Competition brings out the best and worst in us. How we compete is just as important as the outcome—in fact, likely more so. The ends do not justify the means. Nicholas Pearce in his book The Purpose Path says “The means are just as important as the ends, and some might go even so far as to say that the means are themselves the ends.” I could not agree more.
Pearce points out people who have done strange things in competition, revealing cracks in their character. In the 1980 Boston Marathon, Rosie Ruiz disappeared during the course, only to reappear later near the finish line. Lance Armstrong had all of his Tour de France championships revoked after it came out that he had taken steroids. And Pete Rose will likely never be included in the Baseball Hall of Fame because he had gambled on the outcome of games he coached.
But these scenarios remind us that competition is not about winning, as much as we make it about winning. But in God’s economy, that’s not the purpose of competition. As Nicholas Pearce said, the means are just as important as the ends. There is something larger at stake in the process of competing. In God’s eyes, here are three purposes of competition.
1. To become better at what you do
Competition gives you something to work toward. When you are competing against others, it helps you realize how much better you can become.
There was a time that it was believed impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes. But when Roger Bannister broke that barrier in 1954, others realized it was possible too. Other runners then were able to run a mile in less than four minutes. But it took Roger Bannister to help them realize that they could do it too.
You can become better than you think you can when you have others spurring you on through competition. The fact that you have others to compete against can help you move past your own mental obstacles.
2. To provide better products
Surveying the products other businesses have produced can help you see what’s missing. The demand that customers have for their products shows what the market wants. But without having other products to show what customers want—or don’t want—it’s hard to discover what new things you can offer to the marketplace. Those other products provide a foil for what you want to offer.
Game-changing companies like Uber and Airbnb offered services that the marketplace had never seen before. Because only taxi cab companies could provide rides for passengers, and only hotels could meet the hospitality needs of travelers, the founders of those companies brought their services to market. Regardless of how you personally feel about these companies and their founders, they have democratized their industries and empowered individuals to profit through providing transportation and hospitality to people with whom they had never had any connection.
The confines provided by the current landscape in a given industry can spur your creativity by seeing the needs that are not being met. But it requires other companies—and the products they produce—to help you see what else could be brought to market.
3. To serve others better
In God’s economy, we should remember that competition is ultimately about advancing the interests of others. It’s not about making lots of money. It’s about creating value for others. As a result, the money will follow.
Tim Keller in his book Every Good Endeavor says “One of the main ways that you love others in your work is through the ‘ministry of competence.’ If God‘s purpose for your job is that you serve the human community, then the way to serve God best is to do the job as well as it can be done.”
In the process of serving others, you are actually serving an audience of One. If we lose sight of that fact that God sees all of our actions, then we will forget what competition is all about.
You are ultimately accountable for all of your actions in relation to others. You are your brother’s keeper. Jesus said that you should love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). As a result, the purpose of competition cannot be crushing your competitors. The focus of your business should be on serving your neighbor as well as you possibly can—because the means are the ends.
Competition is not about being the best. Instead, competition is meant for becoming better—for your benefit, and for the benefit of others.
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