For most, a job forces us to be competitive, whether we like it or not. We crawl our way to the top of the pile to make more money, validate our self-worth and provide for our families.
Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between competition against others and competition against ourselves. When all is said and done, there might not be much of a difference – a standard of being better than someone else or better than you can ever hope to be?
And then you retire, and you still have this competitive drive all dressed up and nowhere to go. We may channel that energy into sports, hobbies, side gigs or travel, and like so many others, we often compete for attention on social media. We want to be good at something. We want to be seen.
I’m beginning to think the holy grail of retirement – or maybe just aging in general – is choosing to become less competitive and more mindful. While competition can be motivating, it’s all too easy to judge yourself harshly. I’ve always been way too hard on myself, and at this point in my life, I’m trying to focus on enjoying the experience more than the outcome.
For example, golf is one of my passions. I play in a women’s league at a local club. The rules are quite persnickety and the prizes are meager, yet competition is fierce. Bragging rights, I guess. I took pride in suggesting I didn’t care about winning, although I freely admitted I didn’t want to be DFL – dead fucking last.
What a surprise to wake up and realize if you care about losing, you care about winning. Even striving to be in the middle of the pack is its own little contest.
All that said, I’m not suggesting people abandon competition completely. It’s not about giving up. I still like the idea of challenging ourselves to do exceptional things. But I definitely think retirement is the right time to moderate our expectations and find new ways to feel rewarded.
Try to forget about winning or losing. Be kind to yourself no matter where you rank in the hierarchy of achievements. Focus on the pleasures of the game itself, your interactions with people, sharing your work with others or the creative process of making art or putting a business project together.
At the end of the day, whatever drives you, ask yourself this: would you do it for love?
Donna Pekar is an aging badass (for real) who lives in California and writes Retirement Confidential.