Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Winning: Magazine Quizzes, Self-Knowledge and Being Bossy

While I was holed up over the Thanksgiving holiday (it is a family tradition to barricade ourselves in a tastefully decorated bunker designed to withstand 9 out of 10 potential apocalypse scenarios for several days while testing the limits of our sanity), I flipped through pages and pages of O, the Oprah Magazine. My mom stashed them under the guest bed so that I’d have some light reading to pass the time after my daily gavage.

Me, on a good day.
In one of the O’s, I found a little magazine quizzie. Amazingly, it was not designed to help you determine your flirting style, or choose which thigh is the fattest. It was supposed to tell you what your passion is, or your life’s purpose, or some such equally ridiculous thing. It starts off innocuously enough, asking you what you wanted to be when you grew up, and then requires you to recruit a friend to figure out your strengths, etc. Naturally, as I was alone in the dark in a room, I skipped all that and went straight to the “what motivates you?” part, where it became immediately apparent that I am insanely competitive.*

Now, this may surprise you, gentle readers, as I seem pretty laid-back, right?** I despise team sports, which are normally a refuge and an outlet for the hypercompetitive. I don’t work on Wall Street or in sales, but nevertheless, my motivate-y quiz’s results don’t lie: my main motivator is not, as previously suspected, forging deep friendships or amassing huge quantities of money, it is Accomplishing Impressive Things and Kicking the Asses of Others. Perhaps it’s tied to my misanthropy. Who knows. I do suspect there is a grain of truth in there, though I am a titch disappointed my results didn’t show that my main motivator is a quest for Truth with a capital T.

In any case, since I’ve been thinking about my List of Doom and motivation in general, I’m now stuck with the task of finding worthy competitive opponents for My Life. Thing is, I can’t compete with just anyone. There needs to be moderate enmity. It’s most effective when tucked behind a fa├žade of friendship. In short, my relationship with my Competitrix needs to be a little… twisted.

Little-known fact: I am obsessed with LiLo.
Example: Back in school, one of my friends and I had a falling out. Before we patched things up, we were in a math class together. I aced the class, in large part due to the fact that I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of seeing me fall behind. Twisted, right? Whatever. This is the internet. Judge if you want, but you’re the one sitting alone in a dark room reading this.

Anyway. I don’t have fights of that caliber with a lot of people – and therefore suffer a dearth of worthy foes. This is probably a good thing, but barring participation in the classic competitive arenas of team sports, sales, high school or foot races, I really have no idea how to compete. There is always the whole “competing with yourself” idea, which seems to have worked out well enough for my burgeoning running habit, but it so far has failed to deliver any brag-worthy achievements – no marathons, no relay races, no real visible notches other than a pretty damn efficient cardiovascular system.

Barring claws-concealed competition with frenemies, one motivator I’ve found no shortage of over the years is The Naysayer: people telling me I can’t or shouldn’t do something. Nothing like proving an a**hole wrong to make you feel alive, am I right? Examples and their results:

     Challenge: “You can’t be a vegetarian in Southern Oregon.”
     Results: Was veg for 10+ years.

     Challenge: “You’re a girl. You can’t run alone on the streets. Especially not when it’s dark out. You will definitely be raped and killed.”
     Results: Ran 8 miles a day at O’Dark-Thirty with no incident for years. Then got a gym membership to continue doing same, but near a heater.

     Challenge: “You can’t get into an Ivy League school.”
     Results: Done.

Some recent/pending challenges:
  • "You’re not built for upper-body strength, and will never do a pull-up."
  • "Ballet is an impractical skill." "You’ll never catch up to people who took lessons in childhood."
  • "Your meetup groups are stupid and laughable."
  • "You can’t take an aerial class because of your back injury."

What kinds of things have people told you you couldn't do over the years? Did it motivate you to do them anyway? Who do you compete against or with?

*Actually, the results were “you are highly motivated by Influence and Accomplishment.” Translation: I’m bossy and I like to win. Duh.
**More likely: I like to think I'm laid back, but in actuality am not laid back at all. Case in point: I once had some roommates that redecorated the living room without consulting me first. I had to be carefully talked down from throttling them with the full force of my lack of upper-body strength.


  1. The best motivation for me comes from the desire to do the best I can at everything. I guess that could be called competing against myself.

  2. i looove quizzes! and thanks to you, i am now stuck on oprah's website taking one cheesy quiz after another! :)

  3. Ceste - you are one of the lucky motivational geniuses, then. Teach me your ways!

    belovelive - Baaahahaha my evil plan has worked! I used to spend an embarrassingly large amount of time taking quizzes on MySpace. No one, of course, remembers MySpace nowadays. :P

  4. just to be clear - i am not reading this alone in a dark room.

    i am at work. sad fact. my boss is probably looking over my shoulder and i really don't care.

    I am very competitive - I am a shark in the corporate world. i can't compete at home, unless i wanted to do go against my puppy : who can finish their dinner the fastest?

  5. I suspect the puppy would win every time. They can wolf like nobody's business.

    And shame on me for thinking all internet people are like this guy: http://ohinternet.com/Trollface

  6. I am so not a competitive person. Well, maybe that's not true. Perhaps it's more that I am intimidated by competition. It stresses me out and makes me want to give up. Healthy, yes?

    I gotta say, I like your way better. I think it's a good thing to be super-motivated when people doubt you can do something. That shows definite character, and it must feel awesome when you prove them wrong. Maybe if I hang around your website long enough, I'll pick up some of that skill? I have my fingers crossed.

  7. Kristine - I think that's why I don't like sports and direct-competition stuff: Too much at stake, so I give up right away to avoid any heartache over not winning later. The super-sneaky competition stuff is fine, since no one knows I'm competing and therefore can't mock me if I lose.

    As for proving people wrong: Now we just need to round up a posse of naysayers on specific things. I, for one, would like someone to tell me I can't do 100 push-ups in a row, or run 10 kilometers without stopping so that I'll be motivated to do both!

  8. My strongest motivator is anxiety about being a disappointment. When I practice solo pieces--music I love--I don't work nearly as hard as when I'm learning my part in a chamber piece, because I don't want to mess up, especially at the first rehearsal. And the railroad crew analogy holds up here too: I tried to be a good hoghead so the switchmen would think of me as a good hoghead. True, that way we got the work done quicker so we could all go in the shanty and play pinochle, not a goal in chamber music, but having been a switchman I knew how they rated engineers so when I was running the engine I did my best not to get on their shit list.

  9. Pinochle! Shanty! Hoghead! So much awesomeness I know nothing about! But I get the whole motivation thing - I do much better at pretty much everything when other people are relying on me doing a good job.

  10. "Hoghead" is railroaders' lingo for "locomotive engineer." "Shanty" generally refers to a building alongside a freightyard where yard crews take coffee and meal and bathroom breaks; these are typically ramshackle--wallboard, corrugated metal roof, a couple of tables, maybe the yard clerk's desk, a few chairs. (Something between Spartan and squalid.)

    Pinochle is (I'm told) descended from a game called Bezique and a remote ancestor of bridge. (Peggy and I taught the rules to a bridge-playing friend; after a couple of hands she started winning consistently.) It's generally four-handed with partnerships (as in bridge) to an agreed point total, but on the railroad we played a three-handed version in which each hand was self-contained so we could interrupt the game and get back to work. It's one of the things I miss about the job.

    Linda Niemann's book "On the Rails" is terrific--accurate (at least for the years it covers, roughly the 1970's) and powerfully written. It keeps going out of print and then being reissued but it's worth hunting for.

  11. I was told the school level i chose would be to hard for me.
    I was told going one year to a foreign country was to hard for a 16 yo.
    I was told you wouldn't succeed and get a bachelor in a prestigious school without failing at some points !

    Did all of this.
    But one of my teacheres predicted that i'd sing correctly by the age of 18... I still don't !



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