In 2013 I, for some reason, decided to train for and complete a half marathon. So I trained and selected as my first 13.1 miles a race that took place in Boone, North Carolina. I picked it mostly because the date fit with my training schedule and I could stay with my brother who was living there at the time. But what I failed to consider was the topography chart of the route which, as it turned out, traversed over 1,000 feet of elevation change.
Needless to say, it was hard. But an amazing thing happened while I was running through the mountains. At some point during the race, I began to feel a sort of connection to my fellow runners. Even though my only goal was to just finish, I could not ignore the other racers I was passing and who were passing me. We were competing against each other in a certain sense but there was also a sense that we were undergoing a process together. That togetherness is perhaps what drove us across the finish line. And when we finally did arrive at the end of the route, we could not help but feeling as though we had accomplished something as a team.
The power of the camaraderie of competition caused us to eat, drink, and take pictures with total strangers as though we were close friends. For a super-introvert like me, it was an amazing phenomenon indeed.
The same is true of music. Musicians are constantly competing against each other for jobs, awards, and grants. But all of my best friends are the musicians against whom I compete. I don’t have any arch-nemeses, I have a collection of people who are quite the opposite.
And this power of camaraderie doesn’t just bring us closer together, it also drives us to be better. There were three flutists in my studio when I first started my masters who were all very serious about their craft. They had traded principle positions in the orchestra and band for several years and had played against each other in many competitions. They were, in some ways, best friends and they were also AMAZING players. They now are about to get Masters Degrees from the Cincinnati Conservatory and Northwestern, some of the best programs in the country.
Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code confirms that the emergence of most talent comes in waves of several people. Rarely is there a single talented person who pops up out of nowhere. Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultra-marathon racers in the world, credits a lot of his success to a childhood friend who always pushed him to never quit.
We have the find those people in our lives. Those people who compete against us, push us, and at the end of the day will support us because they are our closest friends. We have to form our personal communities with a camaraderie of competition.