To COMPETE or NOT!
more important than the
It's like this: on one hand there are carvers like me who dislike (hate is too strong a word here) competition, and on the other there are those who thrive on it. Just yesterday I was in the home of a promising local (Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada) wild fowl carver who showed me a large plastic storage container filled with first place ribbons won at various Canadian competitions. He described the thrill,... nay, the heart pounding high he receives each time he wins a competition. However, as I looked at the ribbons I wondered what all the fuss was about. They left me cold.
So why do some people get high on winning while others, like myself, avoid competition like it was a plague?
I used to think that only "losers" avoided competition,... you know, the carvers who couldn't take the pressure, or whose carving were not good enough to stand up to the scrutiny of judges. But I have discovered, with the passage of time and the acquisition of some wisdom, that there are many good reasons why some carvers avoid competition, just as there are good reasons why others compete.
Good reasons for avoiding competition:
1. You do not like win-lose situations. Instead, you enjoy and promote win win situations. Seeing others lose makes you feel lousy, even if you are the "winner" in that situaton.
2. You believe competing with yourself is enough. You have nothing to prove to others.
3. You do not need competition to help you improve your carving techniques and carving quality. You get all the feedback you need from other sources like family, friends, carving colleagues and customers.
4. The type of carving you do is not standardized or understood to the degree that any meaningful competition can occur. Your style of carving is unique and difficult to compare with others.
5. You carve for a living and cannot take time to compete. Producing a competition carving would take up too much valuable time that would otherwise be used to generate an income which subsequently supports a valued lifestyle.
6. You have been able to successfully promote your work and carving expertise without having to use competition as a platform for self promotion.
7. You do not enjoy the politics of competition or the often subjective and ill-informed adjudication that occurs.
8. Your carvings require special lighting and presentation to look their best, and these are often missing at the competition venue.
9. You live too far from competition venues, and travel is costly and difficult.
10. The process of carving is its own reward. The journey is more important to you than the desination. Winning a ribbon is simply not meaningful.
This last point hold the most meaning for me. Ever since I was a kid, arriving at a goal or destination often proved less exciting and worthwhile than the journey or process involve in getting there. Take Christmas for example. As a child I used to lose sleep waiting for Christmas to come. I would get so excited that weeks before the big day arrived there was hardly anything else I could think of. After the gifts were opened and examined it was all over. The excitement did not linger. There was no lasting "warm glow" that settled over me. What followed was a period of "let-down", a sadness that was hard to explain, but very real.
As I grew older I noticed that many of the goals or big events on which I had focussed my attention and energy, produced a similar low-level disappointment. It was as if too much was being demanded of these acheivements and events, to the extent that disappointment could not be avoided. All the gifts at Christmas could not bring lasting joy or contentment.
What was missing? One day the answer blew into my mind and heart like a gentle summer breeze: "Often the journey is more important than the destination". In my late fourties now, I still anticipate Christmas, but mostly I enjoy the passage of days and the preparation for that ONE day. The preparation brings with it many little gifts along the way. I enjoy contemplating the miracle of Christmas, and I now enjoy giving gifts more than receiving them. The opportunity to renew faith, to give thanks for the year past, to spend time with family, to make the commitment to a better way of living and to the virtues that make living healthy and happy... these bring meaning, substance and delight at Christmas.
Along similar lines, my boys both enjoy acheiving an honors report card. My wife and I build reward incentives into their schooling to encourage them to strive for academic excellence. But as they get older, the modest rewards/incentives and good grades mean less to them than the thrill of learning, and the satisfaction of knowing that they are, through diligent study, keeping their futures open in the years ahead. My boys are more and more enjoying the process of learning more than the high marks they acheive. And they enjoy the approval they receive from their teachers, who are more than willing to encourage the diligent and enthusiastic student. Happy is the student who places more importance on the academic journey than the high marks acheived at the end.
Carvers who place more importance on the process of carving than on ribbons won at competition are no different than the person who discovers that the journey towards Christmas is more important and meaningful than the one BIG day or the number of gifts received.
Ask yourself, what rewards can be found in carving to make the journey itself worthwhile? Perhaps this short list covers some of them:
1. The thrill of discovery. If learning is it's own reward, then DISCOVERY is what makes it exciting.
2. The tactile and visual pleasure of working with wood is like no other material. Warm,strong, beautiful, versitile and lively!
3. The acquisition of a long inventory of skills and techniques which enable us to do with our hands what our minds imagine.
4. The companionship of other carvers, which fulfills the need for acceptance and fellowship.
5. The theraputic effects of carving, which allows us to forget the troubles of life for a while, to release stress and to relax.
6. A creative outlet in through which you can express in wood what comes from the heart.
7. The challenge of solving technical problems, and moving from the known to the unknown, from the possible to the impossible.
8. The satisfaction of being able to teach your skills and talent to others, and seeing their eyes light up with appreciation.
9. The opportunity to create gifts of lasting beauty and significance which can be handed down to your children's grandchildren.
10. The pleasure of gradually becoming friends with the carvings you have created, and seeing your early "primitive" carvings turn, with the passage of time, into "precious" carvings.
Let me be clear about my attitude to competition. I do NOT think carving competition is wrong, or evil or unprofitable or imprudent. When done for the right reasons competition serves a valuable, even creative purpose. It's just that competition is not for everyone, and where the decision for or against competition is concerned a person needs to know which side of the fence then stand on and why.
So, if you are one of those who prefers to carve without competing, I hope these comments make it easier for you to be comfortable with the position you have taken, so that nothing will interfere with the enjoyment of this wonderful craft, artform and hobbie. Enjoy the journey!
All the best,