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Competitive and Driven are not Synonyms

Many synonymous words we take for granted, never bothering to contemplate whether or not they are in fact, equivalent. In the last several weeks, I have been struck that there is in fact a difference between being ‘competitive’ and being ‘driven.’

For a long period of time, I would have said that I qualified as either/both, but in fact, I am only driven, and care very little for being competitive. The distinction lies in their definitions.

Per Merriam-Webster, competitive is relating to, characterized by, or based on competition. Competition being a contest between rivals. Driven is defined “having a compulsive or urgent quality a driven sense of obligation” or “propelled or motivated by something — i.e. results-driven.”

Catch the difference? The object. Competition is characterized in relation to another — it is extrinsic — it always occurs between two parties. Driven-ness is intrinsic in nature — it is defined in relation to oneself.

For me, I perform best and achieve the highest when I am only working against myself and my own obstacles. Perhaps its hubris, but generally, I find myself to be my best and highest rival. As I reflect back on the areas where I have seen my own best performance, whether in sports or professional settings, it is in areas where being driven is a greater input for success than being competitive.

This seems to be a useful model for evaluating opportunities in the future and whether or not they would be best served by my particular gifts/talents.

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