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Girl Talk: What Female Competition Has To Learn From World Cup Soccer

I am by no means a sports fan. In fact, if I’m being honest, it took me eight full days to bother turning on ESPN to tune into the World Cup — this despite New York City’s peculiar, nearly European-scale football/soccer mania which has surrounded me for over a week and permeated my consciousness.

I’ve seen soccer matches before. I’ve attended them before. And I enjoy them, sure. My command of its rules and strategies is shaky at best, even though I played soccer as a kid. I recall seeing a match in Seville, Spain, and remember that after marveling over the physical beauty of the swarthy, sweaty, sexy footballers and getting momentarily swept up in the intense emotions of the fans, I got totally bored. No one ever scored, and the players seemed more interested in feigning injury and pantomiming intense pain to earn penalty kicks than in scoring hard-earned goals. And after hours of back and forth, the teams TIED. No one came out a winner.

THIS is the sport everyone loses their minds over?

Seeing how quick she was to undermine someone who had been kind to her, I began to wonder how trustworthy my friend could reasonably be in other areas of her life. Would she throw me under the bus too someday?

I flipped on the New Zealand/Italy game over the weekend and caught the tail end of the hour and a half game, which again ended in a stalemate, but was heralded by pundits and experts as a veritable victory for New Zealand. Taking the long view of New Zealand’s relatively young and unremarkable football history, it stood to reason that holding its own against soccer giant Italy and not getting trounced was, in fact, a win. It was their personal best. No one had to lose for someone to win. What a strange and refreshing way to approach competition.

I got to thinking about this within the context of myself, my career and my peers. It resonated all the more because the previous week, I’d had a conversation with a friend of mine, Suzanne, that continued to grate on me. She’s a few years younger than me, and like me, is in the media world. Suzanne started her editorial career a little later than her professional contemporaries — myself included — and perhaps for this reason (and doubtless other reasons having to do with her type-A personality) has been hustling to make up for lost time ever since. This is, perhaps understandably, a constant source of frustration for her — she finds it difficult to simply resign herself to learning from those who’ve been at it longer and working her way up. Instead, she finds herself keeping constant score of people whose jobs she envies and convincing herself that she’s much smarter and more deserving of their success than they are.

None of this is all that unusual. We’ve all been frustrated by our jobs and eager to progress at a rate that may or may not be realistic. But recently, in venting to me about her current job, Suzanne told me something that shocked me. She recently landed a gig which she got because a woman she used to work with at a different company called her in for an interview. She’s since settled in o her role as second in command, and as with most jobs, started to find fault in her boss’s managerial style. But rather than go to this woman who had hired her to express her concerns, she went above her to the company’s upper management in an effort, she said, to set herself apart from her boss and make sure that the higher-ups didn’t associate her with what she perceived to be less-than-perfect output.

I was horrified. It’s normal to be frustrated with your boss. It’s definitely troubling to toil for a place when you don’t feel the quality of its product represents your work. But here was a situation in which she was so desperate to separate herself from a woman who had gotten her the job in the first place that she didn’t think twice about throwing her under the bus to serve her own professional aspirations.

Seeing how quick she was to undermine someone who had been kind to her, I began to wonder how trustworthy my friend could reasonably be in other areas of her life. Would she throw me under the bus too someday?

Was I naïve to be flabbergasted? I began to examine a handful of my peers — women in their late-20′s and early-30′s whose careers I admired and, yes, envied. And I could recall similar back-stabbing tendencies in a few of them too. Certainly not all the successful women in my field engaged in this sort of recklessly ambitious behavior, but more than a few did. Was this what it took to “make it”? And was it the same for men? Did these women’s approaches simply rub me the wrong way because I — like most people — am conditioned to see women as wholesome, nurturing creatures and accept that men are intrinsically more unapologetic about scheming in work and life?

I’m inclined to think that gender doesn’t really have much to do with it in the end. Since I’m a woman, that’s my frame of reference, and I measure myself against my peers, who are also women. I suppose if I had more male friends whose career lives I was as enmeshed with, I’d wager that observing this kind of behavior in them would be equally repellent to me. It comes down to what sort of a person you are – and whether it’s worth it to you to suspend your moral obligations in order to attain some empirical level of success.

So what does this have to do with soccer? It has to do with keeping score. It has to do with what we consider a victory. It has to do with judging your own accomplishments not on your ability to pommel another person, but on your own personal growth and your ability to hold your own against someone while simultaneously acknowledging and respecting his or her abilities. And it has to do with accepting that sometimes even when you tie, people will see you as a winner.

Photo: iStockphoto

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