Hey guys! It’s taken me a few weeks to write and publish this post because I’ve been a little afraid of the reaction I’ll get when I put this out there. But, this is the safe zone, right?
I’ve been wrestling with something lately. It’s something that I’ve honestly had a hard time wrapping my head around and I’ve been feeling so conflicted about it.
I want to talk about the “C word”.
You know, that nasty word we try so hard to avoid speaking aloud? The one that has become socially taboo? Yes, that’s the one: COMPETITION.
While I believe wholeheartedly that the community over competition movement is good–so very, very, good—I’ve got to say that I’ve been struggling with it a little.
WHAT?!? I see a few of you looking at me like I have three heads, but just hang on a minute, and hear me out before you judge me. I’m not struggling with the “community” part of community over competition but I AM struggling with how competition is being viewed.
It seems to be an increasing trend that if you “compete” you’re viewed as not being supportive of the “community”, and this is where I get hung up, because I guess I just don’t believe that competition is inherently bad for us as an industry or as individual artists and business owners. And I don’t believe that in order to value community, we have to sacrifice our self-interest, either. Why do we have to choose one or the other (community or competition)?
Competition doesn’t have to mean that you’re kicking people off the ladder on your way up or creating animosity among your peers, or freaking out when someone gets the client/the publication/the award/the spotlight. It doesn’t have to mean that you’re focused solely on comparing and measuring yourself against others and finding ways to take them down. To me, that’s not competition. It’s just being mean, plain and simple.
I think that competition is a necessary part of growing our businesses and our craft. When we compete for the right reasons, we can do great things for ourselves, our local markets and the industry. Competition drives us to be the best we can be; it takes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to create better products, to perfect our craft. Competition for the right reasons forces us to refine our own businesses, find our niche, and set ourselves apart creatively and business-wise.
Let’s be honest…no one strives for mediocrity. When we each started our businesses, our goal wasn’t to be average, right? I mean, no goes into this thinking, “I’m going to invest thousands of dollars in equipment and education and I really, really, really hope to be average”.
When I first started shooting seniors, my main goal was to be the best senior photographer in Tucson and to be able to “compete” in a market of already established studios with deep roots in my local market. The mindset of trying to be better — of competing – – has pushed me to keep learning and to keep growing.
And here’s the heart of my issue: I feel like lately “community over competition” is being viewed as if you want to be “better” than someone else, or compete, or you’re not willing to share all of your knowledge, then you’re not supporting the “community” part of the movement. I can’t count how many times I’ve read or heard someone say “so much for community over competition” in reference to someone not giving them the help that they want or answering endless questions.
Here’s my own dirty little secret: as I was building my business, I didn’t necessarily want to share everything with everyone. Those little, special things that I was doing to be different in my market, to make my business uniquely mine? I didn’t want to share them and if I’m going to be perfectly honest here, I still don’t want to share those things. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to help my photographer friends, or teach pricing for profit to my local photography community, or that I am not excited when one of my peers receives an award I was hoping for but didn’t get.
And if you want to place a mileage restriction on your workshop or that product you sell? Is that bad competition? Does it mean that community is less important to you than competition?
I don’t think so. Sometimes I think it just means that you’re building and protecting your own business as it grows. You can absolutely compete and look out for your own business first AND support your community; it doesn’t have to be win / lose.
Embracing competition doesn’t mean you don’t care about your community and being part of your community doesn’t mean that you have to subvert your own goals and interests for the sake of someone else’s success.
I believe community over competition means giving and receiving with an open heart and competing for the right reasons with your actions coming from a place of authenticity. It means balancing your drive and focus with supporting and encouraging your peers. It means being proud of your peers when they accomplish something amazing. It means acknowledging their successes without feeling threatened.
I think this post may have been a little loose and rambling, so I apologize. I guess this sums it up a little better: we don’t need to dim our own light so others can shine, but we don’t need to keep others down to lift ourselves up, either. I think that balance between community and competition is the key to a collaborative, supportive, positive industry. A rising tide lifts all boats, right?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about competition, or help you work out a problem you’ve been struggling with. Just drop me a note or post a comment!