Don’t let your need to win lead you astray
Posted Saturday, September 22 2012 at 19:00
- Boys start the race to the top right back in the schoolyard. Learning to be assertive, independent — and brave
- That’s why men love sports, especially those that are scary and dangerous. And why they become gamblers and financial traders
- Our competitive drive can lead us astray
This hard world’s no place for an unsuccessful man. Because when a man loses, he loses big time. So men learn to be competitive. Passionate about what they do. Tough, committed, and confident.
Boys start the race to the top right back in the schoolyard. Learning to be assertive, independent — and brave. Because getting ahead is risky.
That’s why men love sports, especially those that are scary and dangerous. And why they become gamblers and financial traders.
That’s why we’re so impressed by men who succeed. Everything about them says powerful and unafraid — their confidence, easy movements and unsmiling gaze.
But it’s not just men. Whether you’re male or female, we all want to win.
It starts with our genes, which programme us with the drive to be winners. Sibling rivalry within the family teaches tiny children competitive techniques. And anytime you win, your brain’s reward centres flood you with feel-good hormones. So once you’ve tasted success, you want to experience it again.
Which means that women can be just as competitive as men. Though they’re often less obvious about it — surreptitiously checking out handbags, for example, for clues to each other’s social status.
Women tend to be more subtle about competition because their lives centre around support, connections, consensus and intimacy.
They want to be liked by their friends, for example, so they learn not to put themselves forward. But it’s also because of the way society expects women to behave. Like they’re expected to be beautiful and fashionable, but looked down on if they pay too much attention to their appearance.
They’re expected to find a good man to marry, but then told they shouldn’t depend on him.
So it’s hard for a woman to get the balance right, as she competes to be the prettiest, or to get the best husband, or to succeed in her career.
But actually, men also feel social pressures like that — the need to belong for example. Like the way people inside a group — such as a family, religion or culture — emphasise their similarities while stressing the differences between them and other groups.
Group membership like this used to define our identity — and reduced our need to compete. Whereas nowadays we have more individual freedom but struggle with the pressures of having to win on our own.
Our competitive drive can lead us astray in other ways. Like it’s fine while it motivates you to reach your goals. But aiming to be top dog is another matter. Because controlling people can give you an exaggerated sense of your own abilities.
And power is addictive — look at the way presidents never want to let go. Wealth and success also often leaves people isolated, vulnerable — and alone.
So both men and women can be winners — and let’s face it — it does feel great! But compete with care. It’s better to have good friends and loving relationships than to be the lonely winner.