"Everyone was saying I should be happy with how I played and stuff. But, like, I don’t care about that. I want to win."
The quote above is from an article written by Patrik Laine, right-winger for the Winnipeg Jets. The article generated buzz on social media for a number of reasons, including Patrik's self-professed love for my hometown (fuck the haters, Winnipeg is good). But it was the insight into the inner monologue of a professional athlete that has stuck with me. Even though I'm partially allergic to exercise, I relate to it. I also want to win.
My partner learned this recently when we played badminton together for the first time. I hadn't played in eons and forgot most of the rules but that didn't matter. I went in hard. After volleying for a bit, he commented on how I was better than he anticipated. I gave my best "awwww, shucks" face and continued with my strategy of playing to his strengths while blinding him with mine. After all, I'm not there to just look cute while feeding into someone else's ego. I bring my A-game.
I didn't always feel this way though.
I am naturally gifted in sport; probably inheriting the trait from my father who was a formidable athlete in several areas including hockey and baseball. In my youth, I participated in the Canada Fitness Awards which were administered nationally through physical education programs in school. I regularly came out on top for my gender but I recall one relay event in particular in which I received the fastest time for my school overall. I was so proud, as were my female classmates who ecstatically attempted to carry me on their shoulders in a makeshift parade. The boys glowered. These awards meant nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things but the hostility and taunting I received afterwards subconsciously informed me to dial it down. To play in my own sandbox and focus on making friends during this critical developmental time rather than attempt to stand out with exception.
Reading my words back now, I have but one thought: this is some bullshit.
With maturity, I have learned to not let anyone diminish one of my greatest assets: confidence.
I recently had a psychometric assessment of my personality done at work. To no one's surprise, I came out as an extreme type-A, being very purposeful and structured with tremendous attention to detail. But also competitive. Very competitive. In fact, it was the highest rated quality of my persona at 98% (and it was my competitive side that wondered if anyone ranked higher). I did shrink a bit as our team compared notes, wanting to conceal what I initially perceived as a negative trait, but I'm learning to embrace it more openly. This aspect of my personality never stems from a dark place, only one of potential betterment (for myself and, I believe, others). For example, I would never aim to "win at all costs". If my body, mind and accumulated skill level can't get me to succeed on their own, I see it as a means to improve myself, not cheat. This is where the challenge of competition can lead to great things. It can motivate. It can elevate. Beyond sport, picture a world in which the genius of Thomas Edison wasn't feuding with Nikola Tesla. Imagine where we'd be without the duelling technological might of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Being inspired to evolve, rather than simply adapt, is what gives humanity purpose.
It also reminded me of a piece of advice my father once gave me eons ago:
"Don't lower yourself to anyone else's level. Make them rise to yours."