I tend to gravitate toward competitive pursuits. I practice law and I run races. I like to push myself toward becoming continually better at both, and I also like the feeling of beating out my competition. But I also truly love my competitors and consider them some of my best friends. The better they are or the more they excel in a way I haven't considered, the more I admire and want to learn from them. But I don't just want to learn from them so I can beat them. I also want to encourage and help them. I want to help everyone achieve their personal best in these endeavors and I truly rejoice with those who do, even when it means they outstrip me. Why?
I think that everyone has a certain amount of potential in any given endeavor and that when everyone reaches their full potential, we all do better. There are a couple of reasons for this:
1. The individual successes of anyone who pursues an activity elevates the prestige of the entire field. When a runner does something amazing and a newspaper picks up the story, anyone associated with running feels a personal connection to the story and participates in the good feelings as they read it and as people who they know discuss it.
2. There are very few people who are capable of making true innovations in any field. Those people change the entire future of the field for those who follow. I personally want to create an environment in which the Einsteins of my profession can push the boundaries forward, even if that does not happen to be me.
There are other, practical reasons for helping competitors to succeed. First, helping others exposes you to solving problems that you have not yet encountered and helps to prepare you to meet them when they arise. I frequently talk other attorneys through difficult cases and as I do so, I often encounter fact patterns that I have not seen in my own practice. This gives me the opportunity to learn as I teach. Second, by virtue of helping others, I become seen as a leader in the field (which often means that other attorneys refer cases to me that are too difficult for them to handle). Third, by helping other attorneys, I help to prevent their malpractice, which again elevates the entire profession. (Who wants to be associated with a field in which there is a public outcry against professional incompetence?)
I often encounter people who treat competitive pursuits as a zero sum game in which all spoils go to the victor. But I have never experienced more camaraderie than among those fields in which sportsmanlike competition is involved. True competition is a group endeavor in which a group of very talented, skilled people work together to push every individual to their personal best.