The trouble with subjective competition 

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately, and what started as a wee twitter rant kept playing in my mind and I realised that I’ve got something to say! I know that I am young and there’s so much more I have to learn. But if there’s one thing I know about, from my 19 years on this planet, it’s competition. Having been in a competitive environment since the age of 5, I’ve noticed a few things, gained experience and maybe even a little wisdom. The points of this post can really apply to any sort of subjective competition or creative activity but in my case we’re looking at this through the lens of dance competitions.

Personally, I’ve seen my fair share of wins – wee disclaimer: it’s okay to be confident in your achievements, it’s not showing off, and there’s nothing cocky about being proud when your hard work pays off. People need to embrace their successes more these days, but that’s a whole other discussion… I’ve also seen my fair share of losses. There have been many times when I’ve gotten a lower grade than I expected on my writing, or didn’t get the part that I wanted in a show or didn’t make it through the final round in a dance competition. But hey, you can’t win them all. You have to learn from your disappointments cause it’s the negatives in our lives that make us stronger.

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To make this experience completely fool proof for everyone: subjectivity literally means that something is subject to opinion. The trouble with creative activities, is that we literally sign up to be judged by someone else and invite their opinions. It’s not like objective competitions in which there is a black and white, definite winner. E.g. in a race, you are either the fastest or you’re not. And sure to some extent there may be judging criteria with which to guide the judge’s opinion, for example in gymnastics they are scored by technical execution but also equally by their artistry – something which is judged by opinion. A judge’s opinion will be influenced by many factors like how familiar they are with what you’re doing, or if they’ve seen it before they may not find it as original as if they hadn’t seen it before, or maybe your style reminds them of someone they hate, or someone they love to watch/read etc. The plain fact is: judges are subject to bias. This may seem unfair but then we go back to the aforementioned point that you signed up to agree that this judge(s)’s opinion would decide the results of the competition. That’s how it is. And God, isn’t it annoying.

So does this mean that the judge’s opinion is right? NO! How you perceive what you did is 100% up to you. You definitely don’t have to take a judge’s opinion as gospel fact. Results can neither be right or wrong, they only are what they are. An opinion cannot be wrong, and disagreeing with what a judge says isn’t going to change their opinion after the fact. The results can’t really be a “fix”, but they can be disappointing. But at the end of the day, if you performed your best, there’s nothing else to do but be proud. One person cannot inform you of what it is you’ve created, only you can form your own decision. Be proud of yourself if you did the best that you can do!

This is maybe easier said than done sometimes. I am as competitive as the next person, that quality has been ingrained in me for the last 14 years. You’re allowed to want to win in a competition, that is the point of competing. Wanting to win means that you believe in your abilities and that you’re ambitious, neither of these being bad qualities. The issue is that performing tends to be an activity that is filled with passion. The things you create are close to your heart. With the adrenaline, a competition can feel like the most important thing in the world and your emotions can explode in the heat of the moment, but we all know there are definitely worse things happening in the world. And yes it’s okay to want to win and yes it’s okay to be upset if you maybe don’t, but that doesn’t make it okay to be unsportsmanlike and try to tear down those who succeed over you. That’s another one of those life lesson things, learning that you have to be gracious and calm in the face of disappointment because it is the mature, professional and right way to behave. You have to consider that those who succeed ahead of you also believe in themselves and think: if the tables were turned and someone came along and said you didn’t deserve it, wouldn’t that be hurtful? You just have to be proud of what you do because the rest is out of your hands. 

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I’ll leave you with this. It is inevitable that in life you’re gonna have to learn to accept outcomes that you cannot control. Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to and competitions like these can set you up with the strength to handle the more important disappointments in your life. Whether you’re religious or not, the serenity prayer has some solid logic: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

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