Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is about competition. First, let me share a recent experience. A few weeks ago, I learned that Missoni, a famous, high-end Italian design house, would put a limited release of clothing and household items into Target stores. Some smart marketing person at Target came up with the bright idea that if you could convince high-end designers to create an exclusive line just for Target, at low Target prices, their stuff would sell like hot cakes and it would broaden their brand recognition across a more diverse customer base. Knowing
For example, typical Missoni dresses sell for $800 to $2,500. At Target, a dress of the same style in a somewhat inferior fabric would sell for $60. Now, that’s what I call a bargain! Knowing how much I admired Missoni’s clothes and that a good friend of mine was also a fan, I marked my calender for the day of the sale.
So at 7:30 a.m. on the morning of September 13, I drove to a Target that I deemed less popular than others and joined the 10-person line forming at the door. “Hey, this is good,” I thought. “I can compete against 10 other people.”
Securing my fanny pack (you have to have your arms and hands free to grab the goods) stuffed with credit cards, cash and my cell phone, in case my good friend called with a last minute request, I anxiously waited for the doors to open. I began to notice that we were all jockeying for position. People were inching up toward the doors, and occasionally, a more aggressive participant would nudge someone. As the minutes ticked by, our anticipation grew, and the tension was palpable. I have to admit, I was becoming anxious myself. My heart rate increased, and I could feel the competitive urges in me growing.
Finally, the doors opened. The first person in line, a very tall, domineering woman, ran inside and went up to the first rack of Missoni clothing. She opened her arms wide, grabbed both ends of an entire rack of clothes, lifted everything up in one fell swoop and threw it all into her cart. The game was on — it was every woman for herself! I soon realized that looking for the right size or style was not possible. I joined in the frenzy, throwing anything I could grab into my cart before running to the next Missoni display. Pity the poor store clerk who had just opened a box of Missoni socks and tights. Before he could set up the display, we surrounded him like locusts in a field and gobbled up the items right out of the box as if he wasn’t even there.
Seven minutes after the doors opened, nothing was left on the displays — not a sweater, skirt, blouse, shoe or sock. Every piece of merchandise was in someone’s overladen shopping cart, and as I looked around, I could see the expressions of victory and bewilderment on people’s faces. What just happened? How did we get so swept up in the insanity of competition for this stuff? It was as though we were starving and had to compete for the last few sacks of rice.
I realized I had to find a place in the store where I could go through my items and figure out which ones I actually wanted to buy. As I searched for a place to discretely make my choices, I happened upon a mother with her two teenage daughters who were doing the same. We were all embarrassed to look at each other. The past seven minutes hadn’t brought out the best in any of us, and we knew it. When I suggested that I go get an empty cart to use for our rejects, I saw relief on their faces. The opportunity to share made all of us feel better.
As we tried on various items and talked about what we’d selected, we began to laugh and joke about how crazy the competition had been. Each of us had seen a competitive side to our nature that in its determination to win had only one goal in mind: get the goods. Upon reflection, it all seemed like a crazy thing to do, particularly when you found items in your cart that were two sizes too big or something you would never wear even if someone gave it to you for free.
You could say that I accomplished my aim. I got some goods at a great price. But as I walked out of the store with a cart full of white plastic bags filled with items for me and my friend, I felt a little sick to my stomach. Was it the lack of breakfast or too much coffee before the early morning frenzy that brought about the nausea? Or was it the anticipation and anxiety I felt as I had rushed through the store? Perhaps it was the sudden realization that I had just spent a fair amount of money on clothes that I didn’t need, while people all over the planet actually do compete for that last bag of rice.
Four hours after Target sold out of most of the Missoni items, they began to show up on eBay for four and five times the price. Angry online customers sent vituperous Tweets and emails to Target complaining about their inability to buy online because the Target site crashed soon after the items became available. The following day, every major U.S. newspaper and newsfeed ran a story about Missoni at Target.
I believe competition in games and sport has its rightful place. We enjoy watching people win, especially when it’s our team, and the heightened inner state that occurs when we achieve our goals is a glorious experience. But when it comes at the expense of others, competition can seem displaced. Something about my shopping experience made me feel like my competitive instincts were not used for the common good.
This week, take a look at what you’re competing for. Do you find yourself at work getting overly aggressive like the woman who grabbed an entire rack of clothing in one fell swoop? Is the thing you’re competing for worth it? Perhaps you’re competing for a promotion or more attention from your boss or a family member. Have you ever competed in a passive aggressive way by withholding information from someone?
Two weeks after my shopping spree, the Missoni items hang in my closet with the tags still on them. I haven’t decided whether I’ll keep everything or return some of them. My husband reminds me that I work hard and deserve to splurge on myself once in awhile. And much of what I bought is just downright cute and will be fun to wear. But on the morning of September 13, I saw a part of myself that I am not particularly proud of. For someone who likes to say that her religion is kindness, I wonder who that person was who showed up at Target that morning?
Have a good week,
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