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Let’s talk about … Competition

I’ve learned many of life’s most valuable lessons because of the 18 years I have spent showing Arabian horses. Among many other things, a constant in this experience is competition. From ages 10 to 19, every season culminated at July’s Youth National Championships in Albuquerque, NM. Now, it peaks at October’s U.S. National Championships in Tulsa, OK.

Competition is part of this game. The older I get, the more I realize it is part of most things in life. If you let it, competition can seep into anything.

- “Did they get a better grade on that test?”

- “Is their job offer for more money than mine?”

- “How did my ex find a new partner faster than I did?”

- “Is their house bigger than ours?”

Competition is a necessary part of many things. It can be very motivating. But, I have also learned, you have to keep it in its place. Some of my best friends are people who I have been competing with for all 18 of those aforementioned years. If we let competition out of the show arena (ok – I guess it belonged in our water balloon fights … if you know, you know), we probably wouldn’t be friends today.

I think that’s because we didn’t learn anything too valuable about being first, second, or last. We learned that day we were the best, second best, or worst. And we learned how to process those emotions. But the experience kind of ended there.

Now figuring out how to transition from competing against each other for a national championship, to filling up 100 water balloons together in a matter of 30 minutes, was something worthwhile. Sometimes one of us needed an extra five minutes to cry it out in the dressing room, but so is life.

As a 28-year-old woman now, I realize we were balancing a very complex thing as 10, 11, 12, and 15-year-old kids. We sought validation from judges on national stages, while still embracing our adolescence. Those were big, important lessons we didn’t even realize we were learning.

I naturally draw on these experiences often in my personal and professional life. I’ve learned to know the difference between a competitive and a collaborative moment. Subsequently, I’ve realized that you get a lot more from the highly collaborative ones than the highly competitive ones. I’ve been lucky enough to come out first in highly competitive environments. It felt really good, but I can’t say I garnered much more insight than the desire to chase that emotion. But, highly collaborative moments generate lessons over and over.

So, when you find yourself in highly competitive environments, look for the things that will teach you something beyond chasing an emotional high. There are valuable lessons to be learned if you give yourself the right perspective.

And to the kids who are competing at youth nationals this week, I promise we reminisce more often about the water balloon fights than we do about class placings.

An affirmation to try: When I am in a competitive environment, I will be content with doing my best.

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