Quitting the Competition

I grew up around football fields. Every summer and fall I sat at practices and scrimmages, with fold-out game chairs dug into the dirt, sitting with my mom in front of our car that was backed up to the field with the hatch open. We watched the boys play four days a week, my brother and his friends, while my dad coached.

As fall arrived and game days came, once I was old enough, my dad had me come onto the sidelines with him and count plays, making sure every player got his twelve in for the game.

This job was my thing. I had the opportunity to be involved in the energy of the competition, playing an important role as my dad counted on me to make sure every kid had their shot on the field. With my clipboard tucked in my arm, I stood my ground and carefully paid attention to every huddle and timeout, striking a tally when a player on my list ran in.

I spent my childhood around competition, every weekend of later elementary and middle school riding to the fields with my mom and choosing sides, tallying marks on my clipboard year after year.

But as I’ve grown up and found myself in different communities, I’ve taken this idea of tallying plays with me. Life was the field and everyone was fighting to run in and get that tally next to their name. I held the clipboard in my mind and started keeping track.

She landed that leadership position? Tally. Oh, started dating that guy? Another one. She got the praise from the professor on her idea for a paper? Tally for her. My running pace was quicker than hers? Tally for me. But oh, she ran five miles today? Man, that tally is actually hers.

I became frazzled as everyone around me was receiving tallies and I felt stuck, like my tallies weren’t as good, and concerned that I only had three while they had sixteen.

And thus began the competition. How can I do better, run more, be more attractive, and get smarter? I needed more tallies because that’s where I was not only counting my worth, but also the worth of the women around me.

The danger really hit hard when this started to be a problem that moved from my head and into my relationships. This competition manifested itself in every passive aggressive thought, inhibiting my ability to love and connect with the women I share life with in my community because I was constantly discounting their struggles because of how many tallies they had.

What this tally system does is inhibit our ability to sympathize with those around us. We think because they have that “thing,” they can’t be struggling as much as we do without it. It minimizes other people’s struggles, casting them on a different team, and making it impossible to connect.

Viewing life as this competitive thing is the easiest way towards isolation. And as I’ve learned to stop keeping score, I’m finding myself more sympathetic towards others and able to have richer relationships because of it.

So unless you’re actually on a football field counting plays, trash the clipboard. It’s gotta go. Start viewing the girl standing next to you in chapel with that ring or your roommate who seems to have it all together on the same playing field as you because well, you’re on the same team.

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