Personal competitiveness has gotten a bad name over the past few years. While everyone agrees that companies need competitive advantage, management gurus look askance at individuals who compete with others in the workplace.
The ideal, according to the gurus, is a collaborative culture where people work together to achieve common goals. As defined by Wikipedia, collaboration is the "opposite of competition."
Indeed, today's open-plan offices are designed specifically to create a collaborative environment. Since multiple studies have shown that open offices destroy productivity, collaboration must be really important and valuable, right?
Well, maybe not so much. Actually, science has proven that collaboration makes teams LESS effective.
Here's the truth: In every workplace, you're in competition for the good assignments, the best equipment, the junket to Hawaii, the corner cubicle, the biggest salary, the big promotion, and frankly, just about everything else.
If you're not competitive with your co-workers, you get the lousy assignments, the old equipment, the weekend shift, the cubicle next to the copier, the .1 percent raise, the dead-end job, and, well, that's about it.
Wanting to win (and even wanting the other guy to lose) isn't evil. It's human. It's the stuff of life. It's why natural selection works. Competition spurs you do more, to play harder, to become smarter, faster, better.
This is not to say that you should turn into one of those hypercompetitive jackasses who must publicly win every battle and argument. Such people are tedious, predictable, disruptive and (incidentally) absurdly easy to manipulate.
Being truly competitive at work means knowing when cooperating is the best way to win. Indeed, there are few better ways to create a personal competitive advantage than by building strong alliances and good relationship.
Being truly competitive at work also means knowing yourself. If you're an introvert, you'll go further and faster if you take assignments where you work alone. In that case, collaboration be damned and full speed ahead!
Personally, I'm insanely competitive. I don't show it, but I'm intensely irritated by writers who are more successful than I am. I don't stew about it, though. I use that competitive energy to push me to become a better writer.
The real question is: Why do the management gurus frown on internal competition?
Frankly, I think it's because it's easier to spout facile Kumbaya theories about "collaboration" than to harness the raw force of personal competitiveness so that it makes the organization competitive, too.
So, no, you don't need to apologize for being competitive. Embrace it. Use it. Live it.