Hello. My name is Mike, and I'm a competitive a*shole.
This means that I often (always) take things too seriously, unless I'm relaxing, in which case I'm going to try to relax better than you. It's 2016, however, and everyone needs to have a good time and feel like a winner, but only the winner is the winner, and everyone else is a loser. The trouble for myself is that quite often I'm
the loser when it comes to a lot of things, which can make me... upset. Perhaps frustrated is a better word. This is true whether I'm riding bikes or playing Crazy Eights with my girlfriend, who seems to have the uncanny ability to beat me at nearly every card game that we play. The only way I can justify this hundred-plus game losing streak is to tell myself (and her, over and over again) that she's obviously cheating, which is what makes me an a*shole. That's what she says, anyways.
Why don't I just stop caring so much? That sounds like something a more reasonable, non-competitive person might say. My mindset can be an issue when things aren't going smoothly, which it certainly wasn't during a recent mountain bike ride that had me feeling a lot like that a*shole that my girlfriend says I am.
The trail, which is a favorite of mine, starts off with a thirty-minute climb that's somewhere between near vertical and vertical, has more roots and rocks than all of the other trails on the mountain combined, and will make you feel like you're trying to solve a Rubik's Cube while drunk if you're a bit off your game and lacking some fitness. This was in January in Canada, so I actually had negative fitness instead of just not having any fitness, and I was struggling to even turn over my easiest gear while I watched my buddies ride away from me before circling back to wait up.
That's what friends do - they wait to make sure that you're okay. But the sight of Wayne and Ricky coming back down the trail, smiling and not gasping for air like they were drowning, made me extremely... frustrated. ''Don't f*cking wait for me,
'' I said way too tersely. ''It's all good,
'' Wayne replied. "We're not in any rush.
'' We've been riding together for nearly two decades, so he only needed to see my face after he said that to know he and Ricky should just wait for me at the top. I looked like a huge a*shole. On a mountain bike ride. With my friends.
As any competitive person will know, this is not conducive to having a good time, even if we're supposed to just be happy to be out in nature and all that. Yes, the trees, moss, and rocks are beautiful, but they'd still be beautiful if I was stepping on my buddies' balls and leaving them in my dust. That wasn't going to happen on this particular day, though, and I found myself in a pretty foul mood. To be honest, at that moment, I wanted to be anywhere else than on that trail, which is painful to admit because I love this sport more than anything.
|Why don't I just stop caring so much? That sounds like something a more reasonable, non-competitive person might say.|
I've painted a pretty dark picture, but I'd also argue that competitive people are largely responsible for a lot of the good things in life. This sort of personality, the kind that not only doesn't want to lose but plain needs to succeed at whatever they might be doing, can be found in world leaders, doctors, people responsible for things like the medicine that saves lives or the planes that fly us all over the globe, not to mention our sporting heroes. They are literally being forced by their brain to do better and be better, and we all benefit from that. Of course, pedaling bicycles around has nothing to do with any of those far more meaningful examples.
And as much as our current culture is anti-conflict and scared to offend anyone, the desire for competition is, contrastingly, stronger than ever. Don't believe me? You can turn on your television and watch guys in the bush competing to outrun a professional tracker; people competing to see who could be the best fake friend so they don't get kicked out of the Big Brother house; even people competing to see who can cook the best. Do you know that they have a cooking competition for children where nine-year-old kids cook things that I can't even pronounce? And speaking of words I can't pronounce, spelling bee competitions have been televised for years now. It's best to just leave your television off, I think.
Competition is all around us, but you need to know when it's the right time to remember that none of it matters. This is important for your sanity, but also so you don't always look like a jerk.
So during that ride, after my friends came back to check on me and I made it very clear that I wasn't having a great time, I realized that I was letting the competitive jerk in me ruin what should have been an awesome ride on a rare, warm and sunny day in January.
That's when I stopped, leaned up against a tree for a few minutes, and caught my breath. If you had been hiding behind that tree for some reason, you would have heard me say aloud, ''Mike, what the hell are you doing? You sucking today does not matter to anyone, so just relax and stop being an idiot.'' Besides wondering if I was off my meds, you also would have seen me pedal the rest of the way up the climb at a pace that was barely above what I'd refer to as doing a trackstand, but with a much larger smile on my face than I had before I stopped for my little one-on-one conversation.
I'm not able to make myself do that as often as I would like, but that quick reset changed my ride from being disheartening to being encouraging. As soon as I realized that me riding like I was fat doesn't matter, it felt like all the weight was gone. I made it to the top long after my friends, and I ended up having more fun on that descent than I ever would have had if I hadn't relaxed. By the time I got back to my van, I was convinced that it was the best ride I could remember going on.
Being competitive is a good thing because it's made me a better mountain biker than I would be if I was more relaxed about my riding, but my brain will always tell me that I should be better than I actually am. I agree with my brain, but I've only recently understood that I don't need to listen to it all of the time. It's okay if I can't keep up, and I don't need to go into lactic shock to try and stay on the wheels of people fitter than myself.
I have a lot more fun during my rides now that new, ''Relaxed Mike'' makes the odd appearance, although I will admit that I'll stop at nothing to win a game of Crazy Eights. You just can't change who you are.