Why Competition Will Ruin Your Life
The detriment of comparison and a better way to live
My mom always compared my younger sister and me: how my sister was easier as a baby; how my sister was better at drawing; how I was more responsible with money.
Whether positive or negative, the comparisons always pitted my sister and I against each other. Instead of wanting to help each other, we resented each other.
Worse, there was no way to win this game. Sure, I could save more money than my sister, but my sister is better than me at a hundred other things.
Listen, my problem isn’t with my sister or my mom. It’s not even with the Asian community that loves to compare their children.
My problem is that it’s the wrong game to play.
Anybody could say my kid is the best in math or that they got some prestigious internship.
We should focus on what we can do well, not what everyone else is doing.
For instance, in high school people in my neighborhood were doing volunteer trips abroad. My grandma thought I should do the same, but my thing was speech and debate. That’s what I did well.
We should stop copying others. We should figure out what we enjoy and do well.
Then do our own thing.
But I used to think comparisons can help you.
Some may argue that comparisons make us more competitive, which makes us work harder.
Some people use comparisons to feel better, especially if they have accomplished a fair bit.
Others use self-comparison to see where they are relative to others. They use others as their self-awareness mirror.
I’ve done this before in the workplace. I’ve compared how many times my wins get mentioned, how many opportunities I get to present, and how many times I’ve spoken up in discussions.
All of these comparisons made me miserable. I still struggle with this today.
Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, found that college students that base their self-worth on external things like grades reported more mental health issues. And even though they studied more, they didn’t get higher grades.
It’s the never ending game of self-defeat.
You never win. Not only will someone always be better than you, but you will lose countless opportunities to connect and help others in the process.
You lose sight of is the skills or relationships you gain in the process.
“Competition is a recipe for hostility”
- Psychologist and educator Alfie Kohn.
Kohn elaborates that competition reduces generosity, empathy, sensitivity to others’ needs, accuracy of communication, and trust. This is because in a competition we see the other competitors as obstacles to our success.
I’ve felt this when I was preparing for consulting interviews in college.
While it was a win-win situation to practice interviews with my classmates, I knew I was competing to get a small number of consulting jobs. This decreased my desire to trust and build friendships.
“When you choose projects, try to ensure you can win even if you fail”
— Tim Ferriss
Choose projects based on the skills you’ll develop and relationships you’ll build rather than if you can win.
Competition blocks human connection.
Comparisons meant to make you feel better are detrimental to your growth. By seeing a person as lesser than you, you block the opportunity to learn from them.
Everyone can be a teacher to you in some way.
One of my best friends is a dining hall staffer; she’s taught me how to be resilient during relationship drama — a guy I was dating was cheating with my best friend (I know, so not cool).
She gave me perspective that this relationship drama is typical in a longer life (I was only 19 then). It was going to be alright. I was going to get through it.
Also, it may seem that using comparison to see how good you are can be helpful in your growth, but you end up focusing on the wrong questions.
Instead, ask more strategic questions.
Maybe everyone around you makes better presentations.
Instead of asking yourself, “How can I get better at presentations?”
You should reflect on the bigger picture, “What should I improve to reach my goal of manager?”
Perhaps your presentation skills are already manager level and it’s your analysis that you should improve.
This question will better reveal your skill or relationship gaps and help you chart a better strategy.
There will never be anyone exactly like you. You were given special gifts and talents to share with the world, and even though everybody has special gifts and talents, nobody will use theirs quite the same way you do.
– Jen Sincero
When I was a kid, I asked a Harvard student what it was like. She said that she felt dumb there.
When I attended Harvard, I hardly felt dumb.
I realized that we are all different. One of my friends was crazy talented at music and physics but couldn’t get his homework done. Another one of my friends had the networking skills of a politician but couldn’t connect on a deeper level.
The one thing that I’ve found overrides competition’s consequences is to have a goal focused on giving back to others or creating for the sake of creating.
I’ve done this with singing. I know I’ll never be the best but I don’t care. Singing feeds my soul and makes me happy.
“It’s about having a goal that is bigger than the self.”
When we do this, we stop comparing ourselves and start to lift each other up. We start to pick projects that makes us feel fulfilled, build relationships, and harness our talents.
So get out there. Free yourself of comparisons and let’s start to build a better world.
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