by Breanna Adamick
There is an aspect of the world, and of growing up, that can often seem a bit like a competition. It is easy to look around and see friends and peers doing well for themselves and feel left behind in some way, like you should be at their same level or stage in life. There are expectations thrust upon us from an early age that we have to keep up, be at the same level as our classmates, have a mapped-out plan for our lives at the same time they do.
When it comes to figuring yourself and the world out, as well as getting started on your goals, the idea of competition against peers is wholly unnecessary. The belief of competition can go so far as to be inhibitory – to growth, peace of mind, self-satisfaction, you name it. How can you truly know what you want, or what is best for you, if you are ever distracted by the success, failings and aspirations of others?
Competition is instilled in us at an early age; it is just a natural part of the school system. At some point in our education, however, it is necessary to recognize the separation of ourselves and our classmates. A little competition in our elementary and middle school days may not be so harmful, but when it comes to high school and college, the world beyond the classroom is much more visible and present in our minds.
Some competition can be a good thing, healthy, even. It can be motivational, exciting, absorbing. Competition can make one want to be the best they can be, striving more assuredly to achieve their goals. What fun would a sports game be if no one cared who won? How many people would actually work their absolute hardest for a certain job in a company if they were completely unopposed as a candidate? Those can be considered good examples of a bit of healthy competition.
Consider the individual who is about to graduate high school or college, pressure and expectations mounting from teachers and parents on what school they will go to next, or what immediate steps they will take towards their career – while many of their peers go off with formed plans or else may be in the same boat, feeling the weight of the world. A highly stress-inducing time for the individual, it seems, and not at all a healthy type of competition.
In such an instance, competition can turn to stress, anxiety or a high level of impatience or frustration with oneself. It is at that point that we need to cut ties with any peer pressure, societal expectations and feelings of judgement. It is important to note that in life, you only ever truly compete with yourself and your own expectations. If you feel pressure and heavy expectations upon you, you must identify where those feelings are coming from before figuring out how to deal with them. If they are coming from yourself, that can be fine. It is OK, good even, to have high expectations for yourself and to push yourself to be the best you can be, as long as that pressure is not too much. Remember to give yourself grace and time for your goals, as much as you would to another person.
If pressure is coming from an outside source – whether it be friends, family, teachers or others – that is when there is a problem. No one should have higher expectations for your life than you. You, first and foremost, know your capabilities, strengths and desires; if someone is pushing you too hard or too fast in the wrong direction – or even the right direction at the wrong time – it is then that you must stand up for yourself. The actual truth of the matter is that it is not up to anyone other than you to decide what you do and how, when or why you do it.
The idea of competition and comparison go hand-in-hand. It is already far too easy and common for us to compare ourselves to others but add the pressure of competition in there and negative levels of comparison will likely rise.
There should be no comparison between individuals – there always will be, but there should not be – because ultimately, everyone has a different life to lead. No one’s situation is exactly the same as their neighbor’s. Therefore, why should judgement be cast, or comparison be made, whether directed at one another or at oneself? I believe that when we stop comparing ourselves to others is when we can really start to grow to our full potential and achieve a greater amount of personal happiness. Disallowing comparison of yourself to others comes with loving who you are as a person inside and out and accepting strengths, flaws and unique quirks at the same time. The notion of competition and comparison to one another can so easily fade to background noise when this is accomplished.
Wherever you are in your academic or working career, it is okay to feel confusion sometimes. It does not mean you are falling behind or going nowhere. Keep your expectations of yourself realistic while still allowing yourself future dreams and aspirations to aim high for. Just remember you have the time to get there and the only person you should be working to please is yourself.