Being competitive can get you far in life, driving success, fortune, and fame. It is also a toxic way of life, dehumanizing everyone around you and leaving you alone and sad.
Fatherly’s Letters to Boys project offers boys (and the men raising them) guidance in the form of heartfelt advice given generously by great men who show us how to take that crucial first step in confronting seemingly unsolvable issues — by offering honest words. Read all the letters here, or share your own.
I want to tell you what I know and what I don’t know. I want to be honest with you. When I was coming up, a lot of guys would hide behind vague and mysterious replies to all sorts of questions I had about life, about sports, about day-to-day things. “One day, you’ll understand,” they’d reply. I was frustrated and disappointed. And later, I did understand, but what I understood was that these guys just didn’t know and were too embarrassed to admit it. Or worse, they did know but were too competitive to share. So I want you hearing me say I don’t know when I don’t know and helping to teach you when I do.
As you know, I’ve been in the most competitive places for much of my life. First in the National Football League, now in entertainment. What I’ve learned is that competition is a poison. It turns one man against another. It turns your fellow man into something that’s not human but rather a pawn to manipulate or an obstacle to overcome. This is where toxicity begins.
I wish, when I was a young man your age, I’d been given the chance to opt out of competition. Instead I was told I must win. You are a man. You must win. You must beat your friends. You are a man. You must win. And the thing is that I did win. I made it to professional sports. After that, I made it in Hollywood. And what did I find?
I found that the ability to turn your fellow men into objects, to dehumanize them in order to defeat them, is not confined to the field. It permeates every single aspect of your life. At least it did mine. I found that I was willing to do near anything to win, whatever that meant. I had one face for one person and another for the next. I was duplicitous. I was selfish. If someone asked me a question, instead of sharing my knowledge, I’d say, “One day, you’ll understand.” I never said I didn’t know or that I don’t have the answer.
And I was like this until Mom kicked me out of the house. I don’t know if you were old enough to remember. Up until that point, I thought I was winning. I thought I had won the game. I had all the trappings of success: the house, the roles, the money, the mask. But what I didn’t have was the wisdom. I didn’t know you can’t love someone and control them. I didn’t know you can’t be open and be closed at the same time. I didn’t know you can’t be competitive and creative at once. But I learned.
It took a long time for me to earn your mother’s love back. I earned her love. Because without competition, there are no winners, and there are no losers either. You aren’t better than anyone. No one is better than you. Without competition, you are free to be generous and receive generosity, free to love and to be loved, free to answer and to ask, free to say what you know and free to say what you don’t, free to say things like, Isaiah, I love you.
Terry Crews is a father of five, a television actor on shows such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a host on America’s Got Talent, a recipient of the U.N. Global Generation Award, and the illustrator of the forthcoming children’s book Come Find Me.
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