Competing With Branson
I have never felt particularly competitive about anything in life. This doesn’t mean I don’t strive for perfection, or that I lack passion, but rather that I don’t tend to compare my achievements to similar achievements of those around me. I could probably go into hours of therapy as to why competitiveness is not part of my traits; whether it stems from a sense of conflict-avoidance, subconscious insecurities, or simply from a privileged and sheltered upbringing. And then I could contemplate whether my shortcomings as a competitor are a good thing or a bad thing. But none of that soul-searching really matters when you are suddenly confronted, at the age of 48, with the need to switch on your competitiveness, and you have no idea where inside of you that switch is.
At an early age I accepted that my lack of competitiveness made me a lousy candidate for team sports. I always preferred activities that could be enjoyed with other people, rather than against people. I love hiking, mountain biking or skiing with others. One of the things that attracted me to the music industry is that it allows for career paths that are fueled by artistry and passion without the need to include competitiveness in your skill set. Sure, DJs have their TOP-100 rankings, and some DJs are competitive enough to make those lists, but inclusion in those lists is not essential to make a living doing what you love. Similarly, I have played tennis since I was a child, and enjoyed it as a social activity rather than a competitive sport, which brings me to the subject of this post.
My longtime love for tennis and my moderate upkeep of its basic techniques made me sufficiently confident the other day to enter into a mini-tournament. Despite the competitive implications of the word ‘tournament’ I was convinced by my friends that the emphasis of this particular event would be on fun and socializing, rather than on ruthless competition, so I entered my name, trying to downplay the pressure of rather prominent, competitive, and professional players entering as well.
Since I was the relatively new person in an otherwise established group of friends, and I had possibly refrained from making a total idiot out of myself in the opening matches (they were mini-matches of doubles, where scoring 5 points wins the match), the host of the tournament suddenly announced that he wanted to play a game of singles against me. In most situations this would only have been an honor and a delight, but the fact that the host of this particular tournament was Sir Richard Branson, and the fact that Sir Richard is a skilled player and an eloquent competitor, made me instantly nervous. I knew the time had come to activate my competitiveness, but I had no idea how to do this. Sir Richard on the other hand is very skilled at switching from a leisurely courtside chat to a brutally competitive tennis game in 10 seconds flat. The obvious discrepancy in competitiveness-activation between me and Sir Richard was both puzzling and distracting while I stood there at the baseline, wondering what memos I had missed throughout my life that landed me here without competitiveness. To my added disadvantage, someone had taken my racket just before the game, making me scramble for a racket and grabbing the first one I saw, and in the spirit of the advertised ‘fun and social’ elements of the tournament, I had a prop-flamingo strapped around my waist. The flamingo might have been a fun gesture of phallic superiority, but it didn’t exactly take my body movements to superior levels.
The actual match lasted less than 10 minutes, and sadly my memory decided to process those minutes into a complete blur, so I am unable to go into detail about the match, other than that I lost 5-3. In eight points, Sir Richard had pointed out to me, publicly yet subtly, that it is fine to go through life without acting competitively, as long as you know how to turn it on when you need it. For my 2020 resolution I will learn competition-101, you know, in case of emergency, as one would learn how to grow food in case of a zombie apocalypse. And when I have learned the art of competitiveness, and I am able to step up my game at the flick of a switch, I will request Sir Richard for a rematch, and this time I will not be wearing a fluffy flamingo cock.