Competitiveness seems to be a part of human nature. We started the evening’s study by telling a story about one of my granddaughters. We were on a family vacation at the seashore last month and had a wonderful time. The evening before we left I found my granddaughter busily writing out on paper plates elaborate awards for each member of the family. Everything from who gathered the most seashells to who made the best sandcastle to who jumped the most waves. It struck me that even at her young age she wanted to point out who had done the best in every category she could think of. This made me think about competitiveness and how it is hard wired into each of us. So we started out our discussion by sharing just how competitive we thought we were. Everyone admitted to some degree of competitiveness but some confined it to their participation in sports or games. But as we probed deeper into our medical practices and where the competition arises there, there was more and more recognition that indeed there is a tremendous amount of competition going on. Some of this is forced upon us by our practice environment in which we are regularly compared to our peers in business meetings as to how many patients we each see and how much revenue we are generating. But much of it has to do with our sense of pride in our abilities and desire to be the best physicians we can possibly be. This gave rise to the realization that there are some very good aspects to our competitiveness in medicine and there are some bad and downright ugly aspects.
We first discussed the good aspects and benefits of our spirit of competitiveness. It was pointed out that the American system of Pre-med education, medical school and residency all contribute to the need to be competitive. In our desire to become physicians, which as Christians we believe God has called us to become, we work exceedingly hard and compete for the limited slots available for training. It was pointed out that there is nothing wrong with trying to do our very best. In 1Cor 9:24 Paul reminds us that in a race not everyone wins but he urges us to run the race to win. It was pointed out that striving in this manner can lead to three positive results. 1) It forces us to improve and be the best surgeons and physicians we can be. 2) It can help align our talent with our prospective career. That is, trying and not measuring up can sometimes point us toward a different aspect of medicine that we are better suited for. Many of the attendees gave examples of how in their career they had turned away from some career choice after realizing it did not fit their talents. 3) Competitiveness also allows the best qualified to be selected for some positions. In all walks of life there are comparisons being made in trying to determine who is best suited for a particular role. Paul acknowledged this to Timothy when he instructed him to test those who wished to be deacons to be sure they are qualified. (1Tim 3:8-10).
Unfortunately, there can also be a dark and even ugly side to competition that can take hold of us. Just so we don’t think this is a modern problem we read John 3:22-30 in which John the Baptist’s disciples are complaining about the fact that more people were going to Jesus to be baptized than to John. We talked about how their complaint arose out of jealousy. We then talked about how our own pride and jealousy toward our colleagues can lead to poor attitudes or behavior. We mentioned how a desire for more financial gain, greater prestige, or simply a desire for a greater sense of self-worth can poison one’s heart and lead them away from serving God with their practice of medicine and instead serving themselves. We then talked about John’s response to his disciples. This response arose from his understanding that he is lesser and Jesus is greater (Jesus is the Bridegroom, John the best man). Also, very importantly, he states that he can do only what God has given him to do. This is a extremely pertinent point for us as physicians. We can sometimes get carried away with thinking it is us and only us that are curing our patients (sometimes this is reinforced by patients themselves who try and endow us with God-like abilities).
So how to avoid an overload of competitiveness? First remember from whom your gifts and talents come from. That we can do only what the Spirit of the Lord gives us to do. Also, remember from whence our value as an individual comes from. If we find our value as a person all wrapped up in our identity as a physician instead as a follower of Christ, we will become increasingly despairing as our abilities and talents diminish as they inevitably do with age. Lastly, learn to be content with what we have been gifted. As Paul states in Phil 2:3-4, we should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. We need generate a spirit of humility and look to serve others and not just ourselves.