THE BLOG

The Fountain of Youth: A Childhood Lesson in Healthy Competition

02/16/2015 10:14 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

I'm a big fan of reality tv. There, I said it. Shame on me. I love nothing more than to be sucked into the relentless drama of the human race, captured in minute, ridiculously over-the-top egotistical fashion. Me, me, me. I, I, I. Everyone for themselves. Survival of the fittest. Kill or be killed. I love it.

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Then I started watching MasterChef Junior and got a huge smack in the face courtesy of one of this season's top contestants. Let me back up a bit. MasterChef (the adult version) falls into that wonderfully dramatic, notoriously full of sabotage and selfish intent, typical reality show bucket. Adults battle it out to prove to themselves and the world that they are top dog in the kitchen and spare no expense at knocking the competition down a peg (or ten) any chance they get.

While I certainly didn't think MasterChef Junior would showcase the same deliberate, nasty intent to crush the competition, what I really didn't expect to see was a stunning reminder of where the adult race has fallen short and could stand to learn a few lessons from our children.

In a recent episode, 12-year old Jenna found herself with time running short and a broken hollandaise sauce. As the clock ran down and her anxiety ran high, she fell into a panic and begged for help. Seeing his friend upset, 11-year old competitor, Andrew, stopped his own preparation, left his station and talked her through her fear, helped her regain composure and create a tasty sauce that got rave reviews from the judges.

And it hit me.

When did we, as adults, forget that we can compete alongside others with love, empathy and integrity instead of selfishness, deceit and aggression?

Simply put, these children are putting us to shame. They all want the trophy. They all desperately want to win. Yet they're still able to love, support, encourage and celebrate their competitors. They give freely with innocence and an unwritten rule that everyone deserves respect. When you see someone in need, you help. Without question or hesitation. Somewhere in their innocent minds, they inherently understand that winning is so much more than crushing the competition. Winning at its absolute best means you came out on top alongside your competitors, not at their expense.

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What happened to healthy competition? When did we turn so ugly? Smart competition shouldn't be grounded in a desire to watch others fail. Healthy competition should be grounded in the desire to do well in all circumstances, for yourself and your fellow man.

I'm not talking about embracing naivety and giving the keys away with the kingdom. Yes, competition is necessary and smart business requires deliberate strategies that excel in a competitive arena. As a small business owner and entrepreneur, developing a powerful action plan to capture market share is a pivotal element to our overall strategy and ultimate success.

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I want to challenge the corporate world to change the paradigm of what it means to be successful. Andrew has motivated me to reevaluate my intentions and heart when it comes to building my professional empire. I still have every intent of excelling and growing my business into a profitable powerhouse that provides for my family. But I also want to acknowledge a few simple truths that I forgot somewhere along the way.

A true victory isn't possible if it comes in the form of a painful defeat or demise of your competition. A remarkable business owner and human being understands and believes that helping a friend is more important than helping yourself.

If you're seeking victory, earn it and claim it because you did your very best against the very best and came out on top. Embrace empathy for your friends and industry peers. Sharpen your competitive edge with authenticity and claim a success that is that much more remarkable because you earned not only the ownership of your marketplace, but the gratitude and respect of your competitors. Celebrate the accomplishment of others. Acknowledge when you've been "beat," fair and square. Finding joy in the success of your peers does not mean you lack competitive edge. It means you have heart.

Isn't that why we all went into business in the first place? Because we had heart and a passion to cook, to serve, to build, to sell...I don't think any small business owner entered the fray because they wanted to watch others fail while they excelled. We fight day in and day out to turn our dreams into reality because we have a passion to serve our clients. Let's take a lesson from Andrew and learn to serve our competitors as well. Claim the true victory that comes with integrity and gratitude.

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Andrew walked out of the kitchen that day knowing that even if he didn't win, he had done what was right. I want to return to that youthful spirit and do things differently. It's time to admit our own failure and reclaim the fountain of youth. The world could use a whole lot more Andrews in it.