At the gym, the coach sometimes divides us into teams to compete against each other for the workout. I hate those days with a blistering passion. I’m usually the slowest, the “weak link.” It reminds me of high school gym class and always getting picked as one of the last options. My teammates often have to wait for me. Sometimes, we lose because of me. (This usually means some sort of ‘punishment’ in the form of burpees or push-ups like we’re at fucking boot camp.) I’ve been going to the gym 4–5 times a week for 8 months and am still one of the slowest and weakest. I was so pissed about that the other day that I cried while running, sweat and tears dripping down my red-hot face.
As I walked out defeated, one woman high-fived me and said: “Hey, you’re doing great! We only compete against ourselves! See, how far you’ve come already!”
The kind gesture delivered with the best of intentions only made me more mad. I didn’t realize why until the end of the day.
When I started looking at my perfectionistic tendencies a few years ago, I learned that more than wanting to be the best ever, I just wanted to be better than the people around me. I turned over that big mossy rock and found lots of slimy jealousy and judgment and superiority and competitiveness underneath. Slimy not because it’s outrageous that I had very human feelings and hang-ups, but because I hid them and pretended they weren’t real.
It took actual yeeeears to stop the constant comparison with other people and that helped me feel a little less like I was in a 24/7 race. But what I didn’t realize was that I mostly just took all that competitive spirit and need for superiority and transferred it from other people onto myself. For some reason, I considered comparing myself to versions of me from yesterday or 5 years ago, as more enlightened:
I don’t compare myself to others. I only compete against myself. I just want to be better/wiser/smarter/stronger than I was yesterday. I would tell myself this garbage and feel proud of being so evolved.
I didn’t understand why I still felt shitty.
Later that day, I remembered a conversation with a good friend who asked me to institute a “non-compete clause.” These are contractual terms that forbid a person from competing with a…