A Note on Competition
As part of the ongoing effort to stay connected with friends across the country, I called my best friend from college the other night to catch up on her recent move for her job. We got on the topic of cities, a common discussion item among us. I noted that I still don’t feel that DC is ‘my’ city. Do you know what I mean by that? As in, if a city was a person, would its personality vibe with yours. Returning from my recent trip to Colorado, I experienced the same feeling I’ve gotten each time I return to DC from a trip: a desire to find a city that is more me.
I told her that I feel that DC is a competitive place, where it’s about what you do, who you know, and where you are going. Her and I went to a relatively competitive college, but it wasn’t known for having the most competitive students. In the past, I've thrived on competition - but only to a certain extent. I remember as a child partaking in travel softball league, for the "high-performing" players. Of small stature as a child, I could not keep up with the other girls. Further, I hated how intense it was - it was just a game! It seemed wholly unnecessary to practice all the time, travel around the region for games, and be mean spirited to the other team. Needless to say, my time with travel softball didn’t last long.
In response to my comment about DC’s competitiveness, my friend said something I wrote down after the words came out of her mouth: “You don’t need competition from the outside because you’re already so competitive with yourself, that external competition isn’t productive for you. That’s how we were in college.”
Bingo! I couldn’t have said it better myself. This makes sense because I know I’m quite intrinsically motivated (and a questioner if you’re a Gretchen Rubin fan, in alignment with this), and have never required outside pressure to perform. If I want to perform and have solid reasoning for doing so, I’ll do it. Telling me that all the other girls are practicing six days a week for elementary school travel softball won’t motivate me if I think there is no basis for doing so.
Even when looking forward, to me thinking - maybe - about business school, I’ve recognized that I would detest a school like HBS where competition is the foundation of it. But despite these understandings, I failed to put into words what my friend said to me. Only when she said it did I go, “yes - that is exactly it!”. Is it from a lack of self-reflection? Perhaps. I think that sometimes though, it’s people who surround you that are able to know and see things about you that you can’t see, because you are so ingrained in your own life. It’s a classic example of the Johari window - something that is known to others and sort of but not really known to self, since I struggled to put it into words.
At the end of the day, I think it comes down to knowing where you fly and where you flail. Even looking at my job, there are certain consulting firms where I would tank simply because of the competitive culture, and others where I can fly.
Living in DC, I am working on turning my flail into flight - simply out of necessity due to living here and wanting to enjoy my time here. Simultaneously, I am plotting my next move because I know that even though I have tried and keep trying to make DC 'my' city, the natural fit is not as great. I’ll let you know how it goes.