Top Dog: Owning My Competitive Nature

top dog
Image via Image via Galit Breen

“That’s alright!” I call across the field. “Nice try!” I add, clapping. I squint into the evening light slicing through unforgiving sky. A single raindrop hits my arm.

Kayli sits in the field, school style, plucking one blade at a time. Her eyes meet mine. “You know that’s the other team, right?” She asks, a smile playing on her lips. I note how mature she looks. Hair pulled back, lips glossed, eyes serious, point made.

“I do,” I say, smiling.

We’re watching Brody’s baseball game. Four and five year old boys in pants that are too long and socks that won’t stay up, too big helmets and ridiculously heavy bats. When bat meets ball, they run, all of them. It’s heart warming.

“I’m not really competitive,” I tease. She tosses green grass and a warm smile my way.

“You are, too,” Jason counters from my other side, his eyes never leaving the field. His baritone fits in with the other parents calling, Eyes on the ball! and There’s no walking in baseball! and Foul ball! “Just not about this,” he clarifies.

My cheeks heat.

Competitive isn’t a word I own with ease. I want to be known as kind and caring and authentic and I’m not quite sure how competitive fits in with my other threads.

I hear “competitive” and understand “unnecessarily so”.

Hours later, I crack open Top Dog by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. Its been sitting on my bedside for quite awhile, and tonight it calls to me.

The same authors wrote my favorite parenting book, Nurture Shock; I value their brain-based research. And clearly, my husband “calling me out” as competitive has gotten under my skin, because this book isn’t about parenting, it’s about the science of competition.

Within the first chapter I realize I’m not alone in my gut reaction to the word competitive. Bronson and Merryman gift their opening pages to clarifying the difference between having good and bad competitive edges. No one wants to be known as competitive in the bad way, especially not women.

But competitive hasn’t always held this meaning.

Bronson and Merryman’s research showed that for ancient Greek men — and women — the virtue of competition was that it honed the mind and body. The ultimate goal of competition was to achieve aretas, or the competitive fire that serves as an outlet for courage, loyalty, and trustworthiness. Someone with aretas had proven to be a fearless opponent, a brilliant strategist, and a masterfully skilled leader. They competed with the confidence of knowing they were respected.

The ancient Greeks didn’t fear competition, and I highly doubt they blushed when their husbands or their co-workers or their friends or their daughters called them competitive. They believed that competing shaped you into a better person.

Competing with aretas is knowing what we want, learning how to get it, and getting it – whatever it may be — done. It’s when puzzle pieces fall into place like messages from the universe, time slows down, we focus in, and we play to win. We run that race, go for that job, and ask for that raise. It also means that we might be cheering for the other team, the other mom, the other co-worker along the way. Because we have aretas.

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Competitive and aretas stitch together perfectly. So today I’m owning them both, sans blushing, and still cheering.

Are you competitive? 

What do you think?

Top Dog: Owning My Competitive Nature

Galit Breen is the bestselling author of Kindness Wins, a simple guide to teaching your child to be kind online; the TEDx Talk, “Raising a digital kid without having been one”; the online course Raise Your Digital Kid™; and the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. She believes you can get your child a phone and still create a grass-beneath-their-bare-feet childhood for them. Galit’s writing has been featured on The Huffington Post; The Washington Post; Buzzfeed; TIME; and more. She liv ... More

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6 comments

  1. cyu888 says:

    I really like Po Bronson’s work and didn’t realize that he had a new book out. I have the same gut reaction to being described as competitive. I wince away from it. But I love how you’ve looked at this and yes, I will say that I am competitive.

  2. Leigh says:

    I adore Po Bronson, but I haven’t read this or Nurture Shock yet. I highly recommend "What Should I Do With My Life?" and "Why Do I Love These People?"

  3. Galit Breen says:

    This comment makes me ridiculously happy!

    Aretas for the win, indeed! Love!!

  4. ilenemevans says:

    I never saw myself as being "competitive" until I read this, Galit. I’ll take knowing what I want and being willing to work to get it. Let’s hear it for Aretas!

  5. Galit Breen says:

    But of course! 🙂

    Thank you for the note, A, so very much!

  6. Alison Lee says:

    Yes. Yes, I am. But only in the good way. 🙂

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