Recently, at a gathering with other drummers, I realized that competition is an unconscious habit in my life; a knee-jerk reaction to be “the best” separates me from myself and others. I feel superior or I might feel inferior, but neither is satisfying. Why would I continue to compete if it brings me discomfort?
I decided to use Byron Katie’s process of enquiry, called “The Work”, to shine a light on my process. Katie, an amazing spiritual teacher, devised a method of enquiry- asking four simple questions to deconstruct the stories we unconsciously identify with. Here is how it works.
Start with the subject that bothers you. Then you ask yourself:
- Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
- How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
This is my subject: I need to compete and/or be competitive in order to receive recognition and have value.
Is it true?
Yes. Being the best will protect me so I never have to prove myself again. I won’t be afraid of receiving criticism. I can wear my perfection as a cape. I can be known as Infallible Woman! I will be favorably recognized. I will be safe. And good enough.
Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
No, I can’t. It does really depend on how I see validation and recognition. Is success really success or is it something else?
I grew up with two intelligent, handsome, funny, clever, older brothers. I tagged along looking for their attention, as a little sister does.
My parents loved all of us, but the boys, being 3.5 and 5.5 years older, had things to talk about at the dinner table that I didn’t always follow. My father would ask them questions–science and math, school stuff that was beyond me. I wanted to have something to talk about! I spoke up and asked “What about me? Ask me something!” My mother said, “Okay, let’s talk about dolls.” Everyone laughed.
I felt humiliated and ashamed. I knew that I was being laughed at.
That’s when I remember first feeling a tension and need to compete I had to find a way to receive the attention I needed. Obviously, (to my seven year-old mind) I had to be cleverer, smarter, and more quick-witted than my brothers.
When a child is raised by narcissists, there is not always a clear way to get a recommended daily allowance of self-approval.
I didn’t have another adult around who would say, “Don’t worry, kid. They just don’t get you. It’s not your fault. One day they’ll see.” Instead, I sat by the edge of my mouse-hole waiting for to see if there will be any cheese for me.
The cheese I wanted was the unconditional regard and love that is EVERY person’s birthright. When we are young and don’t get the positive attention and mirroring we need, we feel that it is somehow our fault. We are wounded. Each of us works with our wounds differently. Some of us drink, drug, isolate, manipulate or become numb to our humanity. Some become highly successful, while never feeling full or satisfied.
So no, I don’t absolutely know that it’s true. But I still believe it.
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
When I’ve felt this need to compete for my place, I feel threatened, envious, and vulnerable. I shut down around those people who appear more successful or are more recognized– except for my teachers, who I idolize and idealize.
Sometimes the competitive urge wouldn’t show up. But that’s the exception. And, in the world of drumming, the demon of “no cheese” was loud and clear. Maybe I was once again comparing myself to men like my brothers.
What a shame. I was forty when I began my path with the drum. As I learned to play, I had a level of skill, but no high speed or pyrotechnical solos. However, when measuring myself against others, I put myself down for not being better. I was pouring salt in an open wound by setting impossible standards.
If I didn’t think that I had to compete to be recognized and valued, who would I be?
This is where the rubber meets the road. The path of competition triggers inner harshness rather than softening. Of course I should let go of judging and critiquing– and instead be who I am, not who I think I should be.
However, when I imagine being my own cheerleader, I feel both hope and sadness.
Hope is pretty easy to understand. I allow myself to be released from judgements; I have no hoops to jump through; I let go of defensiveness. It might be possible to develop sympathetic joy, to allow others to be great, without diminishing or thinking ill of myself. I imagine real comfort in not having to prove myself or jockey for position.
Then why should there be any sadness?
Honestly, it’s hard for me give up the fantasy that there is an infallible external source that will permanently validate me; to accept that the responsibility of developing self-care and self-praise is up to me. It brings up a sense of existential loneliness. And truth.
It is time. Imagine freedom of need for any recognition. Imagine feel worthy without cause.
Let’s put my house in order! There are no Oscars (or Grammys) to be won, nor external prizes that are worth suffering.
My mirror can be hung straight on a wall, easy to find and ready to be polished.
I have valuable work to do. And I recognize that.