My wife and I recently attended a party with her coworkers. We played a game that involves getting others to guess the proper nouns written on strips of paper—using words, then one word, then actions, and eventually noises.
As one couple explained the rules, I kept asking questions:
“So how do we earn points?”
“You get a point every time you get someone to guess one of your words correctly.”
“What about the person who guesses it? Do they get points for guessing correctly?”
They continued to explain the rules, but I was still trying to make sense of the scoring system. Interrupting their instructions, I asked, “So what incentive do we have to guess? If we don’t get points for it, why would we even guess at all?”
With exasperation in their voices, the couple responded in unison, “Because it’s a game, Tyler.”
Not wanting to embarrass my wife (any further), I let it go. But I couldn’t help thinking, If winning isn’t the point, why bother playing?
My competitive nature is most evident during games like this or sporting events, but it also spills over into other areas. Like, for example, when a car passes me on the highway and my foot instinctively digs a little deeper into the accelerator. Or when I’m out for a bike ride—peddling at a leisurely pace—until I encounter another rider on the path and suddenly (unbeknownst to them) it’s a race.
Obviously competition can be a healthy, effective thing. (Imagine how dull the Olympics would be if the competitors didn’t care about the outcome.) But what about in the workplace? Should we compete with colleagues?
Competition is a slippery slope for me; I know that my inflamed desire to win can easily obscure even the noblest of intentions. For instance, in my work as a campus minister, I’m encouraged to bring students to an annual conference hosted by our organization. This past year, my supervisor encouraged our area to bring more students to the conference than any other area. Our goal was to win. And we came in second. I was frustrated.
Never mind the substantial increase in students from our area. Never mind that we came in second because another area did an excellent job of recruiting. Never mind that the conference was fantastic and students’ lives were changed. Never mind that I should have been able to celebrate all of these things. No, I wanted to win!
Yes, of course I should strive for excellence in my profession, but instead of competing against my colleagues, maybe I should celebrate with them. A “winning is everything” mentality is clearly misguided. Personal success isn’t the goal, ultimately. Faithfulness is.
In the final chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus suggests that Peter will die on a cross because of his allegiance to Christ. Jesus follows this revelation with the simple command, “Follow me.”
Seeing that John is literally following them along the shore, Peter asks, “Lord, what about him?”
Maybe it wasn’t Peter’s competitive spirit that prompted the question. But I suspect that Peter’s motives were less than pure, because Jesus says, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
In other words, “Don’t worry about anyone else. Just follow me.”
Depending on our profession and employer, competing with colleagues may look quite different. (Susan DiMickele’s When is Healthy Competition Unhealthy? offers an excellent assessment of the pros and cons of competition in the workplace.) But the important question is, What’s driving my competitiveness? Is it a healthy expression of my desire to be faithful? Is it rooted in my calling? Or have I, like Peter, started looking around and asking, “What about him?”
Competition can fuel faithfulness, or it can hinder it. To those who, like me, allow their competitive spirit to conflict with their calling, I think Jesus wants to say the same thing he said to Peter: “Focus on the task I’ve given you. Quit worrying about others and follow me.”
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"More Than a Sabbath" Collection
- How to Fast the Other Six Days
- My Fast from Ladder Climbing
- My Fast from Earning
- My Fast from Competing
- My Fast from Producing
- My Fast from Consuming