The term competition entails that there is a game at stake with a prize attached to it. To what extent do you get into this game and strive to win? Your competitive drive will likely be a factor of two forces: your level of motivation and the stakes.

Some people compete for the sake of competition while others compete only when the end justifies the means. Do you play fair or do you play to win? To what lengths will you go to win?

Let’s go to the super bowl

Throughout this past NFL season, New England Patriots original starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe and backup Tom Brady stood side by side, be it throughout training or in games. The two gunslingers were competing for the starting position. Did they both desire to be the starter? Of course, but would they both be the starter? No, there could only be one starting QB after all.

When Brady took over for the injured Bledsoe, he knew that he had to overdeliver and that only he could beat himself. Largely because of the two men’s composure, professionalism and fair play, the New England Patriots marched through the playoffs and conquered the oddsmakers. Bledsoe and Brady understood that even though they were competing for the post, the real competition was the opponent and not one another. This allowed them to put personal goals aside and win the Super Bowl.

Incidentally, a couple of years ago, another NFL team had a conventional situation that turned quite dramatic. The New York Jets were fortunate to have two solid wide receivers in Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet. Unlike quarterbacks, there can be more than one starting wide receiver.

Moreover, wide receivers can open up the field for one another and pulverize defensive backs. Did the two receivers embrace one another? No — at least not Johnson. Johnson failed to recognize that Chrebet was not his competition. By focusing on his teammate and casting him as the nemesis, the Jets lost focus. Johnson ultimately left the Jets, and of course, the Jets did not emulate the Pats by winning the Super Bowl.

These two different scenarios prove that competition can be internal, with someone on your team, in your department, or at the company; but it can also be external, with a foreign firm or opponent. There are some questions you should ask yourself, as a way of evaluating which scenario you are in, how far you’re willing to go, or whether you should try at all.

Most of us are competitive by nature. We understand that only the strong survive while the meek get left behind. But competitiveness is an intangible trait that is hard to quantify. Are you competitive? You probably answered yes, but where do you stack up in the overall picture?

Take a pause in your workday to consider the following questions — you’ll find many of the answers within yourself.

The competitive test

Do you know the competition?
When you compete, do you compete against others or do you try to get the most out of yourself ?

If you find that you are trying to beat others, then you are fiercely competitive. But the goal should be to give 100% no matter how good or bad the competition is, in order to deliver your best at all times. This will help you avoid becoming smug and lazy, and will keep you on your toes at all times.

Find out whether you strive to succeed…

Do you know what the competition is offering?

Say you are going after a large sales contract and know you will be facing competition in a down market: Do you understand to what lengths the others will go to close the deal or do you disregard what the competition is offering and simply think of what you can control?

While it is important to know what the others are doing, you’re better off focusing on what you can control.

Do you know how you can win?

Do you study and understand the rules or does your reckless disregard make you lose the game in the end? In other words, do you go along with the rule book or do you question it at the expense of victory?

Your motivation
Are you a volunteer member or have you been forced into competition?

Often we find ourselves in jobs because we have to pay the bills, not because we aspire to change the world. If this is the case, then your motivation will take a hit, as will your results.

The competition
Is the competition clearly identified or do the roles change? Surely all firms have good cop/bad cop routines. Do you find yourself disillusioned with who is on your side?

The stake
What is driving you? Is it a material gain: pay, bonus, equity? Is it an intangible thing such as respect, winning a contract, or is it both?

Obviously getting a large contract from your largest reseller adds value to the firm and it boosts your own compensation down the road. But which is the greater rush: Closing the deal or getting the check? If you find yourself driven by the material gains, then at some point you will lose motivation.

When you have a million in the bank, do you need a second? Of course you do, but will you try harder to get that second million or get comfortable?

Ultimately, if you are driven by intangible goals, then your motivation, drive and determination will make you competitive for the sake of emerging victorious. This converts into long-term success as opposed to short-term accomplishments.

Watch the toes!

Whatever you do, keep one thing in mind: Often you compete in teams, so stepping on others’ toes may bring you the victory in the battle at the expense of losing the war.

Independent of everything, you should always do the right thing; whatever the “right thing” is to you. You have to look yourself in the mirror every morning and night, so do what makes you happy at the end of the day rather than what the institutional imperative is.

Good winner vs. sore loser

The answer is simple: Whether you’re competing on an individual basis or as a group member, understand the game, evaluate the stakes, show class, and play fair.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com.