Yes, competition. And, collaboration.
Performing well and cheering others on are not mutually exclusive.
The arena was as tense as it was exhilarating, with bright spotlights on the stage and suspenseful music coming through the loudspeakers. One by one, the retiring Oklahoma FFA State Officers announced the names of the young leaders who would be replacing each office. Yet, instead of watching the stage, my attention was captivated by the group of candidates in the seats in front of me: arms around each other’s shoulders, swaying back and forth, tears streaming down most of their faces even before the first officer was named.
Competing for a position, FFA or otherwise, is intense. We compete fiercely, working harder than we thought possible to convince a committee or delegates or a hiring manager that we are fit for the position. It's tempting to become a nasty kind of competitive if we fall prey to the notion that we can lift ourselves by tearing down others. I think it's this image of competition that has led some to steer clear of all competitive pursuits and, instead, preach of the need for collaboration. The Oklahoma officer candidates illustrated in a powerful way that competition and collaboration can coexist.
Each position had three finalists. Those sets of three were standing together when the announcement began, and I found myself in tears right along with the candidates. You see, I expected that when the elected candidate heard his or her name and ran to the stage, the two left behind would immediately show raw sadness or even bitterness. It would be understandable; they, too, had worked hard, but didn't get to reap the benefits in the same way their elected peers would. But, you know what I saw instead? I saw pure, unfiltered joy in the faces of those left behind. They were excited because that person who got elected wasn't just their competitor, but their friend, and they shared in the joy. Slowly the joy faded as they came to grips with what it meant for them, personally, but it wasn't bitterness. It was the very natural struggle of internal emotional war between joy as a collaborator and sadness as a competitor. And the crazy thing about elections is that the reactions are entirely raw; you see emotions on each face written more plainly than words on a billboard.
Even now, weeks later, I still see many of those candidates hyping each other up on social media, elected or not. They're all graduating from high school, and either starting on an adventure as an FFA officer for one more year or they're moving on to college or trade school. The fact that they were part of the competition for state office served them all well, because it provided intense personal growth that each will use in whichever path was chosen for them. The collaborative spirit that they each possess has ensured that friendships were strengthened instead of shattered. The fact that they each put their best foot forward to become an officer didn't preclude them from doing their best to help each other do the same.
Getting to know the Oklahoma officer candidates reminded me of a piece of advice I heard from a past national officer the first year I ran for office. She had been close with another candidate and they would help each other study. She found herself questioning if she was going to end up helping her friend "take her spot;" what if the friend got elected and she didn't? This past officer had a lightbulb moment when she realized that whoever is elected is elected for who they are, not just what they know. If her friend got elected, it wouldn't be taking anyone else's spot; it would be because that friend was the very best that she could be, independent of how good anyone else was. My Oklahoma friends understood that, too. They helped each other prepare for speeches because they knew elections are less about beating other people and more about becoming better versions of ourselves than we were yesterday. "Trade secrets'' shouldn't be a thing when it comes to officer elections; if we feel a need to hide something we've learned instead of sharing with our fellow candidates so they can become better, too, that's a good sign we need to check our hearts for resentment, insecurity, and improper motives.
Are you preparing to run for an office or try your hand at a competitive event? Perhaps you're preparing for a job interview or you're heading into a summer internship where you know your whole cohort will be analyzed for potential future full-time gigs. When it comes to performance, do the absolute best you can do. Challenge yourself to run faster and farther—but worry more about running faster and farther than you did yesterday and less about how you stack up to everyone else. And if we do compare ourselves to others? Let's use that as a challenge to all become better. The more we collaborate with talented people, the more competitive (in a good way) we become. Lets seek to leverage a healthy balance of competition and collaboration in every area of life.
Where is an area of your life that needs a balance of competition and collaboration? Let us know in the comments or on social media by tagging @miriamrosah and @nffaevp and using the hashtags #EmbracingComplexity and #FFA21.