I’m a competitor
Dear Evan and Lulu,
Two weeks ago I was uncharacteristically watching football when I saw a post-game interview with a jacked up, dread-locked, mouthy fellow by the name of Richard Sherman. Sherman caught my attention (and the attention of most the nation) because he was loud, proud, and ruthless. He played a vital role in winning the game to send his team to the Super Bowl and when he was immediately interviewed after the play he screamed about how great he was. At the time I thought it was tacky, but later he came back completely composed and conducted a perfect interview and apologized for his earlier outburst stating “I’m a competitor.”
I too am a competitor. I felt it early on when I was devastated by even the smallest of losses. Go-Fish could end up disastrous for anyone in my path. I sensed it as I grew older and started to lose sleep staying up at night and thinking about concerts, games, or even art assignments that lay unfinished in my portfolio. I knew it to be true when I started winning. Winning at games, winning at assignments, winning at jobs and a spark was fed a slow trickle of gasoline that gave birth to a raging fire.
I remember the first time I watched Evan play an organized sport. Here is a girl who understands the fire of competition like she understands that her hair is the color of light. She was born with a fierceness that most are not used to, a flame they’ve never seen before, a fuel that they’re unfamiliar with. But when she stood out on the field with a group of soccer players competing for the same ball she shrunk inside herself and couldn’t even find it in her to react. None of them could. They let the other team just take the ball. Time and time again. They stopped short of stealing, short of shooting, and entirely short of scoring even though they were familiar with what was supposed to happen in the game.
It took me a few moments, and a lot of deep breaths, to realize what was happening. We had stripped the competitors out of Evan and these other girls. We had insisted on sharing, kindness, and manners for so much of your life that you couldn’t even comprehend how to be aggressive.
“You don’t have to share!” I finally yelled to Evan. I said it a few more times and watched it sink in. You don’t have to share.
The pattern has repeated itself with new seasons, new sports, and a new sister who went through the exact same process. It is a process that I’m not sure ever really ends. I still struggle all the time with deciding when competitiveness crosses over into jerk.
Like if you throw a basketball at a girls’ face and get ejected from the game? Probably a jerk. If you stop playing an iinstrument out of protest that you lost first chair, a jerk and a fool. And if you are caught cheating at things as trivial as drinking games you are not just a jerk, but a drunk jerk.
So where does the line fall, my dears? How do I tell you that kindness is always the answer while also screaming at you that you don’t have to share?
I think there has to be a balance between the two. I think you have to help people up and you also have to shout “I’m the greatest” and believe it. Here is why.
We’ve expected little girls, and later young women, to be so quiet, and so polite, and so modest for so long that we don’t even remember what they are capable of. We don’t remember how fast they can run, how smart they can be, how courageously they can lead. We have stopped noticing them completely.
Too many women have stopped short of greatness.
So I hope that you too are competitors. It will not always be a popular thing to be and you will always have to strive to find a balance between humbleness and confidence. Competing will take you places and teach you lessons that you could never experience while sitting still. You will fail, like everyone will, but you will only glow stronger each time you do. If you are careful with your flame, if you fuel it responsibly and don’t let it burn everything around it, people can’t help but follow your brightness.
After all, you are the greatest.