Five of Swords

Five of Swords
A man looks smugly toward two dejected adversaries, he holds three swords as two lay on the ground

Competition can be healthy if held in the proper perspective. It can serve as fuel to inspire us to push beyond the limits we previously imposed upon ourselves. However, there is a danger in depending on competition as the primary source of motivation in manifesting our desired outcomes.

As others merely serve as reflections of ourselves, those we compete against are serving as reflections of our limitations. They aid and assist us in seeing the limits we have created for ourselves. Once we can move beyond depending on adversaries to highlight our own limitations we become less dependent on needing competitors to provide the impetus to excel.

Defining our successes through the conquest and besting of others creates the illusion of success. As we look to our defeated competitors as an indication of our own improvement we immediately look away from the measure of our own personal growth. It may seem as the defeat of another is indicative of our success, but we can defeat another person with no measure of personal improvement. The measuring stick for success is a personal one, so once we hold our own measuring stick against another person’s endeavors we cannot be honest with ourselves in our own self-assessment.

What happens when we have no more competitors outside of ourselves? Our only means of self-improvement comes at the hands of another when we depend on them to drive us toward success. This means that we stand still and stagnate without another person to compete against. We become blind to our own personal power, we lose the capacity for self-motivation. We have not learned to recognize our limitations on our own, thus we experience defeat at our own hands without another to serve as an adversary.

In competition, in order for us to win someone has to lose. When we depend on another’s loss to define ourselves we continue to operate this way when we compete against ourselves, which means we have to ensure we lose in order to win. This in turn creates self-defeating behavior. The best way to ensure we succeed without an adversary is to help others succeed when we are improving our own circumstances. With every other person’s success or failure we can count that toward our own; with the defeat of a thousand people we suffer the death of a thousand cuts. When a thousand people succeed we excel by a thousand steps.

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Seven of Swords

Seven of Swords
A man sneaks away from an encampment with a handful of swords, leaving only a couple behind

Sometimes when we evaluate our progress toward creating the life we want, we may see it as being impeded by the actions of others. Perhaps our efforts at work seem to be eclipsed by a coworker whose work is more noteworthy. Maybe we are looking for support from a friend or family member but the wants or needs of another member of the group seem to overshadow our own. Or we might land an interview or an audition time and time again only to be trumped by someone more qualified or experienced.

At those times it may feel to us as if no matter how great our efforts or qualifications, there is someone who stands out ahead of us. We may believe that we simply need that edge to bump ourselves out in front of our competitors, the edge that they seem to possess, the one we lack.

The trouble with this perspective is we automatically disempower ourselves when we believe our fate is at the mercy of those that seem to be in a more advantageous position. Within every single one of us lies a myriad of skills, gifts, and talents which are unique to us, which can only be offered, presented, and utilized in a way intrinsic to our own individuality.

When we see our fate as being at the mercy of our competitors, we employ blinders that prevent us from seeing our own unique talents and skills. It is not that others are better, more talented, or even superior to us; it is merely that we allowed ourselves to overlook our unique gifts that would enable us to see the opportunity that is an ideal fit for us.

Successfully seizing an opportunity is akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. One piece does not fit into another because it is better than all the other pieces. It is because they are mutually receptive by design. We have more success figuring out where our own piece goes when we examine our own unique shape to determine where we truly fit best.

Five of Wands

Five of Wands
A group of boys brandish a set of sticks, raising them in what appears to be an act of showy bravado

When we are actively pursuing our goals and dreams there are times that we will encounter adversity. This adversity sometimes comes in the form of challenges from other people, where there may be a battle of wills, where another person is competing against us for a favorable position in pursuit of the same goal.

It is during these times that we may feel we need to fight harder, to be more aggressive, to be on the offensive a bit more. We believe we need to show our adversaries that we are determined to win, and whatever is thrown at us to keep us back will only make us more determined to become the victor in our battles against them.

This is when we need to be careful not to lose sight of our objective, of what our goals are. The determination to win can become dangerously precarious to eclipsing our actual objective. It can become more important for us to defeat our adversary rather than to accomplish what we set out to achieve. As a result, the energy we put into becoming a fierce competitor ends up siphoning off the energy required to accomplish our goals.

This is not to say competition is detrimental to success. Competition can provide us a bit of extra incentive. It can encourage us to uncover skills, traits, and talents we were not aware we had. It can provide the impetus to develop our abilities that much further, enabling us to excel in striving to meet our purpose. We do best, however, when we allow ourselves to see competition as a friendly rivalry, when we recognize that it is really a game, that there is true value in every loss as well as every win. We can benefit most from the value of competitiveness when we see it as a tool for self-improvement rather than an assessment of our own value based on whether we win or lose.