Confession: I am an ex-competitor.

In my childhood days, I was hyper-competitive, hyper-focused on winning at anything and everything that I was involved in, from school spelling bees to foot races to board games. In my mind at that time, anything less than getting the top spot was unthinkable, an unbearable shame, therefore I had to do whatever it took to win. I was most often successful, and avoided facing true loserdom by quitting before the end if it looked like I had no chance to win. I can remember pretending to be sick to get out of a math test I knew I wasn't ready for, and "accidentally" turning over a Monopoly board to ruin the game in progress, which pissed off everyone, which in turn pissed off me.

Not good, not good at all. When I came to understand that my behavior was making other people unhappy, and making me look and feel like a giant jerk, I knew that I had to change how I looked at competition. Unfortunately, I veered completely to the other side -- I stopped competing in any way at all. No games, no sports. Schoolwork went undone with only the bare minimum to pass the class. I stopped thinking that I must win or deserved to win, and started thinking, "why try at all?" This, too, confused people and made them unhappy, which made me angry. What business was it of theirs, I grumbled, if I wanted to withdraw from competition?

It took many more years for me to face that neither of those extremes were productive or realistic. All of us need to compete sometimes, and sometimes at a high level, and all of us need to know how to lose with grace and perspective, too. I had to examine why I felt I always had to be the best of the best, or be invisible, and then break all that mess down into pieces until I could start fresh again. I think remodeling this in my brain will always be a work-in-progress, but I'm game to keep at it.

I got to thinking about this today via an afterschool car conversation with my middle kid, Mr15. I had asked him if he missed never playing team sports, and he replied, no, that he didn't really enjoy the "bad vibe" that many super-competitive teams have. This doesn't surprise me; he's a nice guy and would rather have everyone be pretty happy instead of some very happy and some very unhappy. He works hard at his martial arts classes, he went on to say, but he's really competing against himself by getting faster and stronger and more strategic in his thinking. He doesn't want to do tournaments, even though he earned a black belt a couple of years ago.

I wondered to myself, what do you tell someone who is less interested in competition about how to get along in the world where the old adage "you snooze, you lose" is quite true? Are those people destined to have less than those who are compelled to win? Having been on both ends of the competitive scale, I thought maybe I might have some insight. I think one can be a "quiet competitor" and do quite well, indeed.

1. Slow and steady wins the race. OK, well...sometimes slow is just slow and you will lose. But there is something to this, especially when remembering that the kids who have been hyper-parented since birth to achieve, achieve, achieve (and there's a whole lot of them out there) may take an early lead, but falter later on from too many years of pressure. Argon Edward Yachtman, III, may get into Stanford, but might very well spend his freshman year free of Heli-Mom pot-smoking away all his textbook money, and his scholarship, too. Sometimes a more stable, steady, slower pace is a good thing.

2. Whatever you already do well, keep doing that. Stop looking at the highest achievers as your benchmark of worthiness. If you know you are doing a good job at something, that people appreciate it, and you enjoy it, keep learning and growing and doing. There is no downside to this attitude.

3. Take every opportunity you can get to learn new skills -- whatever they might be. This is something many top competitors never have the time to do. They are so focused and busy being the best at their thing that they end up only knowing how to do that one thing. But this is guaranteed: no one stays at the top forever, and it's a harsh fall indeed if there are no branches to break your fall. Any time you can say to an employer, "Yes, I know how to do that," you are more valuable. Any time you can become more flexible and more self-reliant, you win. Don't be snobby. Gather experience in all kinds of things, even if it seems basic or boring at the time.

4. Treat others with respect, fairness, and kindness. In the heat of any competition, civility can be lost, and at its worst, can cause great misery to others. Any major player had better understand the risk he or she takes when deciding that cheating or cruelty is the way to go. People often forget the trophies or honors or awards or big sales weeks...but they never forget when someone has done them wrong or made them feel bad. Conversely, people do remember folks who are easy to work with, congenial, willing to help others, and trustworthy. You don't need to be a competition superstar to earn the bountiful benefits of being a just a regular ol' decent person.

5. Accept fully that you may never get that job, or that car, or that house, or that fame, or whatever carrot is being dangled in front of you. Not everyone was built to be the same thing, and there sure as hell isn't only one definition of success. Don't let the media and the Jones' or your family or your co-workers or anyone else make you feel bad if you don't "have it all." It's up to YOU to figure out what "success" is, it's up to you to decide what gives you comfort and happiness, and it's up to you to choose how you want to spend your precious days. Pro tips: money buys options, not happiness, and spending time doing fun stuff with the people you love is the best thing, anyway. Work hard at achieving as many days as you can of the latter, and you will have a life you can be proud of, and you will be well-remembered.

So get out there, Mr15 and the rest of you Quiet Competitors...and run your own race.