There Are No Opponents, Only Teachers
I have always been super competitive. Since before I can remember I was trying to do things faster, better, and since I don’t really remember very much about my life as an infant I have always thought that started with having a little brother. I assumed that I was always competing against him or my cousins, or perhaps my father. I recently realized this was incorrect.
First I had to put a lot of thought into understanding what I liked about winning. The Leo in me just loved the spot light, and if I happened to be the one standing atop the podium it was all the better. So holding a trophy, and taking a picture gave me some kind of rush. Getting my picture taken and being told I was special is always validating and I am kind of a ham so that was never an issue. But that was not always a guarantee and not the real reason I enjoyed competition.
One thing I knew was that I hated loosing, and as much as I loved winning I didn’t particularly like the look on my competitors faces when they lost either. It felt good to be on the podium but I didn’t like that there were only three spots. It was bittersweet, because it wasn’t so much that I loved the praise and being exalted. I just liked being acknowledged, and being included. I didn’t like the the fact that it meant others had to be excluded.
So much of my life I avoided competition for this reason. I felt that it was acidic to have to crush someone else’s dreams just to realize my own. There was something destructive about that and forced me out. This let me to art, where I could fully exercise my abilities in a community of others that were doing the same. We could all be independent together, no one better or worse, just different subjectively equal.
As an athlete I tried to apply that philosophy but it became difficult to know if I was progressing without measurement. The moment I began timing my runs, I wanted to improve them. But I wasn’t running against anyone except the clock. I only wanted to improve my own time. So then when it came time to enter a marathon, I knew that I needed to run my own race, but it was much like the artist community where I had to joy of seeing how other people ran, learn and be inspired but not objectively compare. We all had different physical statures so how we approached the run and the results we got were all different.
Now that I am a fencer, and have this Olympic ambition burning inside me, I realize that I am still seeking the same thing, to learn and be inspired. To challenge my self to reach my highest potential. The goal is to be faster, more accurate, more graceful, more in control. The person on the other side of the strip is only a mirror, reflecting back my progress, showing me where I am.
My competitor is really an ally, they are the first person I show my work to when I feel it is complete. They give me their honest feed back and first impression. I take their notes and mix them with my ideas and continue to strive forward.
So if I ever end up at the podium, I should thank all my competitors for helping me to improve, each match is a lesson, that affirms or challenges the techniques I am employing. There are no opponents, only teachers.