Monday, March 26, 2007

Does competition really breed success?

As a runner for most of my life, this has long been one of my favorite quotes:

"Beating the competition is relatively easy, but beating yourself is a never-ending commitment."

I could never really remember where it came from, or who to give credit to, until I just found this on a runner's blog. I think my brother had that poster on his wall when I was a kid. I remember cutting out the words from somewhere - maybe the poster or a magazine ad, and taking them with me to college to post on a bulletin board. I still have them in a file somewhere. I still don't know who to give credit to for writing it - someone at Nike has had a huge impact on my life. Those words meant something when my brother would quote them in a letter or recite them while we were out on a run - wise advice from an inspirational sibling. Those words taught me to look within from beginning to end, no matter what the rest of the field was doing. It's you that you go home with at the end of the day, and you that you need to feel happy with. It's your own reality that you live with.

I've struggled recently with my title statement - the idea of competition breeding success. It feels like that's what the world says, until I sit back and remember that success lies within. I'd have to better define success as truly defining who you are and being able to live to that potential to the best of your ability.

My recent quandary? Registering the oldest child for middle school. Fortunately in life, you have the power of decision, and the power to choose. In the Emerald City, the choices are baffling. We live in an area where the public school system is called a 'choice' district - really meaning - you choose. Often, in other places, your schooling is decided by residence or by income. Surely, those things factor in here is well. It could range anywhere from home-schooling to the private, elite schools. The public school system here allows you to choose from any school in the district - residence area is a priority, not a requirement. Within this public system, free to the common tax-paying citizen - are a myriad of selections: the neighborhood school, the advanced academic placement school, the alternative school, the athletic school, the rich school, the poor school, the multilingual school, the expeditionary model, the outdoor education school, the school for the social elite . . .

Which one is best for our child?
If competition were to breed success, it would follow that our child should be placed in a school with the utmost academic standards. Perhaps the choice should be a school with the wealthy in attendance to be able to better fund extra opportunites, furnishings, buildings, learning materials.

But then the reminder - competition does breed success - but that competition lies within - being true to who you are and what you can become with that self. And true success can only be measured in the eyes of the beholder. So - a school with a place that will allow a child to compete with oneself would then become the goal. It would have to be a place that mimics that core value, and brings out the best of the whole person in that child - academically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, etc. As parents, making that decision for an 11-year-old child, is perhaps the most difficult decision we've had to make.

The rest of the story becomes long and political - with school visits, tours, application dates and times, waiting lists, priorities. We'll know results in early April, but they might not be finalized until August. But we did find that school. It just felt right more than anything, and it blew us away. The process really forced me to look at our children and who they really are, and how to bring out their personalities and motivate them. I'll post more on the school in detail when we find out if she got in or got put on the waiting list.

On running notes - the quote has put things in perspective for me today. Running is all about how I interpret it for myself on a given day. Running Boston with an injury will be interesting. It's still day to day right now with how my legs feel, but I still intend to make the most of the experience. And I believe I am in Wave #2, -not officially, but by looking at my bib number on the website. Considering my slower race with an injury, that's a good thing at this point, and it'll force me to relax and enjoy it.


Joe said...

Great quote. Here's a similar one I like: "Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself." - William Faulkner

JustRun said...

I'm sure there's some insightful quote about balance and how you can somehow have a good amount of competition without having it be too much. However, I don't know it and can't seem to think of any of it because this is the third time today I've been reminded of the decisions parents make for their children and in awe of how some of you do it. It's just not something I can wrap my head around, that pressure. Anyway, I know I'm of no assitance but I do wish you all the best in your decision making and I'm sure you'll make the right one.

Anne said...

Oh my, if there's this much contemplation and competition in middle school, I can't imagine what applying to colleges must be like!

Those are indeed great quotations and reminds me of something I heard yesterday while watching highlights of the Iditorad on cable TV. Multi-winner Lance Mackay, who made a comeback after battling cancer, said he learned the hard way that we all must run our own race. he found that balance between being aware of outside pressures and being awake to what strengths were within him.

Just12Finish said...

Nice ad. I actually liked the "there is no finish line" quote - maybe I'm one of the last people on earth who have never heard it.

Those choices on school sound tough. My twin girls are starting middle school in the fall too. No choice. Public school across the street. Thankfully, elementary school in our district has been pretty good, and middle school appears to be as well. We'll see how long our luck holds up.

Kurt said...

I hope you post your bib # so we can track your results. I have several that I will be tracking (off line me if you prefer).

My favorite new quote "If your not #1 your last" Bobby Ricky

In the end we all do compete against ourselves. Yes I love the hardware that I seem to get fairly often but I still am running against myself.

Good luck with the kid stuff. I grew up in Seattle and the schools are mixed. I still have one more to get through the school system.

Sarah Elaine said...

Wonderful post. I like how you tied together running and life. I think many of us do that unconsciously, but it is always refreshing with it is made explicit.

peter said...

I think you can ratchet up competition, even with yourself, to a dangerous degree. We sent our oldest to the top flight public school for technology in my state. He tested in (after extensive private test-prep of course) but our city suddenly refused to pay the tuition. Fights with the school board, a move to another jurisdiction, etc. It was a primary reason for the destruction of our family (the big D.). The child took advantage of this mess and cruised through his special school with low grades. He had time to find himself later and make of himself what he was always going to be, but we made those "tough" choices for him instead.

Josh said...

"Beating the competition is relatively easy, but beating yourself is a never-ending commitment."

Now that is the ultimate *Reality Check*

Good luck with your school of choice.

IHateToast said...

competition breeds success if both bits of competition carry the gene for success and they don't use a condom and barry white is on the radio.

as for schools. ... they're what you make of it (within). bush went to yale. rigorous academic standards can also kill imagination. look at the mission statements and philosophies. talk to the teachers and see how excited they are about being there. then choose the school that has the coldest drinking fountain.

Robin said...

I love the quote, that's a good one. I hope you hear good news about this school that sounds like such a good fit for your kid! Making decisions that will affect our kids' lives carry the heaviest burden of all, but I try to remember that almost no decisions are irrevocable. If things don't work, there are almost other paths available. That helps sometimes when the long-term consequences seem overwhelming.