A reader commented on my last post that her tendency to coast on her accomplishments is a form of self-sabotage. It may be difficult to reduce where those around us are strong, but it is equally difficult to continue to raise and improve where others are weak. It’s easy to look left and right and see that we’re doing better than most and feel good about ourselves, and it’s tempting to stay mediocre so we don’t appear “holier than thou,” but our children’s futures are too precious for this kind of foolish reasoning. Just as it’s a waste to keep up with our neighbors in areas that don’t mean so much to us, it is foolish to coast in areas we do care a great deal about simply because we’re doing better than most.
If life were a competition, then the Red Ocean mentality would be correct: if you raise the bar then you win and I lose. But I don’t believe that most of life is a competition. Even in a highly competitive field like music where competitions are extremely important and winning one opens many doors to career advancement, far more of a musician’s time is spent collaborating than competing. Most musicians don’t make music alone, but in small or large groups. When the group dynamic is one of competition and one-upmanship then the whole group suffers, not just emotionally, but musically as well. Neither does a group produce inspiring music when each musician is careful not to display too much of his ability for fear of intimidating others. The magic happens when each musician lets his ideas and talents out as he plays while keeping his ears open to what those around him are doing. This produces a feedback loop where the strengths and ideas of each musician inspire and energize the other musicians and the result is a sublime musical experience. The individual efforts to raise benefit not only the ensemble and its audience, but also competing musicians who listen and get fresh ideas and inspiration for their own work. When we raise, everyone wins.
The Blue Ocean analogy is a great framework for keeping this truth in mind. When others react with a Red Ocean mentality to our choice to raise the standard for our family, we can hopefully stay at peace in our own Blue Ocean, knowing that our raising is not ultimately a threat to them, but an opportunity. We can’t change how others think, but we can react calmly rather than defensively to their insecurities (which is much of what’s behind the discouraging words of those who react negatively to our choices.)
Yes, there will be times when others lose when we raise. Only one athlete comes home with the gold medal, but winner-takes-all competitions are man-made constructions. We create them and choose to participate in them, but we don’t have to. Even if we choose to compete, it’s not just the winners who win. Every athlete benefits from his training and experience: the friendships formed, the discipline learned, and the experience gained. There are many opportunities we can explore after a competition, whether or not we have a gold medal sitting on the shelf.
Do you agree? If we raise, will everyone win? Please share your thoughts!