Ants for Competitive Picnicking

Humans are funny creatures. Some of us just can’t leave well alone, and feel a need to measure ourselves against others. Take my friend Holly Jahangiri. She’s in the middle of an exhausting blogging competition that won’t even let her do NaNoWriMo properly. This on top of her day job as a technical communicator and a wife and mother. Why do we do this to ourselves? This is pretty much a case of the pot calling the kettle black, though. While I’m not killing myself like Holly, I have entered a couple of writing competitions, just to see where I’m at and to give myself a deadline to work against. See, I’m a master procrastinator (this is apparently common to writers – it was even in the instructions for one of the competitions I entered). If I don’t have to get something done by a certain date, it tends to fall off the edge of my world. Calendars and reminders help with this, but only somewhat. How about you, do you need competition to get you off your duff?

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11 Responses to “Competition”

  1. zohar Says:

    For me it’s the opposite – competition ruins my enjoyment of what I do – and only when I can forget it, do I really get into whatever it is I am doing. Its the part of my personality I would most like to get rid of

  2. Dr. Eviatar Says:

    Maybe I should have specified friendly competition with little at stake ;-). Does that help?

    The main purpose of that post, BTW, although could develop into an interesting discussion, was to provide Holly with a link for her blog competition ;-). Is that 30 points, Holly?

  3. Holly Jahangiri Says:

    It is, indeed! 🙂 And zohar, it is definitely a friendly competition. We worked hard to eliminate the other team first, mainly because we could not stand the thought of eliminating a teammate (it’s a Survivor-style blogging contest) and because we felt that ONE of those who worked so hard to build a successful blog ought to be the one to win it (the blog itself being part of the prize – and something we clearly do better together than apart). Competing against your own teammates is hard, especially when you genuinely LIKE all of them. There’s not a one of us I’d want to vote off the island.

  4. Holly Jahangiri Says:

    I should add, we’re all still friendly with the OTHER team, too!

  5. arkee_titan Says:


  6. Holly Jahangiri Says:

    I do think it’s odd, this love/hate relationship most writers have with writing, and the need for deadlines – even what I call “artificially created deadline pressure” – in order to get anything done. Ever. We’ll pick lint and carpet fuzz first, left to our own devices.

  7. Dr. Eviatar Says:

    That is very odd … definitely something to think about.

    BTW, Holly, do you think that if I addressed W’s concerns with a blog post, he would be OK talking that way? I’m just thinking it could be an interesting way to involve Jen and maybe Rafi as well, in one conversation.

  8. zohar Says:

    what is friendly competition? competition means ‘lets decide who is better than the other’ – I can understand becoming friends with someone you compete with — and then, I would think, you wouldnt compete anymore, because you would realize that being better than someone at something is not relevant for friendship — but I can’t really get my mind around competing with my friends– unless it doesnt matter who wins, and then its not really a competition, it becomes a game….
    Maybe its because I ended up in a competitive profession – and that is not the same as a meritocracy — in a meritocracy more than one can be a winner — but in a competition, the person graded as better than you, is better than you. How can that be fun? I guess I should let up here — my psyche is showing…

  9. Dr. Eviatar Says:

    No, don’t let up, it’s an interesting conversation! I think the important question here is what is at stake. In your case, if your research doesn’t get funded, your graduate students don’t eat. That’s very high-stakes and I can totally see that it would not be fun. Quite aside from the psychological issue of having some faceless committee declare you less than somebody else. Zero sum games are generally not fun, I agree.

    For me, right now, because I am just starting out with this writing business, I am submitting things to competitions with absolutely no expectation of winning. I just want to see where I end up. Neither my livelihood nor my ego (very much) are dependent on how I end up in this competition. Therefore you are right, it is more like a game. Also, by having an external deadline set by somebody else, I put aside my distractions (of which I have MANY) and sit down and write. I should have the internal discipline to write without that, but it is easier this way.

    In Holly’s case, I’d say it is definitely a game. One that is swallowing up all of her life right now, but still a game. There is no prize to be won, really, and nobody’s life will be adversely affected by not coming out on top.

    So yeah, I think the main difference is whether the competition is purely for pleasure and without any consequences for the “loser”, or a deadly serious game which will affect someone’s life or at least their career.

    Is that better?

  10. zohar Says:

    yes, but I think its actually more than that — you were right in diagnosing the importance of ego involvement — I think that is an even stronger prerequisite for taking competition hard rather than easy. Even if it doesnt have ‘real world’ effects — if it is desperately important to you to be really really good at whatever it is you’re doing, and if the only way you know how to evaluate it is by looking at what other people say about you — then competition becomes dangerous to your self image — that’s what I means by my psyche showing. However, if you trust your own evaluation best – then it doesnt matter what other people say. I’ll give you an example — I really love my own paintings that are hanging up in my house, and I don’t really care whether they are high quality art or not — I like them and enjoy living with them on the wall. However, when someone else’s paper gets chosen by a journal as the ‘most influential’, ‘most innovative’ etc, where I had a paper too, it hurts my pride — and that makes it not fun..

  11. Dr. Eviatar Says:

    Maybe there’s something in between not caring what other people say at all and being hurt by not being at the top of the heap … but I agree, that happy medium may be pretty hard to find!

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