I love playing games…when I’m winning. Games that I don’t win aren’t fun. It’s kind of an issue.
I blame my drive to win on my days as a competitive athlete. Playing volleyball through college taught me the value of hard work, the beauty of team, and the necessity of discipline in training for a goal. It also taught me to compete. Competition fueled my desire to perform at the top of my game, motivating me to work harder than if there wasn’t another player trying to outscore me.
But there were also times (I’m ashamed to admit) when my competitive drive led to a disdain for the opposing team, when the athletes across the net became more than just opponents—they became the enemy. In those moments, my desire to win changed how I viewed those I competed against; competition dehumanized my rivals.
I don’t play collegiate sports anymore, but you can’t take the competitive streak out of this girl. This week in an exercise class I go to (I can’t tell you that it’s Jazzercise because you’ll assume I wear legwarmers and a leotard and lose all respect for my athleticism), competition inspired perseverance when I did NOT want to do another lunge. The gal next to me was a former college volleyball player too, and working out with her motivated me not to slack because once an athlete, always an athlete and I WILL NOT BE BEATEN!
I told you, it’s an issue.
I love it when Ali the ex-volleyball player is in class because she inspires me by her example to give every move my best effort. When I’m sucking wind, I can look over and see that she’s tired too, but she’s not stopping. She gives me the look back that says, “This is SO HARD…and we are SO AWESOME for not quitting!” And because I don’t want to be seen as the one who couldn’t hack it, I keep squatting, jumping, and lifting those weights. She inspires me to do more than I could on my own.
Competition at its best motivates us to become our best.
But there is another side of competition that plays itself out more often in groups of women than I care to admit.
When we walk into a room and size up the other women there to see how our outfit, our hair, the size of our thighs compete;
when we evaluate our success based on how it compares to the achievements of those around us;
when our insecurities cause us to feel threatened by the beauty, strength, or opportunities given to others.
There is no winner when we compete out of our own sense of inadequacy. Jealousy robs us of the chance to make others better. It steals our ability to see the beauty in those around us. It keeps us bound by insecurity instead of releasing others to become their best selves.
Brené Brown talks about the principle of “scarcity” in Daring Greatly. Scarcity is basically the cultural fear that there isn’t enough of ______ to go around. We never have enough time, enough energy, enough money, enough of whatever we think we need. Scarcity tells us that life is a competition for limited resources. It’s what makes us jealous of something others have that we want because we feel like they are leaving less of that thing for us. Scarcity tells us we better compete or miss our chance to live the life we hope for.
Scarcity is lying.
I have some amazing friends who are committed to cheering me on in my gifts and passions. (Like writing, for example—these are the same friends who told me I should start a blog and then read it and told me I should keep writing.) They are generous with their words of encouragement and love. They see beauty in me that I can’t see in myself, and they are relentless about saying those things out loud. I feel safe and loved and known by these women.
These same friends are incredibly gifted and breathtakingly beautiful. I’m not just saying that because they are my friends—it’s really true. One friend has an eye for beauty and can capture it in the most mundane, ordinary moments through the lens of her camera. She is generous and gives the most thoughtful gifts, and she opens her peaceful home to others as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Another friend creates beauty out of anything—ribbon and paper, hair and bobby pins, sticks and string, paint and canvas, furniture and color—her artistic creativity leaves a wake of pretty wherever she goes. But her beauty is deeper than just what you see; everything about her heart, words, and actions genuinely and sacrificially loves those in her world.
I have other friends who are organized and disciplined with their time and possessions. Their homes are tidy, their bathrooms smell good, and they structure their days with intention so that the most important things always come first. Some of my friends love to cook, some love to garden, some love to exercise, some love to travel and find new adventures all over the world.
I have amazing and talented and beautiful friends who are gifted in ways that I am not (ahem, especially in their areas of cooking and creativity), but their giftedness does nothing to threaten the unique way I am wired. In fact, being surrounded by women who freely use the gifts they have been given inspires me to lean more fully into mine.
So why is it that the most beautiful and gifted women I know leave me inspired instead of insecure?
Because secure women are generous with their words of love and belief in others.
My friends genuinely celebrate with me in success and grieve with me in failure. They are uninhibited with their encouragement and frequent in expressing their affirmation. My friends have taught me that women who cheer one another on can celebrate the uniqueness of others without competition.
Women who tell one another the beauty they see in each other prove that scarcity is a lie. Competition subtracts but celebration multiplies. The more we believe in those around us, the more belief comes back in abundance.
There is more than enough beauty and meaning for every human on the planet. Like the air we breathe, there is an adequate supply of grace for every person to live the life of purpose they crave. God’s limitless creativity is reflected in the awe-inspiring diversity of humankind.
So who can you celebrate today? Let’s all go tell someone what we admire about them. May we use our words to point out the the beauty of God reflected in the people around us. Let’s use our belief to set people free to become all they were made to be.