Life is not a Competition

Life is not a Competition

We are programmed to be in competition with everyone around us. From the time we are born, parents “Oooh” and “Ahhhh” and tell their child they are the smartest, most talented child in the room.

For parents, this competition can start long before pregnancy. It will certainly start by the time their child enters day care or preschool. Parents are always comparing themselves to other parents and their child to the other children.  If two one-year olds are in a room together, and one is running and the other is crawling, the parents of the little caterpillar feel as if they’ve failed. This competition follows us until we die.

Once a child enters the world of sports, they are encouraged in an animal-like fashion to compete against each other. Sports which used to promote teamwork, communication, coordination and enjoyment are so often morphed into an intense physical and mental competition focused on WINNING! Nothing else matters.

Parents have high hopes that their kids will be a child prodigy and make a living off some rare talent.  If their child ends up on a team with a child who – forbid – couldn’t care less about winning, the parents throw a fit, yell at the coach, the carefree child (and their parents) and possibly even switch leagues all for the off-chance that their progeny could be the next star player in the Major League.  There is so much pressure to win! If the parents haven’t figured out what a child’s talent is by the time she or he is five, they start wondering what’s wrong with her/him. How are they ever going to succeed in life if they aren’t the best at something?

And it’s not only sports where kids pick up on competition mentality. The classroom is rife with competition, real and perceived. This competition takes place with grades when students are ranked as the “top of the class” or compare their standardized test scores.  In high school yearbooks, people are ranked as “best smile” or “cutest couple.” Competition is all around us, and usually it has no bearing on how successful we can actually become in life.

Even as adults, we put too much emphasis on winning, even when it means NOTHING. Many adults play in recreational sports teams, and their animal-like tendencies to prey upon other teams take over. They can’t just play to have fun, they play to destroy their competition. For some reason, the whole point of the game (to have fun!) gets lost on them and winning is EVERYTHING to them. Even if they win, they aren’t satisfied. They’ll try to get better by kicking their friends off the team or yelling at each other or their opponents. They don’t realize that at the end of the day, no one cares how well did they on their recreational sports league.

We also have this competition-mentality in academics and business. We put so much pressure on ourselves as adults to have the perfect life, TO WIN. If we see someone younger than us in a higher a position we get jealous, and wonder what is wrong with us.  Why did they get there before we did?  If we feel there is no logical reason for their success, then we become bitter about our employers or our bosses, which makes our daily lives miserable.  Some of us don’t even want to be managers, but if someone gets that opportunity before us, we get resentful.  Forget the fact that moving up in the company often means more responsibility, more stress, and less time for ourselves.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even come with better pay. However, the perception of a higher status makes us feel like we are losing at life.

To avoid the misery of work, we get on social media sites, and see people getting married, buying nice houses, having the perfect family, taking awesome vacations, and wonder, “WHY CAN’T THAT BE ME?!? Why am I such a loser? Why am I not married? Why don’t I have kids, the house, the whole shebang?!? We ignore the fact that many of the people posting these images are often unhappy themselves, and they need “likes” or comments to fulfill some need they aren’t getting in their “perfect life.”  They need others to tell them they’re jealous so they feel validated in the choices they have made.

Some might argue that aspects of life are competition.  Companies are constantly competing to develop the next best product.  Certainly in these cases, competition in the work place can be healthy.  It forces us to work harder and think smarter. However, we need to remember that we rarely work better as one and that we all have different talents. In engineering, a team is generally comprised of project managers, technical experts, field technicians, etc. Each of these roles is vital to the success of a project. There shouldn’t be competition among team members. We should accept that others are better at certain aspects or are at different stages in their lives or career, and it has no bearing as to how we should feel about ourselves. At the end of the day, we need to realize the only way to win at life is to cross the finish lines that WE WANT TO CROSS.