Life is a maze. Life is a puzzle. Life is a game; but we generally forget we are just players not competitors. Have you ever played the game Life? It starts with an empty car and if we are lucky we add passengers to our car. Sometimes our car breaks down, sometimes we have to take a detour, and sometimes we get to move ahead 4 spaces, but all cars take the same route and eventually get to the same endpoint. Similarly, in life we experience setbacks, complications, and smooth sailing, but we are all on the same platform at different stages. However sometimes we forget that life is an experience with ups and downs, not a game with winners and losers.
I never considered myself competitive; as a child I was involved in the most competitive sports; gymnastics, soccer, baseball, tennis, basketball, roller blading, and track. Despite partaking in some very competition worthy activities and receiving a high school education from a prestigious preparatory institution which produces high achievers, I never felt the need to compete with others. Whether this disinclination was due to my youth, maturity, or disability I don’t know but while my peers learned to compete for the best [running] time, the most accurate goal, and the highest grade I began to compete with myself for these things and thus became a perfectionist.
The need to compete is inborn; it is that incessant voice in us that uses that word ‘than.’ In school, I had to earn a better grade than Joan; at the prom, it was ‘I am prettier than her.’ In whichever sphere, that troublesome word than puts unnecessary stress on outside circumstances. Whether we are playing a game, using social media, or performing daily activities, our mindset usually harbors on comparing ourselves thus competing with others.
When we compare ourselves with others we are putting our attention where it is not needed. The need to compare is instinctive as we are so immersed it competitiveness that we are not even able to censor our own thoughts from it. Our minds naturally start comparing when we see two girls: who is prettier, when we see two books: which is more interesting, when we see two grades: which is higher, when we see two swimmers: who has a better stroke, or when we see two puppies: which is cuter. Our minds are trained in this way, to see hierarchy and rank; this is one way our mind categorizes and organizes information, but it’s when we start subjectifying comparison and start molding it into competition does it start to affect our output and mindset.
When we start competing for the best hairdo, car, outfit or any other best we start losing the focus on ourselves and start putting the focus on outward experiences. I recently started playing the Spellathon with my
dad; trying to make a word out of seven jumbled letters. It interesting to note that when I play this game on my own I cannot seem to get it, but when I play with my dad the word seems to jump out at me. In this sense, competition can be constructive, but usually competition is a mindset that drives us to excel and be better that everyone else.
This mindset is engrained into us from early childhood when we are ranked by the best grade in class or the prettiest picture drawn. In 2nd grade when we were learning multiplication, every week we were given a timed test and the person who won was awarded. In high school, we competed for titles like Most Handsome or Most Likely to Succeed. When my senior poll came out, I was voted Friendliest and Sweetest, but even titles like this were popularity contests and ostentatiousness rather than merit.
From early childhood into adulthood we are thrust onto the field of competition. We compete for the best grade, the best dressed, the thinnest figure, the sleekest car, the best paying job and the list goes on. In school, on the sporting field, in the workplace, and in organizational settings we strive to be the best by scoring the most goals, being awarded for being the most productive, or being recognized for being the best dressed.
When we worry about being better than or the best we are expanding our attention and thoughts to others. This takes the focus and thus energy away from our own experience. When we compete we are trying to win and in most contexts this means thinking about others’ actions, reactions, and moves. When we compare, we focus on two or more characteristics, actions, or processes that we try to be better than.
Comparing is an effect of competition that affects our mindset, awareness, and consciousness. As we get older our inherent need to win decreases as our organized activities decrease, but this need prevents us from experiencing our individual journey fully. Everyone has their own path, their own purpose so why continue to compare apples to oranges? If you compete, compete with yourself. Strive to outdo yourself as it is futile to compete with someone else as they will have a different mindset, strengths, ideals, and knowledge.
The next time you find yourself comparing, striving to be better than, or outdoing another take a minute the think about why you need to be better. What will it give you, what will you gain, and how much effort are you putting into this interaction?