Competition is healthy. For the most part.
In business, healthy competition pushes you to do your best, whether you're competing with others or yourself. Competition, however, can get ugly really, really fast. It's important to judge yourself against your own strengths and responsibilities, lest you get caught up in constantly comparing yourself to others. Though it's counterintuitive sometimes, asking for help and collaborating instead of competing is actually the best way to go. It pays to be nice.
I was saddened to hear of a friend dealing with some very negative professional situations at a company where she wanted to work. Someone she knew was trying to push her out of the running for a position she wanted. Not only was it plain mean but it also did more harm than good. Understanding collaboration is the key to many successes in business. By trying to control or outpace anyone or everyone, you end up the loser.
I learned this the hard way. When I decided to become a publicist, a notoriously catty role, I experienced being uninvited from other PR people's events, shady behaviors surrounding contracts and clients, and just plain and unnecessary cat-clawing. And it mostly came from other women. I thought: "Aren't I trying to work, too? Shouldn't I be supporting other women entrepreneurs?" I decided that instead of trying to compete with my contemporaries, I'd actually keep my enemies close. And then, instead of enemies, they actually became true, amazing friends.
It's only natural, in any industry, to want to shut out everyone else and do better. But when it came to my career, I realized early on that allying myself with people whose work I admired was actually to my advantage. As I said, PR is not known for its niceties. So I decided to play nice, and it worked out. At first I did it to see what would happen, and then I realized that everyone has a different skill set, so how could working with others not be the key to success?
The most relevant example is a best friend and business partner on many projects, Jessica Hoy of InkBlot Army. She's one of the best publicists I know. She was doing some very unusual things in Washington (a market that then wasn't known for the cutting-edge work she was doing). I saw a piece on her. Instead of seething, I reached out on a whim--telling her I admired what she was doing. She was flattered, and we met for lunch. It took us about five minutes to go from acquaintances to friends to collaborators. I am endlessly thankful for her guidance, and she mine. We work on projects surrounding the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and we complain about issues in our industry. It pays to play nice.
Then to office politics. On a recent panel at the Ladies America Conference in Washington, a panel of some of the most powerful women in business discussed what they regretted. Undoubtedly, across the board, was not paying attention to office politics and not making allies. Is this a gendered issue? I'm not sure, but all the panel members said they should have considered their coworkers more. You can only do so much alone--and in their cases, success came but they wished it had arrived without the perceived need to fight every other woman.
There's still the idea out there that in order to have a successful career, women need to battle each other. If I've learned anything--from groups like TheList and PR maven and my ally Rebekah Iliff (whom I met at a wedding, with each of us thinking we hated the other)--it's that reaching out and forming a partnership is what really makes you a success.
It might even make you a friend.