I like competition. We live in a world of rivalry where everyone wants it bigger, better, and faster, and then they want to tell you about it. If you’re talking about the Olympics or overcoming extreme obstacles, then bring it on; this is competition in its purest form.

However, there’s a form of competition that just irritates the heck out of me. I’m talking about the sort of situation in which you ask me a question just so you can give the better answer. Or maybe you just want to remind me of my inferiority with a story, a sort of put-down-poetry. Some people call this sharing; I call it ‘one-upping.’ Either way, spare me. I’m having a hard enough time just keeping up with the losers.

Everyone knows what one-upping is. You say you’ve traveled across the United States, and they mention they’ve traveled the entire U.S. and Europe. You disclose you have been to Europe as well, and they come back with stories of travels to each of the seven continents. You change the subject and go for something safe: you utter your appreciation for a good hike. They point out they’ve climbed Everest- twice, in one day, without shoes or oxygen.


Not too long ago, I was at the park with my little one. There was another woman there, and her daughter and my son were playing in the same area. In a neighborly trance, I asked how she was and if she was visiting, despite this nagging feeling that told me I should just stand there and look at my feet. ‘We’re from the Bay – you know, Nob Hill,’ she said. She glanced up at me after she said it, as though her answer was supposed to solicit some sort of response. Since I’ve only been to San Francisco half a dozen times in my life, I don’t know Nob Hill from Lauryn Hill. I asked if it was close to Oakland.

She shot me a nasty look, until she realized I was serious. ‘No, it’s in the city, on a hill with great views. It’s where a lot of professionals live,’ she added coolly.

‘Oh, I get it, you’re letting me know you’re rich,’ I thought to myself. She went on to tell me she’s a Stanford grad, as is her husband, and she attended a Big Ten school for her law degree. Both she and her husband work, so they have a nanny. It’s tough, but somehow they manage. I shook my head in agreement, her story sounded damn near unbearable. After what seemed like an eternity, she looked up and asked, ‘So, what do you do?’ Frankly, I couldn’t believe she was asking me a question. She seemed perfectly happy talking about herself all this time. ‘Oh me, I try to clean the spit off of my shirt each day, and if I’m really feeling saucy I’ll throw on some deodorant.’

Competition, one-upping, expectations: really they’re all the same. There’s always someone looking over your shoulder, whispering that you’re just not good enough.

My best friend isn’t old by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s no spring chicken either if you know what I’m saying. She works at a hospital, and one afternoon an elderly patient noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring and asked why she wasn’t married. The lady didn’t wait for an answer before letting my friend know she had come up short in the eyes of society. ‘I was already married and had children when I was your age,’ the old woman said. My friend was distraught when she called me since this is a sore subject for her.

This got my mind working. Don’t you think it is a generalization that people should be married by their mid 30s? Like Sue Kolinsky said, ‘That’s like looking at someone who’s 70 and saying ‘Hey when are you gonna break your hip, all your friends are breaking their hips – what in the hell are you waiting for?!’’

It occurred to me later that with one-uppers, there is never any room for another winner. The one-upper is always going to come out on top, whether they deserve to or not. If in some conversation it appears as though you look like a nice guy, maybe even a contributing member to society, they will change the subject and get you on something else. I don’t think one-uppers are bad people; I just don’t think I’m that competitive anymore. It’s been my experience that competition brings out the best in some things, but the worst in people.

So, what do you do when you are faced with a one-upper? Humbly ask to kiss their feet, and then go home and wait for the summer Olympics. Now that’s REAL competition.


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