My first childhood memory of being competitive involved trying to outsell my neighbor in a sidewalk sale. We each had a table filled with items to sell. I even had a semblance of a Business Plan: I’ll buy things she’s selling that I can sell at a higher price! She is asking only ten for that that jump rope with the fancy handles; it’s worth at least a dollar.
I took the firm action my child’s business mind deemed necessary for success. “May I buy that jump rope?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said. With great glee and sense of advanced business acumen I handed over my ten cents and proudly placed her jump rope on my sale table. Throngs of kids will be fighting to own such a beautiful object! I waited and waited. There were no throngs, and those who did see it didn’t hold the rope in the same high regard I did. It remained on my table until dinner time, when everything had to be dismantled as is, sold or unsold.
Where did this competitiveness come from?
Can I blame it on Steve, my piano teacher, whose response to pieces I played for him each week was always, “Not bad.” It was never “Good job.” It wasn’t even “Interesting interpretation of Chopin; he probably would have loved the rock rhythm you added.”
Parents are always a handy source of blame. Maybe it was their fault: all the comparisons they made between my brother and me.
“Jerry, great save ! You kept Jamaica High’s soccer team from scoring that goal.”
“Ronnie, good job walking Rover today. He sniffed out his spot in record time. You sure have a way with animals.”
Complimenting my brother on an outstanding job was right. But to feel that they had to make up a reason to compliment me, even for an inane every day task, brought focus on the idea that Jerry and I were in a battlefield of competition.
In high school, was I invited to the popular kids’ parties? I’m not sure, but I remember asking a friend, “WHAT Sweet Sixteen Party on Saturday night?”
Then came the college application process. That’s all anybody talked about.
“How many applications are you sending?”
“What is your safe school?
“Are you applying for early admission anywhere?” That time was the most stressful competition I ever experienced.
Now personal questions cause questions in my mind that make me wonder; are they being competitive or are they just making conversation?
“Is your trip to Scotland for business or pleasure? How long will you be there? Where are you staying?” Is this friendly interest or is it judgmental? Are they evaluating the length of time I can get away and my category of accommodations? Did John Glenn face these kind of interrogations when he rocketed into space?
I once thought that when you grew up everything changed. But the big life surprise is that competition never ends. It’s there when you buy a house, choose a car, or decide what international skirmishes the United States should enter.
And the competition moves forward to your children and your grandchildren. “Does he walk yet? When did he start talking? Does she have aspirations for the Olympic team?”
After much thought, I have discovered the final competition: Now I know when it finally ends. It will be the last bit of news anyone will ever ask about me. I am convinced that at the very end of life’s journey some people will ask, “Did her obituary make it into in the New York Times?”