I’ve been thinking a lot about competition recently, and how it relates to the things I want in my life. When I was in high school, I competed with my peers to get straight As (predictable, I know!), to know more about professional sports teams, and to be more athletic – whether it was a better crossover dribble on the driveway when we were playing pickup basketball, or becoming more ripped than them because a handful of us had started lifting weights. I know some guys compete about whether they are dating and who they are dating and maybe even sexual conquests, but that wasn’t me and that wasn’t my group of friends.
In college, it was kind of the same thing. But then after graduation, I wanted to achieve a certain level of professional success and so I poured my efforts into doing research, publishing papers and books, and teaching really well. I didn’t have a girlfriend (despite really, really wanting one), and so that just gave me a number of distraction-free years to try to succeed. During that lonely season, God blessed my efforts and I got promoted twice while also winning a handful of awards and accolades. I’m grateful. I really am. I know I’m so fortunate to be in the position I’m in.
But now I have a bunch of plaques leaning against the wall inside of a hallway closet underneath my stairs, next to my vacuum cleaner. And that’s where I keep my three framed diplomas too, which I have never bothered to hang up – either at home or in my university office. Why? I’m not really sure. I guess because having degrees on the wall doesn’t mean that much to me. Does that make me a jerk? Because it feels almost blasphemous to say. The thing is, when I see the awards, they just don’t elicit the feelings inside of me I hoped they would. You know, deep inside of my heart.
I guess I just want to be known for accomplishing something more, something bigger.
Something less individualistic and more selfless.
Being competitive – against others as well as even myself – has been really beneficial in my life. It’s helped drive me forward and has brought about amazing opportunities and experiences. And I am convinced it is God-given. The Apostle Paul talks about competitive sports like running and boxing to light a fire under us, and the Bible has lots of mentions of war and how with Jesus we have ultimate victory. If you’re in a war, you have to compete to win. If you’re an athlete, you play to win. If you’re in business, you strive to win – to achieve some measure of success.
But what’s interesting is that over the last couple of years, I have seen a shift in the direction of my competitive efforts. And I’m actually really proud of it, and in the long run I feel like it’s going to satisfy me more than degrees and promotions and awards. And more than being ripped and being able to hold my own on the sports fields on campus.
I feel like I’ve reached the point where I don’t want my competitive juices to push me to try to make a New York Times bestseller happen, or land a paper in the most prestigious academic journal, or secure a keynote in front of the biggest audience. I’m still going to work hard and do my thing, and if those cool things happen as byproducts – great. But I’m kind of over competing with others and competing with myself to make those type of ambitions preeminent in my life.
Instead, I want to redirect my competitive nature to another area: my family. I waited so long for Rachel to come along. And I remember telling God that if He would just give me a chance (with a girl), that I would do Him so proud.
She came along.
And I need to make sure I do my part, not just while dating or during the honeymoon phase, but forever. Regularly over the course of the two years we dated, I told Rachel that “I want to be the best boyfriend in the world.” And since we’ve been married, I often tell her that “I want to be the best husband in the world.” This has kept me accountable. This has helped me to rise up and be the man I want to be. The man I need to be.
My promotions and awards aren’t going to keep me warm at night. Neither are my athletic skills or fitness level. They’re not going to love me unconditionally, and support me through the bad times while celebrating with me the good. They’re not going to be there to share moments and make memories with me.
But Rachel will. And she therefore deserves the best of me – which includes the part of me that is always striving and grinding to become better, to become more successful. I should become better loving her, and I should become more successful fulfilling the role I am called to fulfill as her man. I work with kids whose families have fallen apart, and that challenges me to make sure it doesn’t happen to mine. And when I personally fall short by demonstrating impatience or self-centeredness with Rachel, I challenge myself to remember and come through on my commitment to her, which compels me to apologize and make things right. And when I see other couples who clearly have an amazing relationship, I’m so inspired and challenged, and am like, “dang, I want that in ours!” It makes me want to go above and beyond.
Can I do better than the families around me? Can I do better than the men around me? Can I do better than I’ve personally done before in my relationship? That’s the competition. That’s the drive. This is how I throw down the gauntlet to myself. I can either succeed or fail, and I am too competitive to let myself fail. And so it helps me.
Should I be able to love Rachel well enough without the need to make it a competition to myself? Probably. But does this way of thinking about it work for me? Yes. It really does. It’s just how I’m wired. I’m competitive.
Perhaps you’re wired the same way.
I encourage you to compete to love your significant other better than others love theirs, and better than you have in the past. And choose to prioritize this challenge at the expense of competing for material wealth, social status, weekend warrior wins, or career dominance. To be honest, this challenge is way harder than the others – and that’s why we have so many people doing incredible things professionally, but struggling and sputtering personally and relationally.
Join me in this competition. And let’s push each other to be the best girlfriends and boyfriends and husbands and wives and lovers we can be. I’m convinced this pursuit matters more than any other, and at the end of my life I believe I’ll have so much proof that I was right. And so will you – one way or the other.