Well here’s a word that’s been on my shit list for quite some time. Mainly because it’s SOOOO masculine. And generally keeps company (especially in business) with the testosterone-filled verbs that always make my eyes roll – y’know, dominate/destroy/eradicate …

As a cis white woman in business for over 2 decades, I’ve vacillated along a spectrum of finding the discourse around competition oppressive, or boring – to just plain silly.

But the liberty to run that gamut illustrates my privilege around it. I was in grad school and in my first feminist theory course when I first began learning about how patriarchal structures were designed to pit women against one another. My reaction went something like, “Well, fuck that!” ‘Cause, y’know, I’m super classy.

Bam. I resolved to NEVER again compete with another human outside of Scrabble (where I clearly rule, so board games don’t count).

And that was that. When, in my 14-years of running an adult-sized hula hoop business, there was an explosion of other hoop makers, I continued to insist that COMPEITITON DIDN’T EXIST. Why? Because competition implied fighting over a limited number of resources.

And that just wasn’t the case in my business. At the time, each of us was working to spread the joy of hooping to more people. Why would I want to compete with them? Instead I focused on improving my product, expanding the way you could use it, and excelling at customer service.

[Fun side note: You know why race horses wear blinders, right? Yep … they get distracted and slow down if they can see ‘the competition.’]

Along the way, I got really, really good at Facebook Ads.

So can you guess what I did THEN? I hosted 2 conferences for all the other hoop makers where we shared what we learned throughout the years about running and marketing a hooping business. (It was called Circumference, which of course I thought was hella clever 🙂).

And that’s how my current business was born. The way I got from there to here (truly finding my calling as an ads expert who helps wonderfully weird businesses do their thang) was by REFUSING TO COMPETE.

No, more than that. Which – you guessed it – brings me to the etymology of competition.

In English (since the early 1600s), it’s pretty much always meant rivalry. But its Latin root didn’t mean that at all. Rather, competere meant to “strive together” – (com– with, and petere, strive/aim). Its likely earliest meanings were in sports and even in war – as in the coming together to fight a common adversary. 

In other words, once upon a time, “competition” meant to work together towards a common goal.

Competition,” in the business sense – as in “destroying the competition”  – as in the STAGED, gladiator-type, reality-TV battle for others’ amusement – and especially its verb form, “to compete,” is WHOLLY a 19th century American invention. From soft drink wars to wet T-shirt contests.

So does competition actually EXIST? I think so, yes.

We are right now, right here COMPETING – ‘striving together’ – in the Latin sense of the term on several fronts.

Americans are competing for the soul of our country. Conservationists are competing for the future of our planet. Advocates for equity are competing for how the most vulnerable of our populations will be treated going forward.

But competition in our businesses? Not me. We don’t have to be holding hands when we cross the finish line. “But we can have a group hug after we all get there” (Tracy Isaacs, Fit is a Feminist Issue).

That’s the word, nerd.