Competitive Disadvantages

One of these sisters can compete, the other cannot.

Another weekend, another North Carolina basketball game. This weekend, we travelled to Greensboro to see the Tarheels take on the Longhorns of Texas. It was a riveting game, and kept us thoroughly entertained until the last second.  Sadly, this week’s results were not what we hoped. The ‘Heels lost by two, but we can all take comfort in the fact that they gave a very sincere effort.  For a young team, I was impressed with how they played.

As we were watching the game, as always, I was animated and offering up my commentary on the play of the game and call of the refs.  Sarah told me, “You know more about sports than any person I know who has never played sports.”  It is true. I am terrible at all sports and I enjoy watching many of them. To me, in order to enjoy watching a game, one must know as much of the rules and strategy of the game as possible. However, it is also true that maybe I compensate for the fact that I am terrible at playing sports by being overly zealous when it come to understanding them.

I learned a long time ago, that I actually lack any competitive drive at all when it comes to sports. I learned this at a young age. I spent time on the same competitive swim team that my sisters did. However, unlike the successes they went on to, I failed in my first attempts at competitive swimming. When I dove into the water for a race, I couldn’t make myself swim any faster than I did in practice. Thus, my defeats were always humiliating.  Later on, when I started to play tennis more, I realized that I could never will myself to beat anyone in a match.  Even now, I can never beat David (of course, this is in part because David is far more advanced than I am and usually has to play down on my level, so whenever I start to do well, he just can play at a higher level and beat me). In my middle school homeroom softball tournament, I struck out every time. When I played church basketball, the only thing I was good for was fouling other players.  I simply never burned the neural pathways to make me capable of competing in any athletic competition. I never learned how to compete.

This is not simply exclusive to sports. I always do worse in a competitive environment if I think of myself as being in competition with anyone else.  Now due to other factors, I may have lost only one of the cases that I ever took to trial when I practiced law, but that doesn’t mean that I was a good competitor.  I could hold it together well in court and present a good case, and even excel in cross-examinations (I don’t know why, but I could do a fantastic cross-examination in court). However, I was a wreck out of court. I couldn’t sleep at night.  I would involuntarily break down into tears in my office at inopportune moments.  In the social world, if I ever get the slightest hint of competition, I immediately bow out. It isn’t in me to compete. This explains why I hated the Singles Ward that I attended in New York. It just wasn’t worth it at all.  This also explains, in part, why I chose to stay at BYU for law school. I didn’t want to turn into a person that I hated by attending some school where I felt like I would be constantly judging myself next to others. Having already made my peace at BYU, I felt like I could forge ahead with law school there and safely avoid all of the law school competitive stereotypes.

Now, this isn’t to say that I am not a competitive person. I actually can be. However, what I have realized is that I have no competitive advantage when I do feel that way. I cannot will myself to do better in the face of trying to beat someone else. I just turn into a paranoid mess. The only way I can will myself to do better is based on some ideal that I hope to accomplish, quite removed from any other person. In sports, such ideals do not exist, and so I just can’t will my body to do anything better than anyone else.  The neural pathways to make my limbs move are blocked, and so all I have left is the uptick of stress hormones affecting my mind, without the neurons to fire to increase activity in my body.  Sometimes, this makes me feel like I am the result of some genetic mutation gone terribly wrong that sets me apart from everyone else in my family.

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