“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam: I looked into the soul of another boy.” –Woody Allen

It’s funny how the things we learn in elementary school stick in our heads and take on an element of “truth” as we get older. As far back as I can remember, for example, my teachers told me that I should *never* talk to other students while taking a test, for that would be *cheating*.

They had a point, of course. At that time in our lives, we all needed to learn how to do things ourselves; we needed to test our own limits, develop self-discipline, work independently, and discover of what we were capable.

For many (if not most) of us, however, this message has carried over into our adulthood – and most especially into the workplace. It continues to be highly appropriate to do your work alone; talking to others is somehow breaking the rules … a demonstration of weakness.

This is hardly surprising when you stop to consider that back in the day, teachers often graded on a curve. In a very real sense, your classmates were your competition. If you tried to help another student during a test, not only might you get busted for cheating, but their success would bring down your score. In the “arena” of the public school system, then, it was a dog-eat-dog world; if your classmates won, you lost.

Although old habits die hard, they don’t have to rule your behavior–especially as an adult in the workplace. We can choose to view others and ourselves in a different, more productive, dare I say more enlightened manner. Consider these 7 Attitudes Towards Competition, namely:

1) I lose

2) You lose

3) I win

4) You win

5) We win

6) We all win or no one wins

7) There is no winning or losing

At level one, you’re a victim weighted by apathy; you see the world as asserting its influence on you, rather than the other way around. No matter what happens, you’re going to lose; the deck is stacked against you. Why even bother trying? Life is a losing hand.

At level two – one slight step higher on the energy ladder – you’ve now at least got your boxing gloves on. In a world of conflict, anger and defiance, resources are always scarce, but you’re ready to fight for them. Although you may not win all the time, by golly you’re going to make sure that the other sucker loses. Anyone who spends a lot of time driving on the freeway at rush hour knows intimately what level-two behavior looks like.

At level three, cooperation has finally emerged as a viable option. With more self-awareness, you begin to comprehend that winning is at least possible without other people losing. Oh sure, you definitely still want to come out on top, but you don’t mind if other folks do okay as well.

At level four, you’ve risen energetically to the point where you recognize the pleasure and worth in seeing others succeed. Core values like concern, compassion and service rise to the fore, but with a blind spot. If others don’t recognize and appreciate your efforts, you might drop back down to level two and become angry and resentful at those awful “ingrates”.

At level five, you’re feeling a much higher degree of peace, acceptance and reconciliation. Your ego has reduced to the point where you find yourself actively seeking win-win situations, collaborating and cooperating with others for mutual benefit.

At level six, you’ve run with this idea a step further. You now recognize that there is no winning unless everybody wins.

And at level seven – well, I like to think of this as the Matrix (“There is no spoon”) level. You’ve completely seen through the illusion that people are separated and disconnected. Winning and losing are just convenient fictions, easily dispelled. Competition has gone out the window. We are all one.

So where do you fall on the competition spectrum? How about your co-workers? Your organization as a whole? What mental adjustments can you start making today to begin boosting your attitude to higher and higher energetic levels? Imagine a world where you get compensated not for beating out the competition, but for helping others achieve co-prosperity. No win, no lose, all thrive. What a joy that would be–and it’s possible!

(with thanks to Bruce D. Schneider, Energy Leadership, 2008)