For over twenty years, I was a competitor at Peruvian Horse shows. Last year, I began to compete in speaking competitions. I have come to believe most of the audience is hoping that I will do well. I also want my competitors to do well. As the bar is raised, we all improve.
My theory on competition is that it provides a way for me to test (and to better) myself. When I am preparing for a competition, I work at my craft. I put in the extra effort to build the excellence into my performance. When it was in partnership with my horse, I was also building connection and communication between us so that we could perform as a team. Now,in speaking, the goal is in building connection and communication with my audience.
Competition for me is also about facing fear. It gets easier over time to put myself in the cross-hairs and face criticism. I am as guilty as anyone of doing some of my best performances from the bleachers and being critical of those who are out there doing the work. Being out there demands that I walk the talk and lead by example.
When I am on stage at speaking competitions, I sometimes have flashes of loneliness. During competition, I am accustomed to having my horse with me to reassure me. I combat that by speaking about my experiences with horses so that they are there with me in spirit if not in body. I do what I need to do to comfort myself so that I can step into the performance confidently.
Competition is not about winning ribbons or trophies. If I have performed well or have learned an important lesson, I have won. There are times when I am disappointed by the results – when I feel that I should have placed better. That has led me to another understanding about competition. The results are the judges’ opinions at that time, not a permanent commentary on my performance. If the judge does not appreciate me or my horse, that does not mean that my horse is not a quality animal.
Competition provides an opportunity for me to be evaluated using someone else’s criteria – to get someone else’s opinion. I may or may not agree with their opinion. In any case, it gives me information to consider for future performances. It is unlikely that no one would agree with the judge. With that said, I must weigh the judge’s opinion with my own, and ensure that it is in keeping with my values before I make changes.
Ultimately, my opinion of myself and my performance is more important than that of the judge. However, the evaluation gives me an opportunity to hone my skills further than I could if I had only my own opinion to base it for. For me, that is the value of competition.
Wishing you all the courage to step out on your own personal stage.
Photo courtesy of Suzanne Brown.