A healthy dose of competition is normal, but if it gets out of hand, you can find yourself acting irrationally.
I know for myself that I’m the kind of worker that needs pressure to perform well. I also have a tendency to put myself in competition with others in my own mind. Comparing myself to others creates a false sense of pressure that I use to get into gear and work harder.
However, this isn’t the reality and definitely is not healthy. In my experience at Berkeley as an English major, competition doesn’t really exist too much, but my high school was the complete opposite. Everyone knew what everyone scored on their SATs and all other tests. Academics was a strategic game that we were playing. It was toxic, really. Maybe a student was trying to gain satisfaction amidst their parents’ lack of praise. Maybe a student was striving to find their value, yet looking for it in a number instead of their actions.
A big red A at the top of a paper can only make you feel good for so long. Genuine happiness can’t be found from another’s opinions of your and your work. It can only be found when you come to terms with who you are, accept yourself and love every “flaw” you have.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What are some ways you can stop those thoughts that want to slap a runner’s number on you and send you out into the race?
- When you receive feedback, take it as a compliment. Someone wants to help you be the very best you can be. Someone cares about you enough to want to see you shine and is even offering their help for you to improve. They see immense value in what you already are and believe in you enough to see it get even better.
- Be your friends’ biggest cheerleader. I used to compare myself to my best friend all the time. After a while, I asked myself, how is this helping anyone? She doesn’t need to feel guilty for doing well and I don’t need to feel bad for no reason. I am simply not her. We don’t share the same background, experiences, likes and dislikes. Our uniqueness is necessary for a balanced world. If we want to strive for a better tomorrow, we must encourage others to do their best and cheer them on. Support and encouragement are big aspects of being a true friend. Ask yourself if the only thing you care about is your own success. If not, reevaluate your response to hearing good news about others.
- Understand that you are worth more than a number or another’s judgement of you. You have more power than you think. Everything you admire about others is already within you and you have the power to cultivate that energy if you focus yourself on it. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you all the time. Of course, feel and express those emotions, but you don’t have to let them control you and your actions.
Being at Berkeley though has made me realize the errors of my high school’s ingrained way of thinking. Academics are an individual journey in which you learn because you want to, not to be labeled as the best or the smartest.
I think a big misfall of my high school education was the emphasis on perfection. It was always, “How many AP classes are you taking? What’s your score? What did you get?”, or what it really meant underlying was “What is the numerical value you were given that supposedly determines your worth as an individual and is mine higher?”
Now, as an incoming Sophomore, I can see that we all learn differently, but we are all here to become better people in order to give back to the world around us. We all want change. We all want to feel important. We just have to realize that change is the product of ingenuity and teamwork, not from butting heads and arch-rivals. In that way, we can make a change together.