Up and Downstream swimmers

I had a very interesting discussion about American competitiveness the other day. With a non- american, I should say. We were talking about the necessity of competition in a workplace.

I came home one day, and marveled at the ineffectiveness of the workplace that I´d visited. They stay in the office until 8 p. m. shuffling papers, doing nothing! Why would they do that?! I exclaimed very self righteously.

- Because of competition, he responded calmly. And it is encouraged, he continued, everyone is encouraged to compete with their colleagues by arriving the earliest and leaving the latest.

- But it’s so ineffective! ( Swede*) I went on, by now, everyone knows how the human brain works, and that it is impossible to work effectively for twelve hours a day!

I’m not saying there are never situations that calls for 15 hour workdays, nor that I have never or wouldn’t do one when called for, I was just reacting to the fact that this is made the norm.

- Do you consider yourself competitive? I asked him. He responded that he absolutely did, more in certain areas of life but more than anything, he said, In my work I am driven and I compete only with myself. I thought a lot about it since.

I believe competition is an inevitable human characteristic, a remnant from the evolution and the survival of the fittest, and in professional life often confused with drive.

In “Originals- how non conformists move the world” by Adam Grant, Mr Grants paints the reader a metaphor of life as a stream and people like fishes in it. The competitive fish will swim down the stream and just try to do it faster than all the other fishes- but they will all go down the same path, ending up at the same place.

The driven fish will go against the stream, it will be slower, harder, not to mention the scepticism they will meet from all the other fishes, but they have the possibility of making new paths, ending up in new places.

So now you are thinking, Is she saying she is a driven fish? Of course I’m not, I am Swedish after all, having Jantelagen imprinted on me since birth. I do, however, definitely have the ambition to be one of the fishes swimming up- stream.

I think it is relevant to ask oneself: Who do I benchmark myself against? My colleague, my boss or myself? More importantly, what will keep me motivated in the long run?

Got any thoughts on Competition vs Drive in terms of motivation? Leave me a comment!


Jonna André Karlin is an ambitious and driven individual that believes in climbing the professional Jungle Gym rather than the Career Ladder. Student at IHM Complex Sales B2B, now in Atlanta Georgia as Business Development Coordinator for the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce.