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Why is competition at work such a dirty word?

Most of my clients won’t admit to having a competitive streak, but I’ve found that they weren’t being honest with themselves.

No surprise, men are more comfortable with competition because of cultural and societal norms of masculinity. Still, I have coached men for whom competition is considered a dirty word, with labels such as “not a team player,” and “out for himself.” For women, the word carries worse connotations: “aggressive,” “greedy,” “nasty,” “claws out” and “bitch.” 

Let’s embrace the idea of competition and see what good it can do for all of us. Our U.S. Women’s Soccer team represents a great example – on and off the field. 

They lost this year’s world cup, but the U.S. women’s soccer team remains UNSTOPPABLE

Girls’ soccer did not exist when I was growing up. Hell, soccer barely existed for boys, taking a sad third to football and basketball. But, here we are, decades later, and it is clear that Americans, like our European and South American counterparts, have embraced the sport for both genders. There are now 1,744 US colleges that sponsor women’s varsity soccer teams and over 350 colleges with 10,658 NCAA Division 1 women’s soccer players. 

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the inaugural 1991 World Cup and went on to win three more championships. This month the team’s hope of a fifth World Cup win was dashed by a heartbreaking loss to Sweden. And yet, I still remain in awe of their united front and grace under pressure through every game leading up to this crushing loss.

In 2019, the team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. They won, and now receive the same pay as their male counterparts when competing in international matches and competitions. The suit also stipulated that 90 percent of World Cup prize money be pooled and shared equally between the players on the 2022 Men’s World Cup roster and the 2023 Women’s World Cup roster.  

With a level playing field, and having established record-breaking attendance for a soccer game, even beyond the men’s team, the 2023 U.S. Women’s Soccer Team is UNSTOPPABLE.

Embracing Our Competitive Edge

Admitting that you’re competitive can be difficult and uncomfortable. 

I know. I found it unsettling when a friend told me that I was one of the most competitive people she knew. I balked at first, but after weeks of reflection, I copped to my drive and desire to succeed. 

How we think about competition is problematic. Many believe that if we are competitive then we are not being cooperative. It’s not either/or. There is plenty of room to do both. You can beat your best sales record and strategize with teammates on how to be the winning sales team. 

And, being competitive doesn’t mean that you annihilate the competition with underhanded tricks (like the ones I hear about in water polo matches!). It’s about using your full potential to be better, to work harder towards your goals. 

When we don’t acknowledge our competitiveness, the feelings get sublimated and often cause frustration, anger, guilt, and resignation. Acknowledging our drive to win brings it out into the open and we can then go after what we want in an honest and direct way. 

Do you have an UNSTOPPABLE woman you’d like us to showcase in an upcoming newsletter? EMAIL ME your suggestions.

Get both as a participant in UNSTOPPABLE , my life-changing program for women committed to escalating their impact in the world. 

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