Life should not be a competition.
If you see children playing, they do it for the pure joy of playing. No winners. No losers. They take pleasure in building sand castles, playing with building blocks or marbles.
The adults then try to regulate their children’s lives. Build a bigger castle than your friend. Run faster. Jump higher. Swim further. Soon our lives are one long competition. Run a marathon. Do it under three hours. Play tennis. Play sets. Play to win. If you ask people, “How was the game?” The reply is likely to be, “Excellent, we won”, or “It was bad, we lost.” Look at the sports page for golf tournament results and you are likely to see Tiger Woods won again. He is the greatest golf player that ever lived. Good for him, but isn’t it more important how he is as a person? (Wonderful, I am told). Boxing’s Mohammed Ali said, “It’s just a job. Grass grows. Birds fly. Waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” Today he is a pathetic sight. I am not sure boxing caused his Pugilistic Parkinson Syndrome. The Greatest is no longer great. Was it worth it to be that competitive?
Bobby Fischer, considered to be the greatest chess player that ever lived, said, “I like the moment I break a man’s ego”. What a pity that as a world champion, his goal was to break a man’s ego. Sir Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Mt. Everest. He spent his life helping to build schools and hospitals in Nepal and listed his profession as carpenter. For decades he said he and Tenzing Norgay had reached the summit together. He wanted to share the glory.
The Olympic motto is, “Citius. Altius. Fortius.” These three Latin words mean, “Swifter. Higher. Stronger.” Baron de Coubertin used it to describe the goals of great athletes. Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.” How sad we cannot play just for the fun of it. Tonya Harding wanted to win so badly that she hired someone to injure Nancy Kerrigan. Rosie Ruiz wanted the glory of winning the 1980 Boston Marathon without running it. Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Floyd Landis allegedly resorted to performance enhancing drugs. Florence Griffith Joyner died at 38 of a massive heart attack that doctors think was drug related. Is winning everything?
One of the elite Boston Marathoners finished the race in 2 hours and 10 minutes (yes, he ran the whole way). He was in his hotel room relaxing. Three hours later he could still see bone-weary, dog-tired runners struggling to finish the race. He said they are the true athletes. They are running for the pure pleasure of running. They do not care about winning. They just want to cross the finish line.
We have a niece who played competitive tennis. We told her to go out on the court and have fun. “If you win, that is good. If you don’t, we won’t love you any bit less”. Her opponents were told not to take breaks with her, not to talk to her, and told, “If you can’t call the ball in, call it out. You must win.” We saw plenty of distraught parents and kids. No one seemed to be enjoying the game.
I enjoy yoga because it is non-competitive. You do the best you can do with your body today. You do not compare yourself to the svelte, limber 45-year-old woman on the mat next to you. You don’t compare yourself to what you did yesterday or even to how far you could bend on the other side. It is not the end-all or the be-all of your existence. Relax, take it easy, breathe deep and soon you will find you are making progress. Be nonjudgmental.
The Desiderata contains these wise words: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
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