"A flower does not think about competing with the flower next to it... it just blooms"
~ Zen Shin
In growing up, I was the eldest of five children all born within seven years of each other.
My second brother, Joe, was born almost exactly one year later than me and my brother, Jeff, was born 14 months after that.
To say that there was sibling rivalry between the three boys would have been an understatement. We sometimes fought like junkyard dogs over the most inane situations.
"You’re sitting in my seat... you didn’t call it saved... yes I did... no you didn’t..." and then the first punch was thrown and a wild melee ensued...
The competition was so fierce among us that we often demanded the lion’s share, when in fact, the portion that we had was more than adequate.
But in reality, it wasn’t ever about having what would satisfy ourselves, it was having more than the other person.
Our mom soon learned to purchase things in triplicate... with the exact same item going to each boy.
This meant if one boy received a new sweater... then the other two boys would receive the exact same sweater... all the way down to the same color...
When it was impossible to have the exact same thing, then our parents would have us play games of chance to see who got the first opportunity to choose, such as rolling dice or cutting cards.
Can you even imagine young boys rolling dice to see who gets to choose the so-called best pork chop on the platter?... well that was our family dynamic at the time.
Sometimes it wasn’t even about getting the opportunity to choose the "best item"... many times we made our selection based on the other person’s desire to select the same item... with the thought being... if they wanted it, it must be better than my selection... so I’ll choose it before they do.
Now, after reading my account of coming of age in the Kalb house 40 years ago, many of you can be divided into two distinct camps at the moment...
The first group might be thinking to themselves, "Wow... this describes my own family or circle of friends exactly"... your recital conjures up so many memories...
While the second group is probably thinking, "What a bunch of bratty, petty and selfish kids. If I was their mom, I would have put a stop to that nonsense right away"...
The world is a much different place today than it was in 1975... or is it?
I recently watched a video of people rushing into stores on Black Friday to secure bargains. In the video, you’ll see people pushing and fighting each other to try and secure items for purchase... regardless if they wanted or needed the item in the first place...
In a lot of instances, it wasn’t about getting an item that they wanted for themselves or to give as a gift... they just wanted to get something before the next person got it...
Much of our culture is built upon the principles of capitalism where more is better than less.
We are in a constant competition with our neighbors, family and friends... our co-workers... our fellow students.
If we have more... a bigger house... a more expensive car... more stuff... than our neighbors, then we believe that we are doing better than them.
Our teachers are forced by the administration to grade using a bell-shaped curve causing students to compete with their fellow students for grades rather than cooperate to create a better team learning environment.
There is a company in Seattle called Gravity Payments, that develops software to help companies process credit card payments. In 2015, the CEO declared that the minimum salary at the company would now be $70,000 per year.
This means that the lowest level worker; the administrative assistant, the receptionist, and the marketing researcher would now be receiving a minimum of $70,000 per year.
Instead of being happy for the entire team, several of the more skilled (and highly paid) workers were upset at this new company edict.
In fact, so distraught that they decided to quit a job that they liked and that paid them handsomely over having someone, perhaps less productive than them, earning more money.
It wasn’t as though they could earn more money themselves going to a new company... but the thought of a receptionist at their present company earning more money (but still less than them) was so distasteful that they felt that they couldn’t remain at the present job.
Their happiness is determined solely on what they are getting relative to what other people get.
A good friend of mine lives in Yuma, a small agricultural town on the border of California and Arizona, where the daily heat will easily reach 110 degrees during the summer months.
Coming from a more temperate climate of San Diego, I asked my friend how he could stand to live in such an extreme environment.
He responded that he liked the small-town feel of Yuma where people actually knew their neighbors rather than the septic big city... ...but then he went on to say, "At least Yuma wasn’t as bad as El Centro (another agricultural town 50 miles away)... that place really sucks".
Always measuring our happiness against what someone else has or doesn’t have...
Why is it so hard to just be happy and grateful for what we have?
Maybe we need the competition to drive ourselves to improve ourselves... giving us the knowledge that something is possible rather than impossible.
Competition can be a strong motivating factor in propelling us forward and making us better people.
There are other times, however, where we seemingly want the competition to fail. Instead of using them as a motivation to get better, we resent their success and hope for their demise, perhaps because they make us look bad for our own complacency.
This was the case between my brothers and me... sometimes we used each other to motivate us to get better at something... and other times it was us trying to undermine each other’s success...
Today... my brothers and I no longer compete with one another... instead we work in cooperation, sharing resources, to help each other grow and succeed whenever possible...
Together we celebrate the wins and are truly happy for one another when our hard work pays off with success...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we strive to work in cooperation rather than competition... (and a special thanks to Andrew Matthews for allowing me to use his brilliant cartoon above).
Jim Kalb President
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse