By Mike Mannelin, Explorebigsky.com Columnist

Sitting on my four-wheeler, I watched the bears at the local dump near our cabin in Bear River, Alaska. One of them looked up at me for a second and then lay down next to the smoldering pile of what was left of the village’s trash. I spun my tires out in the sand, racing my buddy to get out in front on the trail back to camp.

Competition is part of the human spirit. From the time a person is born, there is a cultural expectation that whatever direction a life heads, the best is to be sought. Every parent wants to have the smartest, most beautiful children. We aren’t satisfied until we live in the best house in the neighborhood. If evolution is the baseline for human existence, does this mean that animals are the same way?

I watch the bear sow with cubs wandering outside my window and wonder. Does she hope her cubs grow up to take over the animal kingdom, or is it simply that the strongest bears find the best food and are more likely to survive another winter? Sometimes larger boars will kill and eat a cub. The sow cries near the baby, mourning the loss for a short time before she gets on with her life. This seemingly archaic action is only part of the nature of the animal.

Our relationship to the passing of time is different than other animals’. We have the ability to create an industrial revolution. We are able to offer ourselves more options based on what we learn from success and failure. We can make a conscious decision to change how we live. We aren’t like bears. They depend on instinct and a set of survival tools handed down through evolution from their ancestors.

This allows us to purpose our lives in the pursuit of recreation. In Big Sky, for example, the entire town is built around a ski resort, the ultimate recreational grounds for anyone looking to spend time having fun. In this microscopic segment of society, there is a group of people that make up the general population. There are smaller groups of individuals that possess a drive to take their existence to a next level. Someone will stay at the office late, trying to move one more unit. Someone else will spend countless hours figuring out a way to top last year’s participation numbers. A snowboarder or skier will obsess over a line that nobody has skied before.

Why is this the case? As humans, we are able to view each day in life as a new start. We have moved beyond survival, seeking forward motion instead. Undoubtedly though, there is a tipping point. Those at the front of the pack forgo any semblance of life outside the pursuit of bigger numbers. A skier will get in over his or her head. When this happens, the rest of society will look on them and murmur things from the comfort of the couch like, “See, that’s what happens when you aren’t satisfied with the status quo.” Or “Better him or her than me.”

So where’s the happy medium? Well, that’s the easy part, my friends, because the key word is happy, not medium.

If your drive at work is compelling you to stay at the office at night to move one more unit, then by all means, go there. There is bound to be fulfillment wherever you place your focus. If spending your existence foraging to feed the little ones makes you happy, it’s been going on for millennia. After all, we would like to keep the cubs around for another season.

Mike Mannelin is a skier with roots in Minnesota, Montana, and Alaska. He gains his inspiration in life by spending time in the mountains with friends.