SoulBeing Blog

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The “Best”

Mar 28, 2023 | General, Newsletter | 0 comments

SoulBeing March 2023 Newsletter

Competition is built into the very fabric of our society. 

It is a driver of capitalism, and its usefulness and value tend to be contentious topics. Participation trophies have become a norm for children’s sports and activities, polarizing parents on ballfields and stages across our country.

As an ambitious student, competitive dancer, and field hockey player several decades ago, competition was an inherent part of my life. My adolescent years read like a singular quest to be the “best.” The resulting awards and temporary glory were ultimately overshadowed by burnout, depression, and an unhealthy relationship with external achievement as my main source of self-worth and motivation. A mindset that followed me well into adulthood.

My early career echoed these same themes. I ran myself into the ground in pursuit of being the “best” at my job. Money and accolades equated directly to success. 

The sense of competition motivated me, but who won from my efforts? Certainly not me. 

I was neglecting myself on every level for the sake of a conglomerate. When they recruited me, they saw the perfect hire: naïve, hungry to prove herself, extrinsically motivated, insecure, yearning for a sense of purpose and for someone to tell her she was worth something. That she was the “best.”

Ironically, before accepting the job that launched my career, I was interviewing with another company and was asked directly in the interview how competitive I considered myself to be, on a scale of one to ten. After a thoughtful pause I responded, “probably a seven. I like to win, but I would never do anything unethical or that could cause harm to another person for the sake of winning.” Tellingly, the interviewer shared that they tend to hire people who describe themselves as a nine or a ten. I did not get that job.

What I see so clearly now is that my assessment in that interview was wrong, or at least incomplete: I was much more competitive than I gave myself credit for, but this competition was almost entirely internal. I was competing against myself. And I did hurt myself in pursuit of “winning.” I let my mental and physical health deteriorate. I sacrificed important relationships for my career. I prioritized work over adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, social pursuits, and everything else.

During this period, there was no balance in my life. The voices I heard day in and day out were saying that if I was not exceeding expectations, that I just simply was not working “hard” enough, or that I was not “smart” enough or “good” enough to be what the company needed me to be. I believed this. I internalized this. It became my inner voice.

Simultaneously, it was being engrained in me to think of our business competitors as the enemy. I remember someone on my extended team saying, “I can’t wait to take the food off his family’s table” in reference to a specific person that worked for another brand. 

My intuition riled at this thought, but my well-trained inner voice squashed the feeling immediately and yelled “you’re being too soft!” 

I also have vivid sense memories of feeling personally offended if someone left my team for a job with one of the brands we competed against. It made me feel physically ill, as if this teammate was abandoning me, attacking me, or being disloyal to me, personally.

In the years and space since these experiences, my exposure to more balanced perspectives has expanded, and my idea of competition has evolved. I now recognize that competition is not productive in the way I used to believe it was. In fact, it was incredibly damaging.

That is not to say that competition does not play a role in a healthy, sustainable company. But it cannot be the primary motivational driver. Our vision at SoulBeing for improving the health of our communities is not a zero-sum game. As we evaluate partnerships and projects, this is the lens we are using. 

Can we achieve something bigger together?

When I think about the natural alternatives to competition, they seem obviously superior. Why compete when we can cooperate? I see cooperation as working together to execute a predetermined vision. I ask my kids to cooperate when I’m trying to get our family out the door in the mornings. I remind myself to cooperate with traffic laws that keep us all safe even when I am in a rush. Cooperation is an important tool that shapes our social contracts and keeps societies, companies, teams, and families running.

Collaboration, however, is the holy grail. In business, collaboration can be defined (by me) as working together to create and execute the vision. When collaboration is successful, magical things result. There is no taking from the individual to benefit the company. There is no diminishing of one party to enhance the other. True collaboration benefits everyone involved, and produces a ripple effect that radiates a positive impact, often beyond measure.

When your work is so meaningful that any step forward toward the vision, directly by your team or by anyone else, is a positive thing, then there is no method by which to measure the “best,” or any reason to do so. The vision is the finish line, and race to get there signals progress. Everyone wins.  

And participation trophies? We don’t need them.


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