First, let me be clear. I know nothing about ‘the workplace.’ Sadly, I’ve never had a ‘regular’ job. Never been a waitress or a teacher or an executive. I’ve only been an ice skater, a model, an actress and a writer.
So I do know something about competition. I was raised with it. It screwed me up, big time. Let’s start with life, I was the second of four children, I don’t remember a time in my childhood that my mom didn’t have another kid who needed her attention. And what a group, between the four of us we sang opera, danced, skated, painted, were labeled ‘gifted,’ and on and on.There was only one way to stand out in that group of siblings, and that was to excel. If I wanted mom’s attention, I had to win something.
And that takes us to ice skating. Here’s the deal. I would go train in other cities, sometimes countries, I would live with a group of other girls, they were my ‘friends.’ Until competition day, then what I wanted most was for them to fail, to fall down, to mess up, so that I could win. Tell me that’s not a twisted way to develop relationships.
Yikes. Moving on to modeling. A sliver more room for support, I mean there could be more than one winner here, after all, but I still had to get that job over my ‘friends.’ I still judged myself constantly against others, and worse, I was judged, constantly not by my sense of humor or personality, but how I looked on the outside.
Am I screwed up enough yet? Getting there. Now let’s move on to acting. I sit in a room full of women who look an awful lot like me, we weigh each other up, feel threatened if the casting director seems impressed by their reading, and hope against all hope that we, and not them, are the one who wins the part.
Now I’m cooked.
Then I began to do theatre, and the heavens opened, and the sun shone down, and I finally had allies. We had a common purpose, I could truly root for the other actors, I could understand that if they were better, I was better.
Hallelujah! About friggen’ time. It only took me into my early twenties to get it. The next step was to stop competing with myself. That’s another several years of therapy, money well spent! Did I really need to hike eight miles until I puked? Or could I turn back at four? Why was it that if, in a single day, I wrote a chapter, read to kids at school, hiked, auditioned, cleaned the house and cooked a gourmet dinner, I still went to bed feeling that I hadn’t done enough?
Now, it isn’t always a bad thing. I heard a saying recently that said you should compete with yourself because then you both win. That’s clever, but not true. What I have found is that the child inside that needs the attention, needs to be exceptional and special, that feels hurt without it inside, also needs a mom.
Not my mom, she’s great actually. But if there are two people in me, then one of them needs to be the mom and comfort and love the other one, the child. Tell her that it’s okay, hug and rock her.
It works. And guess what? We both win.
As for the workplace? Well, all I can say about that is do your best, kick ass, expect the same effort from your peers, but encourage them too, comfort them, ask for their help, and take it when it’s offered. We are better together than we are apart. If you get the promotion, take somebody up with you. If they do, back them up and call in your favors.
Unless you’re an ice skater. Then baby, you’re on your own. Embrace it, and get some friends who don’t skate.
This is flippant, I know, but you try summing up one of your major life shapers in less than five hundred words.
So compete away!! But celebrate too, your successes as well as others. And remember it’s what you are competing for that counts. The gold medal is great, but dying happy is the real goal here.
That’s the measure of success.
So here’s to the winners. The ones who look back on their lives and say, “I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
Shari, December 8, 2012