When I was 18 I moved away from home to work. I lived in an apartment with two other girls, one I knew, one I didn’t. Ironically, the one I didn’t know initially became a very good friend, we ended up living together for about five years.
Our apartment was set back from a main thoroughfare in behind a strip mall. I had to walk across the parking lot to catch the bus to work in the morning and got off the bus at the end of my day on the opposite side of the street. Now, for whatever reason I use crowds and traffic lights as challenges. My goal is to navigate a crowd as quickly as possible, weaving in and out and around people without bumping or touching them. The more people I pass the better I feel. I have now passed this down to Piper. I know, so much to be proud of…
So in my youth, at some 18 years old, I would exit the bus and try to cross the six lanes of traffic in the most efficient and fast way. Like crowd weaving but with cars. I also wore a backpack and it was usually full which added a challenge to the running and weaving.
I lived near a University, so there were often lots of students on my bus, and a fair number of international students of Asian descent. I usually sat in the same seat on the bus if possible. I can’t tell you where he got on, but I can tell you he got off at my stop. I can also tell you that he was Asian and that we never spoke.
I have no memory of when or how it all started but here’s what happened, we raced. Yes, that’s what I said, the young Asian guy and I raced each other running and weaving with full backpacks across the six lane road Monday thru Friday. As the competition wore on, we began to watch carefully to see how the traffic lights would turn to get a better advantage of traffic weaving. Sometimes we had to run as fast as possible tumbling off the bus to get the crossing light or other times we had to run to the next light to try and cross with it…it was fun, it was a lot of fun. I have no idea what people on the bus thought or even if they noticed. The only communication we had was locking eyes which was akin to a starter’s gun. Once we met glances, it was on!
I recognise that this may seem crazy. I can tell you that it makes me laugh today, 25 years later, it makes me laugh. So that got me thinking, how does competition start? My Asian rival didn’t live in the same apartment block as I did, we never spoke, we never did anything but watch each other to anticipate the next move. It was like a silent game of chess.
Now, think about competition in your workplace or on your team or even with your siblings, partner or children. Does it exist? I bet it does, and I bet there are facets of it that you have no idea how it started or why you are competing, or better yet what you are competing for. And it’s not necessarily unhealthy or troublesome, but it can be. As a leader it is important for you to know what you team is competing for and who they are competing against. If it’s adversarial it will need your attention, if it’s to better your team then it might need your encouragement. Competition gives us an opportunity to unite. Look at sports or schools or countries, all reasons to stand together. If you are competing what is your goal? What’s the end game? And has it changed from when you started, and is the change moving you in the right direction? Leaders should always ask; how are we doing? What are we learning? How can we do it better?
My goal was simply to get home as fast as I could, which involved getting across the street as fast as I could. But my goal changed or became two pronged when I had a competitor, now it was to beat him AND get home fast, one served the other. I have to admit getting home fast became secondary to winning. I also can admit that we were gracious losers, that when we lost we would wave or salute or similar to acknowledge defeat and support the others victory. Our competition made us better traffic weavers.
What does your competition do? Does it make you better?
I am forever grateful to my Asian friend whom I have never met for making my bus rides home in my 18th year a bit more exciting and a lot more enjoyable. I can only hope I did the same for him, some crazy Canadian girl with a weaving fever.
Be aware of how you impact people, whether you know them or talk to them…you may impact them and you may be competing with them. I suggest you use that opportunity to be better, to make them better and to infuse a little bit of fun within your daily routine, stop worrying what the other people on the bus are thinking. With any luck you will have a roll off effect that might make you laugh 25 years later.