off the comment at the time, but thought about it on and off since then. Am I really competitive? and about what am I willing to compete?

I never saw myself as a competitor. I only played organized sports (basketball and softball) in elementary school, and stayed as far from team activities as I could in high school. I was in band, and we did compete in field show competitions, but there was rarely another band in our division (or at our lack of skill) so we never stood a chance to win anything. We didn't go out to win--we couldn't have won anyway--but we had a great time learning and playing together. I never joined the band to compete. I joined because that's what I did. I play music.

Over the years, I won a ton of awards and accolades. I was honored several times, my name in the newspaper at least quarterly, if not more growing up. I participated in spelling bees (with some success), and worked hard to maintain exceptional grades. Mom and Dad kept everything... I have a notebook absolutely stuffed with certificates and awards. Honor Roll, Citizenship, Best in Subjects X, Y, and Z, ... so many other little things.

It seems that I was competitive, on the surfact at least, and did well by all accounts. But, in truth, the only above-mentioned activity that was competitive was the spelling bee. I guess I was too young to understand that I was competing against other people... I was always out to beat myself, just one more word, one more correct letter.

This summer, I entered five photographs into the county fair. I won two ribbons. Not bad. :) But why did I enter in the first place? Well, because I could. Because I wondered if I was on par with other photographers. Because Dad entered stuff and won ribbons... I don't really know why I did it. I just did it. I'd thought about it, but it was kind of a last-minute thing I tossed together (literally, the day before). I didn't expect to win and am still amazed I got anything at all.

Being a drum major, having good grades, winning citizenship awards... these things I have not done to beat anyone else. I compete with myself. I'm not afraid of winning or losing, of failure or success. There are reasons I excel at a few things, why I am the way I am, but they don't matter in this post.

People ask me if I think I'm a good musician or pianist. No, I tell them, definitely not. It's not true... I can hold my own at a piano. I know keys and chords and rhythm and notes. But really, theory and fundamentals don't make someone good. Compared to someone great, I suck. Am I good? No... but I'm not awful either. However, with the exception of marching band competitions, I will not compete with my music. I did not try out for WIBC or other bands, not because I was afraid I wouldn't get in (I would have, easily), but because I didn't feel I needed to prove anything. I don't care if you think I'm good or bad... I play the piano for me.

So to answer my friend's mother: yes, ma'am, I am competitive. I try to do better than I did last time, and to do the best I can do this time. I'm not out to squash someone else or get the highest score possible. I don't set out to climb the tallest mountain, just the ones that mean something to me. If I succeed, that's okay. If I fail, that's okay too. I might try it again, I might not. If wanting to do well makes me competitive, then competitive I am without apology. But if trying to do well by myself makes me competitive... then I'm not sure I own up to that word.

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